Richard B. "Dick" Ladd, a Broadneck Republican, was the only councilman to attend the discussion on local government, sponsored by a historically black sorority. His appearance came as the council is deadlocked between two candidates — one white and one black — to replace a member who is serving a prison term.
"I don't believe there is a racist or biased bone in my body," Ladd said. "There's nothing I can do that's going to please some of you here in this room. … I think I better leave before I say much more — before I incriminate myself."
The forum, also attended by state Del. Pamela G. Beidle, and representatives from the office of County Executive John R. Leopold and the county school system, was sponsored by the North Arundel County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Councilman John J. Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican whose recent comments referring to Glen Burnie as "ghetto" were also questioned at the meeting, was invited to the forum but did not attend.
Grasso later said that he stands by his remarks about Glen Burnie and that he forgot about the event, but was "saddened to have missed it."
"I would have enjoyed a challenging debate, particularly with the folks who were picking on Dick Ladd, because … every time you bring up race, that's a real big sign that you're a racist yourself," said Grasso. "It's all for one and one for all in Anne Arundel County."
Jessica Snipes, a Severn resident, told Ladd she was "very disturbed and disappointed" by the council's conduct during a recent public meeting to select a replacement for Daryl D. Jones, whose seat on the council was vacated last month when he began serving a five-month term for failing to file a tax return.
The council has met twice on the issue and been unable to resolve a 3-3 tie over who should replace Jones, the second African-American to have served on the council. The candidates are former state Sen. Michael J. Wagner of Ferndale, who is white, and Peter I. Smith, a Marine reservist from Severn who is black.
Snipes said, "I'd just like for you to address why there should be a need to provide diversity on your council."
Ladd answered, in part, "Diversity is a very laudable goal, but sometimes it's not the absolute end."
Carl O. Snowden, an Annapolis civil rights activist, asked Ladd about several issues, including the incident at a recent council meeting. While interviewing candidates for the open seat, Ladd, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, used the word "gooks," and later apologized.
Snowden said he was dissatisfied with Ladd's apology because it was prefaced by "if I offended someone."
Snowden asked Ladd, "Don't you realize that you did not only offend Asian-Americans, that those kind of racist epithets have no place in the public arena? And then you come here this morning and you say you have quote 'not a racist bone in your body.' Explain your actions."
Ladd replied, "I was asked to come here to explain my role in government knowing full well I might be asked questions of this sort. Perhaps I made an error in judgment."
In sometimes rambling remarks, Ladd said, "I do apologize to the Asian community. I should have known this was going to blow up in my face."
Ladd paced as he spoke before the crowd of about two dozen people, often looking at the floor, and then turned to a fellow panelist — Mark Chang, a community and constituent services representative from Leopold's office who is Asian-American — and said, "I am very, very sorry to you."
Ladd added, "I do not think that is a racial slur. …I don't know what else to say. …It's my problem. I understand. I am paying a very high price for this professionally and in my personal life. …I am very sorry about that."
Attempting to smooth things over, Tonia Jones Powell, the sorority's chapter president, thanked Ladd for attending.
"Please understand that the constituents in this room believe that diversity at all levels of county government is very important," she said. "The county council needs to be representative of all people in this county."
Before Ladd left, he said, "I am clear that I angered some of you today. This is a very difficult issue for all of us…Maybe I was ill advised to come down."