At 91, former sewer board director ousted over racist comments mounts a comeback

EL SOBRANTE — The Archie Bunker of Bay Area sewers is back.

Six years after voters kicked him out of office over racist remarks he made to this news organization, Leonard Battagalia wants to return to the Richmond-area wastewater board he sat on for 39 years. At 91, he may be the oldest candidate in the state on the Nov. 3 ballot.

A longtime El Sobrante resident and business owner, Battagalia represented the sewer district in obscurity until 2013, when he used a racial slur to describe Asian people and said his experience as an Air Force fighter pilot in the Korean War led him to believe that Black people “think slower.”

“I flew with Black pilots. I’d say ‘break’ (suddenly turn right or left) and they’d hesitate. They’d miss it because they think slower. They have an African-American mentality. They can’t help it. It’s the way God made them,” he said. “Like in Richmond. It’s a mess.”

Those comments — printed in a front page story that detailed his pay and benefits sewer district member, which made him one of the highest paid part-time elected officials in the region — created a firestorm. Residents of Richmond, one of the Bay Area’s most diverse cities, demanded he step down, comparing him to the “All In The Family” patriarch known for his racist rants. Local officials called for his resignation, and passed a resolution demanding Battagalia to “rethink” the statements.

His own sewer board powerless to remove him from office, unanimously voted to censure him.

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Battaglia conceded at the time that his comments were “out of line and insensitive” and “showed a serious lack of judgment”  but refused to resign. Voters cast him out at the ballot box in 2014, and elected Black candidates to fill two of the West Contra Costa Wastewater District’s three open seats.

In an interview this week, Battaglia — who faces incumbent Harry Wiener in the newly-created District 4 — defended his 2013 remarks, and also insisted he is not “prejudiced.”

“I have nothing to do about being prejudiced,” he said. “I don’t believe that crap. I was born and raised in Reno and we didn’t have any minorities in my town. All we had was the Indians.”

His attempted comeback coincides with the sewer district’s shift from at large to district elections, to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. The move — part of a statewide push to add racial diversity to local elected bodies — could paradoxically work to Battaglia’s advantage, putting his well-known name in front of a narrower group of voters than those who ousted him six years ago.

In that race, which was decided by residents throughout the district serving Richmond, San Pablo and parts of unincorporated West Contra Costa, Battaglia finished sixth out of eight candidates. This year, with the sewer district divided into five sections, he is only running in East Richmond Heights and El Sobrante — Battaglia’s home turf.

In District 4, Battaglia is something of a household name, where for years he ran Rancho …read more

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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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