Racist e-mails whip up rally for resignation

ATWATER -- Activist groups calling for the resignation of repentant Atwater City Councilman Gary Frago, who forwarded racist e-mails to city and county officials, plan to picket Monday's City Council meeting.

Change Merced is organizing the protest along with the Merced County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, both of which have called for Frago to step down.

Because of the expected crowd, the city has called for a special meeting in Atwater's community center Monday.

Frago forwarded at least seven racist e-mails to city and county officials from October to February. The e-mails denigrated black people in general and President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama in particular.

Despite calls for his resignation and the impending protest, Frago, who apologized for the e-mails, has said he will not resign.

"I will read my apology and I will respectfully listen to what the people have to say," he said.

Frago's apology did not change the mind of the NAACP. The group condemned his actions and called for his resignation Thursday. The NAACP's statement said Frago's actions were "hurtful, harmful and racist."

Change Merced, an activist group formed during Obama's run for office, has condemned Frago as well.

The group plans to hold a rally outside Atwater's City Hall on Monday at 5:30 p.m. and call for his resignation.

Erma Smith, 55, a member of Change Merced as well as an executive board member of Merced County NAACP, said this kind of behavior cannot go unpunished. "I didn't think I would hear anything like this in 2009, especially in a state like California that is so multicultural," said the Mississippi native.

Group eyes supervisor

Smith said her group is asking for Frago to step down and for those who received his e-mails to condemn his actions.

In particular, Change Merced has focused on Supervisor Mike Nelson's failure to condemn Frago.

"You can see which politicians are silent and which ones speak out about this kind of prejudice. It draws lines, unfortunately," said Jeff Freitas, 25, a Change Merced member.

Nelson did not return Sun-Star calls.

The City Council will open its meeting at 6 p.m. at City Hall and adjourn soon after for a special meeting on the e-mails at the community center and then finish the meeting at City Hall, said City Clerk Jeanna Del Real.

City Manager Greg Wellman said the city scheduled the special meeting "to ensure that those individuals wishing to speak are given an adequate opportunity to be heard."

Although Frago has apologized, he at first said he did not regret sending the e-mails. "I don't see where there's a story. I'm not the only one that does it," he said. "I didn't originate them, they came to me and I just passed them on."