An elected official from northwest lower Michigan has caused outrage due to his repeated used of the N-word.
According to The Detroit News, Leelanau County road commissioner Tom Eckerle was first reported as spewing the racial slur at a public meeting on Tuesday. He is accused of saying the word after he went on a “tirade” about why he refused to wear a mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eckerle, a Republican, is quoted as saying, “Well, this whole thing is because of them ni**ers in Detroit.”
“I can say anything that I want,” he continued, according to the Leelanau Enterprise. “Black Lives Matter has everything to do with taking the country away from us.”
Bob Joyce, the chairman of the Leelanau Road Commission, explained to The Detroit News that he heard Eckerle say the N-word and he’s calling on him to resign. Joyce said he quickly condemned Eckerle for using the racial slur, which Eckerle used after Joyce asked his thoughts about kids returning to school amid COVID-19.
“(Eckerle) said ‘I can say whatever I want’ and I said ‘no you can’t,'” Joyce said. “It’s horrible. It’s absolutely horrific.”
Joyce said that he and the three other commissioners had planned to give Eckerle a letter on Thursday requesting he step down from his post. “We do not tolerate that,” Joyce said. “That’s not who we are.”
State Rep. Jack O’Malley, a Republican who represents Leelanau County, also called on Eckerle to resign.
“I called Mr. Eckerle to confirm he made these comments. He confirmed that he did,” O’Malley said. “This type of racial slur is flat-out unacceptable and ignorant. I asked Mr. Eckerle to resign his position as road commissioner in light of these comments and shall he refuse, the citizens of Leelanau County have every right to recall him from office.”
Eckerle, a retired construction company employee, made his comments at a public meeting for the road commission. Eckerle is paid $500 a month for his duties on the commission.
Leelanau County administrator Chet Janik said that he was in a “state of shock” over Eckerle’s words but could not take legal action because Eckerle is an elected official.
Janik, who is one of five road commissioners, explained that Eckerle could be recalled by voters or removed from office by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Janik said he’s been receiving non-stop phone calls from people demanding Eckerle be recalled. “Every single one of them requests he resign or be removed from office,” he said.
Janik said the county commission is set to have a special meeting on Monday to review the situation.
Despite the outrage, Eckerle has remained unapologetic about his use of a racial slur. Although the commissioners’ meeting was open to the public via dial-in, Eckerle said his words were not meant to be hard by those outside the room. Still, he wasn’t going to apologize for his words.
In a call with IPR News, he said he reacted out of frustration with the racial unrest and violence in American cities. He put the blame on Black Lives Matter protesters instead of violent police or systematic racism.
When asked if he regretted using the N-word, he doubled down.
“No, I don’t regret calling it a ni**er,” Eckerle said. “A ni**er is a ni**er is a ni**er. That’s not a person whatsoever.” He argued that it was the same as saying he was German, or “Polack.”
“No, it is not racism,” Eckerle added. He also asserted that he will not resign from the road commission.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan, said in a Thursday statement:
“We call for the immediate resignation of Mr. Eckerle from his position in Leelanau County because of his racist comments. Dropping the n-word, along with falsely claiming that police accountability activists who are American citizens are taking the country away, is discourse that that must be repudiated by all public officials.”
Walid also called on Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox to denounce Eckerle’s racist comments, considering he is an elected official in the Michigan Republican party.