Quips sting Utah activists

GOP 'organizer' remarks called offensive
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Onstage remarks made by leaders at this week's Republican National Convention - aimed at discrediting the résumé of Barack Obama - offended a much broader group of people who tend to be very vocal.

Namely, community organizers.

"It was a put-down," said Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP's Salt Lake branch.

"Unfortunate," said Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah.

Elitist and out of touch, said Tim Funk, housing project director for the nonprofit Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City.

They referred to onstage remarks from leaders at this week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

On Wednesday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani drew derisive laughter when he said Obama's community-organizing experience was "maybe . . . the first problem on the résumé."

"He worked as a community organizer," Giuliani continued.

Then on Wednesday, vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin took a similar shot. She repeated the comment Friday on the campaign trail.

"Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents . . . seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves," Palin said.

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."

Although the slam was meant for Obama, community organizers took offense.

"The NAACP has been the pit bull for many different individuals regardless of their ethnic backgrounds," Williams said, citing such efforts as getting out the vote, lining up free legal aid and debt counseling, and helping homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The quiet and kindly work of community organizing extends beyond advocacy to formulating public policy, Funk said, adding that Palin's remarks indicate a lack of understanding.

"It maybe shows that she is too green to be a vice presidential candidate."

Slamming community organizers to degrade Obama could backfire, Yapias said, turning a segment of voters against the GOP ticket.

"I know all kinds of people - Republicans, Democrats and Independents - who are community organizers, and in some way they belittled us who believe in a cause," Yapias said.

State GOP Party Chairman Stan Lockhart defended the remarks in their context, saying that some might be "too quick to take offense."

"I think it's fair to examine what each person has been involved in that prepares them - or not - for the office of President of the United States," Lockhart said. "In that context . . . being a community organizer is not the same as being a mayor or governor."

Rob Miller, vice president of the Utah Democratic Party, fired back.

"When you don't have any substance you attack the good works of a person," said Miller.

"No matter how they try to 'dis' community organizing as not being an executive position, it's very demanding, it won't make you rich and nothing prepares you more for public service."