Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden on Thursday apologized to the Korean community for "the terrible misunderstanding" over his being entertained by strippers during a city mission to South Korea--and his explanation of the controversial event--but continued to insist that he has done nothing wrong.
At the same time, the chorus of criticism from feminists and Korean American leaders grew louder, with some calling for a City Council investigation of Holden's conduct and others vowing to launch a recall campaign if they do not receive a fuller and more formal apology.
"The behavior of Councilman Nate Holden is totally unacceptable," said Gerda Steele, a board member of the California Women's Law Center who was among about a dozen women who gathered on the steps of City Hall Thursday afternoon to denounce Holden.
"This is about women, how they're treated as objects. It's not OK here [in America], and it's not OK there [in South Korea]," Steele said. "Mr. Holden really believes he did nothing wrong, and that's what is so sad. He doesn't get it, and we have to do what we have to do to help him get it."
The Times reported Monday that Holden and several aides attended a karaoke club where scantily clad women danced atop tables during a 1991 trip to Seoul and Pusan. Snapshots from the trip, including one of a woman wearing nothing but panties singing into a microphone, landed in the public record after a burglary this summer in which they were taken from Holden's Marina del Rey condominium.
Holden defended his presence among the disrobing dancers in the Times story by saying "that's the way you do official business there," which angered the Korean American community in Los Angeles.
On Thursday, Holden deputy Steve Kim read an apology from his boss to more than 50 Korean Americans representing about 30 community organizations of artists, grocers, garment workers, youth advocates, senior citizens and business owners.
"I want everyone to know that I place a high value on my Korean friends, Koreatown and Korea," wrote Holden, whose 10th District includes one of the largest populations of Koreans outside Korea. "This is a community of people with great integrity, high morals and a strong respectability. I have true love and affection for them."
But regarding the risque photos, Holden's statement maintained that "what the young women did in that club was far less than is done in some parades in Los Angeles sanctioned by the city and certainly less than some of the shows seen by the general public in Las Vegas."
Most at the meeting in Koreatown said Holden's apology was not enough. They passed a resolution threatening a recall if Holden does not apologize through a letter to The Times.
"Being a leader, he has to have correct moral and ethical standards," said Meong Shik Ahn, according to a translator. "His relationship with women is an important thing to be concerned about. He has defamed and embarrassed the Korean community. We should make a strong protest and get an apology."
But some at the meeting supported Holden.
Jong Min Kang, former president of the Korean Young Adults Assn., said the very leaders who were complaining about the photos take visiting Korean politicians to hostess bars where strippers perform.
In interviews Thursday, Holden said he plans to crack down on the alleged abuse of liquor and business licenses in Koreatown salons. Holden said he was told in meetings with police that rampant prostitution, organized crime activities and liquor law violations occur at many of the establishments.
Other Holden supporters cited Koreatown improvements that have been shepherded by Holden, who has represented the area since 1987.
At the City Hall news conference, a wide array of women denounced Holden, who was the subject of two sexual harassment lawsuits by former employees earlier this fall. He was exonerated in one case after a six-week trial, and the other was dismissed by a judge last week.
"This is not about race. This is not about ethnicity. This is a gender issue," said Gloria Barrios of the Women's Action Coalition.
"It's unacceptable, and we should not stand for it," said Tracey Jensen of the California Women's Law Center.
"He should stop blaming and accept some responsibility," said Marcia Choo of the Asian Pacific Women's Network, referring to Holden's statements that he was simply a guest at the karaoke bar and could not leave. "It was his lack of judgment. He has to take responsibility for that."
Times correspondent Kay Hwangbo contributed to his story.