Gwinnett County Chairman Charlotte Nash said Tuesday she has personally apologized to U.S. Rep. John Lewis for the comments of colleague Tommy Hunter, who called the civil rights icon "a racist pig" on Facebook.
In an auditorium filled with several dozen protesters, Nash read a letter she said she sent to Lewis on Tuesday morning. The letter offered her “sincere apologies and regrets” for what she called Hunter’s “disrespectful” comments about the civil rights icon.
“Using hurtful words and name-calling should not have a place in governing,” Nash said.
She got a round of applause.
A few moments earlier, Hunter delivered his own statement, apologizing for his “choice of words” and calling Lewis a “leader of the Civil Rights Movement who should be commended.” Amid chants of “resign, resign, resign,” he also defended himself.
“I will not allow baseless accusations of accusations of racism against me or anyone,” Hunter said. “I've learned a lot from this and will continue to work hard to serve all of District 3, and all the people of Gwinnett County.”
See Hunter's full statement below.
Nash and Hunter’s statements preceded a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Commissioners. It was the first time Nash had addressed Hunter’s Facebook posts. Commissioners Jace Brooks, Lynette Howard and John Heard have not commented on Hunter’s controversial statements and did not do so Tuesday afternoon.
Protesters gathered outside the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center prior to the meeting, many carrying signs bearing phrases like “Hunter must go now” and “You’re the racist pig.”
The line of protesters waiting to speak during the meeting’s public comment section stretched out the auditorium door. Among the first dozen or so to speak, most called for Hunter to resign.
Resident Sharon Wood was one of them.
“I have children of my own,” she said. “I know when they get caught, they're sorry they got caught and not necessarily sorry for what they did.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published Monday screenshots of several posts Hunter made on his personal Facebook page. Those posts included ones that referred to Democrats as “Demonrats,” wondered if there were “any white guys” on the University of Alabama’s football team and used to divisive term “libtard.”
Hunter, a Republican who was first elected to Gwinnett's Board of Commissioners in 2012 and narrowly won re-election in November, made the " racist pig" comment in a Saturday afternoon Facebook post. The post was a reaction to the well-publicized feud between Lewis, who represents Georgia's 5th Congressional District, and president-elect Donald Trump.
Lewis ignited that feud Friday when he told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he didn't view Trump as a "legitimate president." Trump then responded on Twitter, calling Lewis "all talk" and proclaiming his Congressional district — which includes most of the city of Atlanta — to be "in terrible shape and falling apart."
Hunter, whose racially diverse Gwinnett district is many miles east of Lewis' congressional one, later conceded that his "racist pig" comment was "probably an overreaction."
Even before Tuesday’s meeting, the Gwinnett County Democrats had called for Hunter’s job. The Georgia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has also issued a statement doing the same and another group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, released a statement urging Hunter to “immediately schedule a series of meetings with our organization and other organizations that serve communities of color in his district to discuss our grievances.”
The Gwinnett NAACP released a statement late Monday denouncing his comments, asking him to apologize, and urging his fellow board members to break their silence.
Nearly 90 minutes into the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, nobody had spoken in defense of Hunter. Some on social media had, however, defending his right to free speech.
Friend Jasmine Smith described him Monday as a “fantastic man with an exceptional heart.”
Please return to AJC.com for updates.
Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter's full statement:
"I understand emotions are high and many are upset about the post. I apologize for the choice of words I made in my comment about the Congressman John Lewis. John Lewis is a leader in the Civil Rights movement and is to be commended and illuminated. That doesn't mean I'll always agree with him politically. I will not allow baseless accusations of accusations of racism against me or anyone. I've learned a lot form this and will continue to work hard to serve all of District 3, and all the people of Gwinnett County."
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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution