AUBURN — City Councilor Leroy Walker apologized Friday for racist comments he expressed this week as he discussed a proposal to name a footbridge for former Mayor John Jenkins.

Leroy Walker Sun Journal file photo

Walker said in a prepared statement that Jenkins was “a good friend of mine for 40 years” and he “meant no disrespect to him or his family.”

Walker, who represents the New Auburn-centered Ward 5 and is running unopposed for a sixth term, said he understands his comments at Tuesday’s council meeting “were insensitive and inappropriate.”

“I humbly and sincerely apologize,” Walker said.

Shortly after Walker’s statement, Mayor Jason Levesque announced his support for creating a permanent Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee in Auburn, as Councilor Katie Boss suggested, that would include government, education and community leaders “who will help guide us through the difficult conversations and changes ahead.”

“The result will be a brighter future for Auburn and our wonderful, diverse community,” the mayor said.

Walker won’t be among its members. He said he would step down from “all the board, committee and commission assignments” he currently holds because of his position as a city councilor, but gave no indication that he would give up his seat on the council itself.

Walker serves on the Androscoggin County Budget Committee, the city’s Appointment Committee, the L-A 9-1-1 Committee, the Mid Maine Waste Action Corp. and the Committee on Age-Friendly Community.

Walker said he “will use the days and weeks ahead to speak with and seek guidance from experts in diversity and communication in order to communicate for and to my constituents more effectively.”

“I will use this time to reflect and learn from this experience,” Walker said. He said he came to his decision after “much reflection and after hearing from constituents, friends and colleagues.”

He said that he respects the legacy left by Jenkins, who died last year, and fully supports naming the footbridge between Lewiston and Auburn after Maine’s first Black state senator.

Jenkins, a former mayor of both Lewiston and Auburn, “is much loved and deeply respected in Auburn and beyond,” Walker said.

Both the Auburn and Lewiston city councils had denounced Walker’s commentary about Jenkins before the councilman offered his apology.

An Auburn council member, Holly Lasagna, said Friday that calls for Walker to resign are correct because “someone whose misinformed views precludes them from being able to represent all members of the community equitably and without bias is not able to do the job of appropriately representing their constituents or our community.”

“It is also extremely unfortunate that this allows people who are not from Auburn to see our city not as it is but through the lens of racism and ignorance,” she said.

A former mayoral candidate in Auburn, attorney Adam Lee, also said Friday that Walker should resign from the council.

“It is clear from Councilor Walker’s comments that he is unable to fairly and equitably represent the interests of Auburn’s residents without resorting to harmful and absurd racist stereotypes,” Lee said. “It is in the interest, therefore, of our city and its residents that he step down and be replaced by someone capable of representing us, all of us.”

Levesque, who beat Lee to take the office in 2017, said the furor surrounding Walker’s comments “has been a powerful lesson for him and for all of us in government service throughout our region.”

“We cannot let this regrettable incident detract from the fact that Auburn is headed in the right direction,” he said, with “many positive events, initiatives and changes in motion; and much of the good happening here is due to our historic diversity and the strides we have made toward inclusion and equity within our city.”

Levesque said, “We are resolute in our ongoing commitment to moving our city forward, with a focus on eliminating policies and behaviors that divide us versus bringing us together.”

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