MARYSVILLE, Mich. – A city council candidate in Marysville stunned an election forum Thursday night with racist comments that she later doubled down on when answering a question about diversity.
Much of the night focused on city development and park improvements, but that thread was momentarily marred with shock following a racist statement from political newcomer Jean Cramer.
“Keep Marysville a white community as much as possible,” said Cramer, one of five candidates vying for three open council seats in November.
Cramer and the candidates were asked, “Do you believe the diversity of our community needs to be looked at, and if so, should we be more aggressive in attracting foreign-born citizens?”
It’d come more than an hour into the forum, and Radio First Station Manager Scott Shigley, who moderated the event, had cited population growth across the Great Lakes region between 2000 and 2015, half of which he said were foreign-born residents.
Cramer’s response, however, was the first of the group, and a brief guffaw fell over the council meeting room at City Hall before forum attendees heard from the other candidates.
After the forum, Shigley said the question was intended to spur talk over how the city markets itself and attracts talent. Marysville is about 50 miles northeast of Detroit.
Incumbent Councilman Paul Wessel said anyone who can find their way to Marysville “should be allowed to live in Marysville.” Council candidate Mike Deising paused before adding, “Just checking the calendar here and making sure it’s still 2019.”
Wayne Pyden, a former councilman who's running unopposed for mayor, and council candidate Shawn Winston also shared similar messages of surprise.
Winston, a teacher at Marysville High School, said he thought the numbers Shigley referenced should be looked at by the council to assess if the city was attracting "the best, the most qualified regardless of race."
“I don’t see how anybody has stopped diversity here in town that I am aware of. I don’t know off the top of my head what type of initiatives the city could take to get more diversity," Pyden added. "But in my own heart and my own mind and people around me, people here at the table, everybody’s welcome to Marysville.”
Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Hayman said she took Cramer’s comments personally in her response.
“I don’t even know that I can talk yet, I’m so upset and shocked. My father was a hundred percent Syrian," she said. "So basically, what you’ve said is that my father and his family had no business to be in this community.”
Hayman's late father Joseph Johns served 55 years as an elected Marysville official. The council meeting room, where Thursday’s forum was held, is named for him.
“My son-in-law is a black man and I have bi-racial grandchildren,” she told Cramer. “And I take this very personally what you’ve said, and I know that there’s nothing I can say that’s going to change your mind. ... We just need to have more kindness — that’s it.”
After the forum, Cramer was asked by the Times Herald if she wanted to clarify her response.
“As long as, how can I put this? What Kathy Hayman doesn’t know is that her family is in the wrong,” she said. “(A) husband and wife need to be the same race. Same thing with kids. That’s how it’s been from the beginning of, how can I say, when God created the heaven and the earth. He created Adam and Eve at the same time. But as far as me being against blacks, no I’m not.”
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Mayor Dan Damman, who isn’t running for re-election in the city, condemned Cramer’s comments in a statement of his own following the forum.
"The racist comments by the City Council candidate at the Marysville city candidate(s) forum were as vile as they were jaw-dropping,” he said in an email. “It must be noted that this person has declared herself a City Council candidate for the November 2019 election but has never served on City Council for the city of Marysville.
“Mrs. Cramer’s disturbing and disgusting ideology is flatly rejected by me, our entire City Council, all of city administration, and our employees. The candidate forum was to be a mechanism to learn about the candidates and their viewpoints, thus empowering our electorate to make an informed decision before voting. The only positive result from this clear expression of overt and unapologetic racism is that this candidate’s views were put on display before our voters go the polls in November."
Follow Times Herald reporter Jackie Smithon Twitter @Jackie20Smith
This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: Marysville council candidate Jean Cramer stuns with racist comment