Delgado apologizes for ‘Taliban’ remarks, but just to veterans

Metro Councilman John Delgado offered a limited apology Thursday for remarks he made comparing St. George organizers with terrorist groups.

The apology extended to veterans who may have been offended by his comments — and that’s it.

“If for any reason, any veteran was offended by what I had to say, then I’m sorry to them specifically,” Delgado said. He said he will not apologize to St. George organizers who were the target of his initial comments.

He offered the apology in a phone interview Thursday after issuing a statement to address the controversy created by a Facebook post he made the previous day.

Here’s Delgado’s full statement:

“I regret that my choice of words has become an issue and distracted us from the real debate. It was not my intention to offend anyone. I believe that the creation of the city of St. George would be catastrophic to East Baton Rouge Parish, and I’m very passionate about preventing that from happening. I speak from the heart. I understand it may not make me the best politician, but I will always tell people how I truly feel.”

He said he issued the statement to clarify his position.

“I want to make sure people understand why I said what I said,” he said.

State Sen. Bodi White, a St. George ally who filed a bill to incorporate the area into a financially independent city, spoke out against Delgado at a Thursday news conference.

“Whatever you think, I never resorted to name-calling,” said White, R-Central, adding he was apologizing because Delgado hadn’t.

White spoke to reporters at about 1:15 p.m. and was unaware of Delgado’s apology.

With a quivering lip and plenty of pauses to remain composed, White said he took offense at linking the St. George effort to the Taliban and al-Qaida, the global terrorist group that brought down the two World Trade Center towers.

“Call people terrorists for exercising their right under the law? That’s unconscionable,” White said .

White said residents of unincorporated areas of south and southeast Baton Rouge were followed the procedures laid out in state law for creating a new city.

“They have every right to do what they are doing,” White said, adding he warned organizers they would be called names if they pushed the idea.

Delgado has faced an emotional backlash from both supporters and opponents of the St. George city movement for his comments on Facebook and in an interview where he called the St. George supporters terrorists and likened them to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The Facebook thread originated on Councilman Ryan Heck’s page, where he applauded the recent legislative efforts to reform the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

“What say you, John Delgado?” Heck wrote in the post late Tuesday night, tagging his colleague on the council. “Had it not been for the pressure applied by the St. George effort, do you think we’d have gotten so far, so fast?”

Delgado responded, “I’m saying that thanking Norman Browning (co-chairman of the St. George incorporation effort) and his ilk for any changes that occur to our education system is like thanking al-Qaeda for improving our airport security measures. I don’t thank people that try to destroy our community. I condemn them for the terrorists that they are.”

Delgado has been publicly castigated for his comments by fellow council member Buddy Amoroso and Mayor-President Kip Holden.

St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey called it “repugnant” to compare the group with terrorist organizations responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack and who the U.S. military fights overseas.

Delgado is a first-term Republican Metro Council member who is a lawyer by trade. He does not live in the boundaries of the St. George area.

St. George organizers are attempting to create the fifth municipality in East Baton Rouge Parish and second-largest next to Baton Rouge. The proposed city would be populated by about 107,000 people.

The creation of the new city hinges on a petition that needs 18,000 signatures from registered voters in the boundaries that would put the proposal to a vote of the people within the proposed city.

Opponents say creating St. George could have a devastating impact on East Baton Rouge Parish’s financial stability by diverting sales taxes from the parish budget to fund the new city.

A study by LSU economist Jim Richardson found the new city would create a budget shortfall of $53 million for the parish. But St. George organizers say they plan to pay the city for parish services, so the shortfall would be closer to $14 million.