Incumbent Calgary Councillor Ward Sutherland says he was trying to make a point about the importance of utilizing local artists rather than those from abroad in an election forum speech that has some questioning his choice of words, raising concerns of anti-Semitism.
FULL COVERAGE: 2017 Calgary municipal election
At a Ward 1 candidates’ forum Wednesday night, contenders were asked to choose one of “many contentious issues” ahead of the city’s Oct. 16 municipal election and Sutherland brought up the public art project Bowfort Towers.
“To me I thought it was ‘KerPlunk’ when I first saw it. It just shows how a system can be broken.”
LISTEN: Ward Sutherland clarifies his controversial “Johnny Jew” comment
He went on to say he was part of a group that presented at council in 2013 who wanted to change the art policy.
“As I dove into the weeds, I found one of the biggest issues was that the people—the committee that was picking the art, first of all, 10 out of the 10 people were artists.”
WATCH: Ward 1 incumbent Ward Sutherland is under fire for a comment he made during a debate. While some call it racist, he insists it wasn’t. Jenna Freeman reports.
The next part of his answer has been interpreted and circulated as follows (you can listen to the video above):
“And when they were looking at it, they’re going, ‘Well Johnny Jew from New York—he’s the best artist so we’re going to use him and not even look at it.’ So we tried to have the policy changed where the residents participate and they help pick the art.”
In a statement responding to racist accusations laid against him, Sutherland said he referenced a “famous New York designer with the last name of Choo.”
He noted no one at the forum reacted to the comment at the time and suggested if he’d “said something racist there would have been an immediate response.”
Sutherland said he condemns racism. He suggested the outrage was created by a fellow candidate.
A tweet sent at 1:42 a.m. from Ward 1 competitor Chris Blatch appears to have sparked the conversation on social media:
Soon-to-be-ex Ward 11 Councillor Brian Pincott tweeted the comments were “beyond unbecoming” and suggested misogyny and racism on Calgary city council were ongoing issues.
Ward 1 candidate Coral Bliss Taylor told Global News she was at the forum at the time, but didn’t immediately react as she was concentrated on answering questions from residents.
She suggested it’s clear what Sutherland meant in his reference to the Bowfort Towers controversy.
Jimmy Choo is a well-known shoe designer who lives in the United Kingdom.
“We all remember the stabbing incident in council,” she said, referencing video that surfaced of Sutherland making motions towards Councillor Druh Farrell at a May council meeting. “This is consistent with what we’ve come to expect from Ward.”
“It simply isn’t the kind of rhetoric we accept from our leadership.”
Watch below: Ward Sutherland has been cleared of wrongdoing after this video emerged of him making a stabbing gesture behind the back of Councillor Druh Farrell at a May 8 council meeting.
A spokesperson for the Calgary Jewish Federation told Global News Sutherland should be more mindful of his language in future.
“The unfortunate comment made by City Councillor Ward Sutherland, as we understood it, is utterly unbecoming of an elected official, or any person of good will for that matter,” Martin Sampson said.
“Whatever the intent of the comment, it was an inappropriate use of language that perpetuates anti-Semitic stereotypes and as such is unacceptable.”
“Mr. Sutherland should apologize.”