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D.C. delegate to Barry: Tone down the racial rhetoric

Thursday - 4/26/2012, 8:34pm  ET

Darci Marchese, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Some say he put his foot in his mouth again. Now, a D.C. leader and a community group are asking Marion Barry to stop the divisive rhetoric and apologize.

District Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has a message for D.C. Councilman Marion Barry: Leave the racial rhetoric behind.

Norton is calling on the Ward 8 official to stop targeting racial groups when talking about issues.

She says Barry should apologize to the Filipino nurses in particular, "who do not deserve to be insulted for helping fill an indispensable health care need in a profession that we in this country have neglected," according to a news release.

"The UDC School of Nursing is doing its job, but we have not done ours," Norton says in a statement.

The congresswoman also points out that "racially cloaked language deflects attention from the underlying issues of concern."

David Chung, a commissioner of the Office of Asian Pacific Islander Affairs is also upset with Barry's recent comments. He calls them "divisive."

Chung appeared at a D.C. council meeting Barry chaired Thursday, asking him for an apology.

"He wouldn't retract the statement," Chung says. "He wouldn't apologize for the statement. He kept coming up with excuses in how it was misinterpreted."

Chung says Barry doesn't seem to care that Asian Americans are the fastest growing population in the district. "The fact that he doesn't recognize that or consider us to be relevant really hurts us," he says.

Chung especially takes offense to Barry's comments about Asian businesses being "dirty." He says his father has owned a liquor store for 26 years Southeast and it's in much better shape today than when he took over the building. He says his father works long hours, 6 days a week and takes pride in his business.

Chung is also angry that Barry hasn't answered his calls to discuss the situation. But at Thursday's meeting, they did agree to meet in the near future.

Chung says it's ironic that Barry helped create the Office of Asian Pacific Islander Affairs. That's one reason why Chung says he's so hurt today.

Barry came under fire earlier this month for calling Asian owned businesses "dirty."

"They ought to go," he said at the time, adding that the city has "to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops."

Barry has since apologized for the comment.

But at a council meeting Monday night, Barry made new comments about hospitals hiring immigrant nurses, particularly from the Philippines.

We should "have our own," he said.

Responding to all the attention, Barry says the media misquotes him and is conspiring to make him look like he is opposed to certain groups. The councilman says he has a long history of working with minority groups.

Too little, too late, say more than two dozen Asian-American advocacy groups that have started an online petition called Say Sorry Barry.

"I am disappointed by your latest insensitive remarks to the Asian Pacific American and immigrant communities," says the group's website. "Whether it is your comments on Asian Pacific American business owners or nurses, your word choices dismiss the contributions they make because of who they are and where they come from."

WTOP reached out to Norton for comment. We were told the statement speaks for itself.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)