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GOP chair clarifies 'thug' comment about mayor

Rick Hartley expressed concern about mayor's office actions for pension plan

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Republican Party of Duval County Chairman Rick Hartley clarified Thursday what he meant when he called some actions by Mayor Alvin Brown "thuggish."

Hartley made the comments after the Florida Times-Union accused one of Brown's staff members of strong-arming a JEA board member into voting yes on the mayor's proposed pension plan.

"I regret using that word," Hartley said. "I've been told thuggish is a racial slur."

Hartley said he meant Brown is acting like a Chicago mayor.

"I understand he needs to sell people his point, but it doesn't mean, 'Do it my way or I'll pull the rug out from under you,'" Hartley said.

He said he sent a letter to the governor's office and Attorney General's Office calling for an ethics investigation into Brown. But Channel 4 has contacted both offices and been told the Florida Commission on Ethics looks into those allegations.

"The Attorney General's Office doesn't investigate ethics complaints. The Florida Commission on Ethics does," City Council President Bill Gulliford said. "So in essence, the letter was sent to the wrong place, you're exactly right. And that's why I don't give a whole lot of credence to the letter."

Gulliford said the call for an investigation distracts city leaders from finding a solution to the pension problem. He does however say he suspects there could be some truth to the JEA board member's claim, but nothing of any consequence.

"I suspect he was leveraged," Gulliford said. "That's inappropriate at best and unethical at worst. It's pretty sad that we stoop to that."

During an interview Wednesday night, Hartley told Channel 4 about the letter he wrote to the governor's office to investigate the mayor over ethical concerns.

"These are volunteers that work and serve on all these boards, and they do important work and it's disrespectful for the mayor to treat people like this," said Hartley. "This is thuggish."

Pastor Richard Burton, head of an organization called Project REACH, is calling on the NAACP to condemn comments Hartley made to Channel 4 Wednesday night. In an email, he wrote, "Listening to WJXT-4 news this morning, Rick Hartley-Chairman, Republican Party of Duval County, Florida, called Mayor Brown of Jacksonville a thug, and I found it appalling."

Burton's primary issue was Hartley's statement to Channel 4, calling the mayor, "thuggish." Burton told Channel 4 that he was outraged when he heard the term being used.

"I think it's appalling that he would use that term. I am pretty sure that if he doesn't know, he does now. It's a term that's somewhat appalling to African Americans," said Burton.

As for Hartley, he told Channel 4 that he didn't know some people consider the word "thug" offensive.

"What I meant was that he's acting like a gangster. Maybe that could be considered a racial slur, too, but he shouldn't be pushing people around. I mean, he's a bully," said Hartley.

This isn't the first time the word "thug" has been in the spotlight in recent news. Seattle Sehawk's player Richard Sherman was called a "thug" after an interview where he went on a trash-talking tirade against an opposing player. Sherman responded days later, suggesting that the word "thug" is a modern day version of the "n-word."

"If in fact this terminology anywhere resembles that, we need to get rid of that and know there's a negative connotation," said Burton.

Hartley also told Channel 4 that he was likening the mayor of Jacksonville to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which is criticism in many republican circles.

Channel 4 reached out to the governor's office regarding the letter that Hartley sent asking for Brown to be investigated. The governor's office said that it's a local matter and not within the jurisdiction of the state's executive branch. Hartley is now turning to the Florida Ethics Commission to investigate the mayor.

About the Authors:

Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.