Amid calls for the Aurora city councilman’s resignation over online videos depicting his use of racist stereotypes of Muslims, Latinos, South Asians and Black people, Steve Sundberg issued an apology Wednesday to anyone he offended.
The 2020 videos were posted to his restaurant and bar’s Facebook page, Legends of Aurora – Sports Grill, where he dressed as people of various ethnicities and ridiculed their accents and their faith, prompting an outcry from former employees and community members, as first reported by the Aurora Sentinel.
“In a dark Covid shut down, when businesses we’re fighting to survive, with people experiencing mental health issues, uncertainty, suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence and fear, we were able to provide through a number of videos, humor and light heartedness, which drove business and cheered people up,” he wrote.
“Made over 2 years ago, no one expressed offense. Not any video was intended to be offensive. However, it has recently came to my attention that some people have found content in the videos offensive,” the statement continued. “For anyone I did offend, I apologize and I will learn from it. In light of this, I have taken some of the videos down.”
But members of the Aurora delegation in the Colorado Legislature say they, and members of the community, are calling for much more from Sundberg, including his resignation from his seat on a council that represents the most diverse city in the state. The racist videos drew disgust from various community leaders throughout the state.
“It was so reminiscent of racial actions from years past and took me back to very hurtful times,” said Colorado Sen. Janet Buckner, a Black lawmaker.
But Mayor Mike Coffman defended Sundberg as an individual, saying in a statement that the videos were promotional ads created before he ran for City Council.
“They are an unfortunate attempt at humor and they are in poor taste, but I don’t believe that he, being married to an African immigrant and having biracial children, is in any way a racist and that he is somehow incapable of being an elected representative in one of the most diverse cities in the United States,” Coffman wrote.
Councilman Dustin Zvonek said he didn’t watch the videos and hadn’t heard that other people were offended but said he doesn’t believe Sundberg is the type of person to intentionally offend people.
Zvonek said he doesn’t intend to watch the videos nor does he consider this a council matter.
That’s not how leaders whose beliefs were caricatured see it. Rep. Iman Jodeh, a Palestinian-American Muslim lawmaker who also represents Aurora, said she believes an apology or even a council censure is merely a slap on the wrist.
Jodeh has been fielding messages from constituents calling for Sundberg’s resignation, but even that gives her pause, she said, because he would just be replaced with another conservative member who is not representative of the majority-Democrat city.
“Growing up in America, it had become commonplace for us to see derogatory depictions of Muslims and Arabs that was very normalized,” Jodeh said. “But I think the wake of Black Lives Matter and Me Too and a lot of movements really codifying the marginalized communities’ demand to be respected and recognized for their culture and heritage has shifted that mindset of being so normal.
“So when I saw those videos, I had realized that we had an elected official who still thought depicting Arabs and Muslims and other communities of color in those videos the way he did was not only acceptable but funny.”
Councilman Juan Marcano said he did not think the council members had enough votes for censure, but he agrees that Sundberg should resign.
“… he is very clearly incapable of distinguishing right from wrong and caricature from comedy,” Marcano said.
This is a developing story and will be updated.