LOS ANGELES (AP) – The head of the California NAACP is demanding state Education Secretary Richard Riordan resign for jokingly telling a preschooler that her name, Isis, meant “stupid dirty girl.”

Riordan, the wealthy former Los Angeles mayor known for his support of public schools, startled even friends last week with the comments at a Santa Barbara library.

Alice Huffman, president of the California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Riordan “is not suitable to lead education in our state” and should be removed.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, his longtime friend, called Riordan’s statement to the girl “unacceptable in any context” but gave no hint that his job was in danger.

In an editorial Thursday, The Sacramento Bee said California “shouldn’t have an education secretary who makes offensive, damaging remarks to young children for no apparent reason.”

“He’s the governor’s top person on education, which means we would expect him to have some love and respect for children,” Huffman said. “I think he is the wrong man for the job. There is no way for him to explain this away.”

The conversation, videotaped by KEYT-TV, took place Thursday at a promotional event for summer reading at Santa Barbara’s central library. The unidentified girl, who appeared to be a preschooler, asked Riordan if he knew that her name meant “Egyptian goddess.”

Riordan replied, “It means stupid dirty girl.”

After nervous laughter in the room, the girl again told Riordan the meaning of her name.

“Hey, that’s nifty,” he said.

A day later, Riordan issued a statement that said he “teased” the girl. “I immediately apologized to her, and I want to do so again for the misunderstanding,” Riordan said.

Riordan, a venture capitalist who started a foundation supporting literacy, has a reputation for awkward – some might say insensitive – remarks and behavior.

As mayor, he once greeted hunger strikers outside his office eating a hamburger. In a speech to school administrators earlier this year, he told a story about a nun physically disciplining a student that startled some in the audience.

“There wasn’t an uproar, but some people felt the comment was inappropriate,” said Joseph Jones, assistant executive director of the Association of California School Administrators.

State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Democrat who served on the Los Angeles City Council when Riordan was mayor, called the remarks to the girl “completely reprehensible” but said they were uncharacteristic for a man with a soft touch for children.

“I’ve been in dozens of situations with him with children – he’s usually the grandfatherly guy,” Goldberg said. “I’ve seen him say things he wished he could take back many times – but never around kids.”

A group of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, planned to protest Riordan’s remarks at the Capitol Thursday.

But the organizer, Democratic state Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, canceled the protest after an apparent mix-up over the girl’s racial background.

Dymally was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News Thursday saying the child was “a little African-American girl. Would he (Riordan) have done that to a white girl?”

The girl is white, with blonde hair.

Dymally did not return telephone calls. His office issued a statement Wednesday calling Riordan’s remarks to the girl “outrageous and irresponsible,” then issued another statement Thursday saying, “To err is human; to forgive is divine.”

“Race is not a factor in this issue,” Dymally said, adding that Riordan had apologized a second time. “It is time for us to move on.”

AP-ES-07-08-04 1924EDT



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