A group of minority leaders on Thursday called for local activists to sever ties with a California businessman who is bankrolling their campaign to limit bilingual education with a November ballot question.

At issue are accusations that businessman Ron Unz made racially insensitive comments about U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige in an e-mail last week.

Responding to Paige’s criticisms of the initiative, Unz referred to Paige as a “black former football coach” who is “widely regarded as the dimmest member of the Bush cabinet” and who “is believed to have obtained his job largely due to George W. Bushs’ intense support for ‘Affirmative Access.’ ”

Rita Montero, a former Denver school board member who heads the Colorado campaign, has denounced the remarks as “insensitive,” denying that they reflect the views of her local committee – English for the Children of Colorado.

Unz has acknowledged that his comments were insensitive, though he has defended himself by saying that he was only reflecting mainstream media accounts about Paige while at the same time indicating that blacks may have fewer personal connections to the issue than other minority groups more likely to be English-language learners.

But none of these responses satisfied representatives of the Urban League, LARASA, the NAACP and other groups that gathered Thursday at the Martin Luther King Jr. statue in City Park.

“We call on Rita Montero and English for the Children to apologize to the community for the remarks of Ron Unz and to remove him from the campaign,” state school board candidate Rico Munn said in a statement from the group. “Ms. Montero should stand up and tell the people of Colorado she will remove Unz from the campaign and refuse to take any financial or political aid from Unz.”

Munn also called for an apology from Unz, though he acknowledged that receiving it would make little difference to him.

Unz said Thursday that no apology was forthcoming.

As for accepting additional funding, Montero said it is unlikely that the campaign would need more money from Unz because last spring’s $130,000 loan from him already has paid for what is expected to be the campaign’s biggest expense – a petition gathering process that Montero believes has netted enough signatures to get the initiative on November’s ballot.



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