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Obama assassination, killing of Latinos in latest batch of Atwater councilman's e-mailed 'jokes'

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK
Atwater Council member Gary Frago makes a statement during the council meeting Monday, Aug. 10, 2009, in Atwater, Calif. Frago announced he will step down as Mayor Pro Tem following a storm of protests after he sent racist emails to city staffers, fellow council members and others.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK Atwater Council member Gary Frago makes a statement during the council meeting Monday, Aug. 10, 2009, in Atwater, Calif. Frago announced he will step down as Mayor Pro Tem following a storm of protests after he sent racist emails to city staffers, fellow council members and others. Merced Sun-Star

Violent and racist e-mail jokes alluding to the assassination of President Barack Obama, the killing of Latinos and violence against black people were forwarded by Atwater City Councilman Gary Frago during the last six months, according to more than 200 new e-mails obtained by the Sun-Star from the city of Atwater.

The councilman, who forwarded the newly obtained e-mails to city staff and a county supervisor, among others, has been under public pressure to resign since it was learned in July that he had sent other racist e-mails in late 2008 and early 2009.

One of the most troubling of the new Frago e-mails, forwarded in January, joked that Nokia had designed a new cell phone for "nervous white people" who want to make calls in a series of cities known for their large black populations, such as Oakland and New Orleans. The phone was a gun.

Merced County supervisor Mike Nelson and Atwater's Assistant City Manager Stan Feathers both received this e-mail. Neither recalled the e-mail, they said.

Another e-mail forwarded by Frago on Dec. 9, 2008, was in the form of a fictitious letter sent by Sen. John McCain to John Hinckley, a man obsessed with Jodie Foster who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The letter said that Hinckley would be released soon and he should know that Obama was sleeping with Foster now.

Atwater City Manager Greg Wellman was the e-mail's only recipient. He said he doesn't recall receiving the e-mail.

A third e-mail joked about killing illegal immigrants and Obama delegates. The joke is about a man applying for a position with a police department. As a test, the chief tells the applicant: "Take this gun with 13 bullets and go out and shoot six illegal immigrants, six Obama delegates and a rabbit." The man asks: "why the rabbit?" "Fantastic attitude," says the chief. "When can you start?"

In all, the newspaper obtained more than 200 e-mails sent or forwarded by Frago from October 2008 to July 2009. The city had at first refused to release the e-mails to the newspaper. It relented after lawyers from McClatchy, the Sun-Star's parent, sent Atwater officials a letter asking the city to change its mind.

Most of the e-mails contained sexist, racist or just plain off-color jokes.

Frago, who says he won't resign, is already in hot water after revelations surfaced in a Sun-Star story July 17 that he e-mailed a series of racist jokes about the president, first lady and blacks in general.

Frago has begun racial sensitivity classes and this week resigned his honorary position as mayor pro tem. "I have made a mistake, I should have known better," he said at a special meeting on the e-mails in late July.

Several city officials and a county supervisor who were recipients of Frago's e-mails expressed mixed opinions about these new e-mails.

Merced County Supervisor Mike Nelson, who recommended that Frago go to racial sensitivity classes, said he doesn't endorse the e-mails that Frago forwarded to him.

"I'd be the first to say that I don't condone the e-mails or what Gary did in forwarding them," said Nelson.

Wellman, who also received many Frago e-mails, agreed. "They are obviously unacceptable. Mr. Frago has offered his apology," he said.

But Wellman added that he faces a dilemma. "I am not in a position of dictating to one of my superiors what he should do," said Wellman.

Wellman said he received legal advice to delete any e-mails that were obscene or offensive, and that's what he did, he said."I did not come forward after deleting these e-mails because I was concerned about repercussions from certain council members," said Wellman. "I can certainly understand some may not feel it is sufficient."

But the end result may be that everyone involved is tainted, said Wellman.

"It's quite possible that everyone associated with this could be negatively affected in terms of their ability to compete in the job market."

Feathers said only that he doesn't approve of Frago's actions. "I don't agree with or condone any of those racial jokes. I don't think anybody does and I certainly don't want to indicate that I do either."

Feathers, the assistant city manager, said he doesn't remember receiving any of the e-mails. "I get hundreds of e-mails every day," he said. "Most of my time is spent on city business. I can't control every e-mail that comes into my in basket."

A Sun-Star story on July 17 revealed that Frago sent at least seven racist e-mails to city and county officials from October 2008 to February 2009. The e-mails denigrated President Obama, the first lady and black people in general.

While Frago has apologized, at first he said he didn't regret sending the e-mails.

"I don't see where there's a story, I'm not the only one that does it," he told the Sun-Star in a story on July 21. "I didn't originate them, they came to me, and I just passed them on."

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached (209) 385-2484 or jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.

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