Savage Says His Remarks Not Racist

Posted: March 30, 1990

WASHINGTON — Instead of backing away from a campaign speech that critics said fanned animosity between Jews and blacks, Rep. Gus Savage (D., Ill.) defended every syllable yesterday at a news conference.

In a March 17 campaign speech in Chicago, Savage attacked pro-Israel campaign funds and members of a pro-Israel lobbying organization for supporting his opponent in the Democratic primary. Savage narrowly won the primary.

His points were well-worn: The pro-Israel lobby is powerful, and distant interest groups sometimes influence local congressional elections.

"There ain't but one kind of racism - that's white racism. That's racism by definition," Savage said yesterday, rejecting accusations that he is racist.

He said the nation's prejudice was reflected in the Academy Awards' best- picture choice, Driving Miss Daisy, about a Southern Jewish woman and her black chauffeur.

"They don't seem to understand that . . . we would die and go to hell before we ever go back to driving Miss Daisy," he said.

But even Savage's black colleagues in Congress now say his tone drips racial hatred.

"I find much of his language and remarks unacceptable, divisive and bigoted," Majority Whip William H. Gray 3d (D., Pa.), a rising star in the Democratic Party, said recently.

Savage, 64, has represented a mostly black South Chicago district since 1980.

In recent years, he has encountered increasing criticism, most recently by the House ethics committee, which concluded that he had made unwanted sexual advances on a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.

Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.), a hero of the Selma, Ala., civil rights march, rejected an invitation to attend Savage's March 17 pre-election rally, but Gray and Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D., N.Y.) endorsed him. They left before he spoke, however, and have since condemned Savage's remarks.

In the primary, Savage defeated Mel Reynolds, a black, with 51 percent of the vote. Savage called the news conference yesterday to show a videotape of the controversial speech.

In it, he portrayed Reynolds as a prostitute bought by distant pro-Israel organizations. Savage said they had targeted him for defeat because of his opposition to the amount of foreign aid to Israel.

"That's why they sent the money, to try to get rid of Gus Savage," he said, repeatedly using the words Jewish lobby and Jewish money and contending that there was a widespread conspiracy against him.

His opponent "could have gas and make a sound and you'd run it on (local) television," he said, but "they don't have much time for Gus Savage because I'm not a basketball player. I can't sing and I won't dance."

Afterward, he rejected accusations that his remarks were anti-Semitic or racist. He said he only was defending his local district from outsiders.

"What's an anti-Semitic tone?" he said. "Do you like a black who just talks soft - I'm not that kind of black. . . . That really comes close to racism."

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