Updated June 11, 2020 - 7:00 pm
Facing a growing backlash over “racially charged” comments she made during a Republican convention, Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore on Thursday apologized to anyone she offended but said her remarks were being portrayed inaccurately and out of context in media reports.
But Fiore declined to repeat what exactly she said at the Clark County Republican convention Saturday during a 20-minute press conference outside her home in northwest Las Vegas. In the latest signs of fallout from those comments, organizers on Thursday launched a recall effort against Fiore and fellow Councilman Cedric Crear called for her to lose the title of “mayor pro tem.”
“Sometimes I can get a little Brooklyn when unscripted but I never, ever want to portray or have anyone believe that there is a racist bone in my body,” Fiore told reporters.
— Shea Johnson (@Shea_LVRJ) June 11, 2020
Three members of “Expel Michele,” a committee seeking to remove Fiore from public office, submitted a notice of intent to circulate a recall petition with City Clerk LuAnn Holmes’ office on Thursday afternoon. The committee now has until Sept. 9 to collect 1,911 signatures from registered voters who cast a ballot in the Ward 6 general election in 2017, according to the city.
“We don’t feel she represents our community any longer,” said Molly Taylor, one of the recall organizers and a 19-year resident of Centennial Hills. “That is not the voice that any of us share.”
Taylor, who did not vote for Fiore in 2017, said she was part of a group who has been closely watching her as a city lawmaker and grown upset over decisions on land use, most recently the plan to construct an event center at Floyd Lamb Park, where Taylor said people walk their dogs and enjoy the peace.
But remarks that Fiore is said to have made opposing affirmative action during the GOP convention were “the last straw,” Taylor said.
“I think they’re bored but it’s America so bring it,” Fiore said.
Crear asks Goodman to take action
In a letter to Mayor Carolyn Goodman on Thursday, Crear condemned the statements as “racist and inflammatory,” saying that there was no place “for this type of divisiveness, especially from a person in a leadership position.”
Crear — the council’s only black member — said Fiore’s comments “were totally repugnant, and spit in the face of all black persons.”
“There has been outrage from our community regarding the statements that Michele has made, and I just can’t sit back and let that go unfiltered,” Crear said by phone. “There really has to be some consequence to insensitive and derogatory actions.”
Goodman said in a tweet that she had received Crear’s letter and was “considering all the information related to this situation” and “taking this very seriously,” citing the state Republican Party’s investigation into Fiore’s remarks.
“Every member of the City Council is very important to me and the city of Las Vegas,” Goodman said in the statement.
‘Public divide’ but colleagues agree
Fiore said Crear submitted the letter without first calling her. But she dismissed his statements as “100 percent false” and driven by rumor, speculation and second-hand gossip. When asked what was inaccurate about it, she declined to comment.
“To take an opportunity to attack me in the midst of this public divide is very sad,” she said about Crear’s call for her to be stripped of her appointed position as mayor pro tem. The mayor pro tem fills in for the mayor when she’s absent or unavailable, and takes over as mayor if the office were to become vacant.
Noting that a recording from the GOP event has yet to surface — the party said it did not record the convention — Crear said multiple witnesses have recalled Fiore saying, “I am a white woman and I should not lose my job because of their black asses,” in a remark about her opposition to affirmative action.
Two people who were at the event have told the Review-Journal that they recalled her comment similarly to a degree, but Niger Innis, a black conservative activist, denied that the comment was racist. Innis said the context was to push for a policy that depends more on qualifications and not race or gender.
Richard MacLean, the party’s chief of staff, said Monday he estimated the county party had received more than 100 calls expressing dismay over the comments, including that “white lives matter.” Fiore told reporters she said that all lives mattered.
Councilwoman Victoria Seaman, who was present at the convention and is seen as a close ally to Fiore, said Thursday that she did not recall exactly what Fiore said.
“I don’t think Michele is a racist and I feel in her attempt to make a point about a sensitive issue, her presentation was very inappropriate,” Seaman said.
Councilwoman Olivia Diaz said she agreed with Crear’s letter, adding that it speaks for itself as she criticized Fiore’s reported statements.
“The comments that have been reported on social media from the Republican convention are very hurtful to our community during a time when we are already hurting,” she said. “It’s not a rare occurrence though.”
Diaz clarified that she was referring to routine inappropriate statements from Fiore, not those that are racially charged.
‘Beating white people up’
The controversy comes at a time when protests are being held nationwide, including in Las Vegas, to condemn police brutality and systemic racism in response to the killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
And Crear wrote that “the timing makes the comments even more reprehensible.”
He also told Goodman that he took offense at Fiore’s statement during a June 3 council meeting, where he said Fiore “insisted on injecting her thoughts about the recent demonstrations, saying that ‘protesting does not give you the right of beating white people up.’”
The implication, he wrote, is that white people were being singled out by black people and being attacked based on the color of their skin, which he said is “beyond irresponsible” and “biased.”
“Your First Amendment right doesn’t include looting, hurting our police, shooting our police, beating white people up, or anyone else,” Fiore said, according to video from that meeting. “Your First Amendment right is your freedom of speech, not a freedom to be a criminal.”
Those comments came at the tail end of a meeting where the council unanimously passed a ban on backpacks and other gear at protests that could conceal weapons such as bricks or frozen water bottles.
Fiore on Thursday stood by her assertion a day earlier that her own First Amendment rights were “under attack” and again urged that the full video of her remarks at the convention be released.
With 150 people attending the event — MacLean had estimated roughly 400 — there was bound to be cellphone footage, she said. To make her point, she used her phone to momentarily record a row of reporters gathered at her afternoon news conference.
“Hi! I love you,” she said.