One more time, with feeling:
John O'Connor didn't set out for the Tea Party rally intending to expose Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart as a Birther. Honest. The grad student at the U of I Center for Writing Studies was hoping to get some insight into the movement for his research into web-mediated political discourse, and was collecting video for that purpose.
"It started that I walked up and introduced myself, and he politely said, 'How are you doing?'" O'Connor said in a phone interview with Joel Gillespie yesterday. "The first question I asked was, 'Do you support the Tea Party?' And he kind of laughed and said something to the effect of, 'Yeah, that's why I'm here.'" And then the immortal Q&A in the video clip ensued.
O'Connor explained, "I was expecting him to say something about the federal grants, the broadband grant... the economy, unemployment, anything that would relate to a local issue. But then of course the first words out of his mouth were thinking that he wasn't an American."
"Then, immediately after that ― I wasn't really intending to ask him this, but his response to that first question of what he thinks about Obama was so off the wall ― I followed up with, 'Do you think he's a socialist?' At which point the Mayor paused, and said, 'Oh, you're trying to bait me.' At that point, someone else nearby started talking and made it clear that the Mayor was done talking with me."
O'Connor shared his personal views about what Schweighart's statements say about his fitness to hold public office. "In my view, it's disqualifying for holding any office including dogcatcher. It just shows a willful and deliberate denial of facts. And I think it's blatant racism. Most of the Birthers are either gullible and easily manipulated, or more likely, they can't handle the fact that we have a person with some African heritage as our president and they're grasping at any straws they can."
He continued, "I realize the racism charge might seem inflammatory, and that some people are going to call me the racist for saying that the Birthers are motivated by racism, but I think that just is what it is. We should just put that out in the open."
Since the story has been picked up by several national online outlets (Gawker, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, AP), views of the video have skyrocketed. As of last night, the video had been viewed over 130,000 times.
Smile Politely emailed each of the members of the Champaign City Council (as well as State Senator Mike Frerichs) for comment on Mayor Schweighart's statement, and we received three responses as of last night.
The issue of President Obama's birth and birth certificate was a non-issue to begin with, put out by people as a ploy to try to damage his chances to be president. It didn't work. President Obama is, and always has been, an American citizen. The non-issue was settled a long time ago. But there are still people who, against all reason, want to believe otherwise. Apparently, the Mayor of Champaign is one who believes otherwise. I respect the Mayor, but am disheartened by this.
Deborah Frank Feinen:
I have no concerns about President Obama's citizenship. The Mayor's comment was unfortunate and could be divisive. The City has worked hard on community building and I am hopeful that his statement doesn't impact that process.
I have no comment to the mayor's statements. My personal thoughts are that President Obama has been approved by Congress. I trust that they have gone through the necessary steps to approve our President.
It's been nearly 72 hours since Smile Politely requested that Mayor Schweighart publicly reveal his birth certificate, with no response. Yes, one need not be a born in the U.S. to be mayor, but it still seems to indicate that he has something to hide. Take that however you will.