Sterling HeightsAugust 09, 2012
Council members urge colleague to resign
2009 YouTube video fuels controversy
By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer
Three years after it was shot, a video that features Paul Smith, now a City Council member, wielding protest signs depicting the violent demise of Democratic officials is causing a stir in Sterling Heights — and prompting calls for his resignation.
The video was recorded at a 2009 tea party rally in Troy and was posted on YouTube shortly thereafter, but it began making the rounds in Sterling Heights Aug. 6, after someone forwarded the link to law enforcement.
Community Relations Director Steve Guitar confirmed that the Sterling Heights Police Department received a tip and passed it along to City Manager Mark Vanderpool as an FYI.
The furor that resulted after the video went viral prompted Mayor Pro Tem Michael Taylor to add a resolution to council’s Aug. 8 agenda asking for Smith’s resignation, but Smith refused to back down: “It’s not a fraternity, and you can’t just blackball somebody.”
In the video, Smith is holding signs picturing the heads of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, President Barack Obama and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ensnared in a noose, impaled on a stick and riddled with bullet holes, respectively.
The signs — some of which include expletives and derogatory references to gay people and immigrants — allege Obama “turned America into Uganda” and Granholm “changed Michigan into Detroit.” Above Granholm’s head is the phrase, “Hang her high.”
Several other rally attendees in the background who are interviewed in subsequent clips decry Smith’s presence as a “setup” and argue that his views aren’t representative of the tea party’s position as a whole.
On Aug. 7, the Community Relations Department issued a formal statement to “strongly disavow” the video, stressing the city’s efforts “to build a community of inclusiveness” over the last 45 years and urging viewers to “judge (the images) as the personal opinion of one man.”
But Smith argued Aug. 8, before the council meeting, that the rally occurred more than two years before he became a councilman, and that he’s refrained from such vocal involvement in national politics since his election last November.
“It’s not news — it’s history,” he said. “I became a nonpartisan elected official, and I quit getting involved in things like that. (But) you can’t turn back the hands of time.”
Smith believes people critical of his support for Troy Mayor Janice Daniels — who’s come under fire for making offensive comments of her own and is facing recall — are targeting him.
Many protestors carry “inflammatory” signs, he argued, because exercising freedom of speech “in the most forceful, aggressive way” was the only way to attract attention.
“We had clean, non-violent protests, and as long as you’re not breaking stuff, they won’t even put you on television,” he said. “It’s a shock value deal.”
Citing political cartoons as an example, Smith insisted he was not trying to imply literal violence, but “as long as you don’t physically do it, it’s just freedom of speech,” he said. “It’s part of the game.”
He also said he didn’t understand why people might be offended, arguing that the individuals depicted on the signs were public officials who are “fair game, just like me.”
And while he stood firm on his views, insisting Obama is a communist, he said that in retrospect he wouldn’t have wasted sign space on term-limited Granholm.
“She’s a heck of a nice girl, a really sweet person, and she’s generous, but she just can’t handle money,” he said.
The City Council meeting later that night was tense and punctuated with outbursts as residents lined up to speak their minds, most echoing the calls for Smith’s resignation and calling the video “deplorable” and “offensive.”
“I can’t fix ignorance and bigotry, but I can and will fight for his unseating,” said Aaron Filipski, a resident and city employee, and Mike Lombardini said he’d be “the first to support a recall.”
But Charles Jefferson said the voters have no one to blame but themselves and should have to live with their decision until the next election, and G.J. LaRouche said he can vouch for Smith’s good character.
Trembling with anger, Smith’s wife, Moira, alleged the resolution was part of a “conspiracy … to demean my husband, to cut him off at the knees.”
“I say shame on you all — shame on you for judging my husband, for smearing him,” she shouted, shaking her finger at the council as someone in the audience yelled, “Well, is he a racist or not?”
She then turned on the crowd, condemning them as “sheep” and blasting the media.
Taylor dismissed Smith’s freedom of speech claim as a “red herring.”
“You may have a right to freedom of speech, but you don’t have a right to hold a public office,” he said. “You don’t have a right to take that public trust and then destroy it. When you use hateful, vile, graphic images of violence, and then not only do you not repudiate those images, but you go even further beyond the pale in your comments in defense of them, it calls into question your fitness for office.”
While Taylor said he felt Smith has things to offer in terms of skill and knowledge, “your rhetoric is so completely out of line that you’re relegated to a side show,” he said.
When Mayor Richard Notte told Smith he had to speak next or forfeit his turn, Smith countered, “I don’t really need to defend myself because there’s nothing to defend myself from,” and said he has no intentions of becoming a “yes man.”
Councilwoman Deanna Koski said she was even more disturbed by Smith’s reaffirmation of his 2009 comments than the video’s existence. She and others said they found Smith impossible to deal with and were dismayed by his combative demeanor toward petitioners, appointed boards and city employees.
“I can’t work with the man,” said Councilman Joseph Romano. “You want to get something accomplished for the city, for the betterment of the community, you need four votes. He’ll never get that. His usefulness as a councilperson is nil at this present time.
“I think in all good conscience, if he really feels that he has the city of Sterling Heights at heart, he’ll be the man that he’s supposed to be and man up and say, ‘You’re right. I should resign, because I can no longer do any good for the city,’” he added.
The resolution passed, 6-1, with Smith dissenting.
Smith tried to readdress the issue at the end of the meeting, but Taylor called a point of order, arguing that the item had already been covered on the agenda, and Notte called for adjournment.