Prior to his re-election to the District 2 seat on the Statesboro City Council in 2011, we wrote in this space that Gary Lewis continuing as a council member would be a blight on District 2 and the city of Statesboro.
Lewis remains on the council and he is, indeed, a blight, damaging the credibility of the city he represents and disrespecting the citizens who elected him.
Since he took office for his fourth full term in January 2012, Lewis has done what he usually does on council — little to nothing. He rarely speaks in meetings and offers nothing useful to any discussion of issues when he does speak. Frankly, the less Lewis does or speaks, the better for Statesboro.
Nowhere was that better on display than at the regular council meeting on Jan. 22. Lewis said he went to a convenience store and asked to use the restroom, but he was told it was private, for employees only. At another store he said he was told the restroom was out of order.
The city’s building code requires any business where the public goes regularly must make restroom facilities available for public use. It can either be a separate public restroom or it can be one that is for employees and the public.
OK. While not a huge deal, Lewis raised a valid point that businesses frequented by the public should be held to the city code of making restroom facilities open to the public – even though this is a non-issue with almost all restaurants and other public businesses in Statesboro.
But then … Lewis went somewhere entirely unexpected and raised serious questions about his true motives in bringing up the issue in the first place.
“So, I know this is a state law that you must have one,” Lewis said. “This is where a lot of the problem is coming from now, convenience stores operated by the Indians or whatever we’re going to call them.”
Recognizing Lewis’ obvious singling out of an ethnic group, City Manager Frank Parker tried to cover for the city when he said quickly: “We’re not going to single out any specific segment of our population, but we’re going to check all stores.”
Soak in for a moment what Lewis, who is black, said and now imagine if any other council member, the rest of whom are white, said the following: “This is where a lot of the problem is coming from now, convenience stores operated by the blacks or whatever we’re going to call them.”
That councilman would be condemned for his remarks immediately, and rightfully so. An apology probably wouldn’t be enough to fend off calls to resign not only from the black community, but from the entire city.
Forget not being politically correct, Lewis’ comment is bigoted and racist. It is not worthy of an elected public official. It is not worthy of anyone.
Growing up, Lewis no doubt felt the effects of discrimination and racism that was the Jim Crow South. And certainly, racism and discrimination didn’t disappear for blacks with the repeal of old laws and the passage of new ones.
One would think past experiences would make Lewis more empathetic with members of a minority different from himself. Clearly, that’s not the case. In fact, it raises doubts about why Lewis is bringing up the restroom issue. It seems his concerns stem primarily from his racist attitude to a particular ethnic group rather than concern for the public.
At a minimum, Lewis needs to apologize to the owners of the convenience store he singled out and to his fellow council members and the citizens of Statesboro he represents at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
We expect very little from Gary Lewis. But we do expect him to at least keep his racist thoughts to himself.