HAMMOND — The City Council appears to be backing down from their initial pick to represent them on the tourism board, with one council member saying Raymundo Garcia has become too much of a political distraction.
Garcia argues he believes he’s being “vilified” for his personal choice not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance during CVA public meetings.
“To be a good patriot and to be a good American means you vote, you pay your taxes, you don’t break the laws. You pick up garbage in the streets,” said Garcia, the operator of a popular Hammond taco restaurant. “I grew up in a time when we were taught to question authority, not to just go along with whatever our leaders say.”
He said he stands for the pledge at South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority meetings, but folds his arms and doesn’t recite it during meetings in a quiet act of “civil disobedience.”
“The First Amendment guarantees my right to not say the pledge,” he said.
Written in 1892 by socialist minister Francis Bellamy, the Pledge of Allegiance’s poetic origins are rooted in white nationalism, anti-immigration policies and bigotry, Garcia explained, which is why he says he doesn’t recite the pledge.
“This is what this poem was written for. And I don’t believe in those things,” he said.
“I believe we are the greatest country, but we will only become greater when we question the things we do and why we do them. I want to make sure people of color have equal justice, and that the rich can no longer buy themselves out of jail. This is a problem,” he said.
‘Today’s political climate’
His controversial comments come days after the Hammond City Council’s Monday meeting where members voted — without a detailed, public explanation — to rescind Garcia’s June 24 appointment to the CVA board.
Contacted for comment Wednesday, District 5 Councilman Dave Woerpel said the reason is two-fold.
Speaking for himself and not the full council, Woerpel said Garcia shouldn’t be mixing his personal and political beliefs with his appointment as a city representative to the CVA board. He also said he confronted Garcia about the Pledge of Allegiance issue and believes Garcia deceived him.
“You know in today’s political climate, it’s a very controversial protest. I mean, should football players take a knee? That’s not what we need,” he said. “It’s a distraction when (a CVA appointee) should be about promoting Hammond at these meetings.”
Garcia alleges he wasn’t reappointed to the CVA board earlier this summer after the Hammond City Council missed its deadline because of his quiet protest at meetings. He previously said it was because of his dissenting vote against CVA president and CEO Speros Batistatos' pay packages.
He said he makes it a point not to kneel, but stand, for the pledge out or respect for Bill Wellman, the governor’s appointee to that 19-member board and a World War II veteran who attends the meetings.
Hammond City Council President Bob Markovich said Woerpel’s opinion is that of his own, and doesn’t necessary reflect that of the rest of the council.
“He’s just one person, and I’m shocked Woerpel is saying this,” he said. “I can’t account for what someone else says. And I’m just one of nine (council members).”
Garcia’s appointment is at the center of a lawsuit filed this month by the Hammond City Council against the CVA board, alleging Batistatos tossed the council’s board appointee to the side and appointed his own pick over a deadline technicality.
Despite Batistatos issuing a letter of apology, the lawsuit continues, challenging the constitutionality of the special legislation governing Lake County CVA board appointees.
Woerpel said the letter states the tourism authority will honor the council’s new appointment if made before Sept. 15.
The correspondence doesn’t make clear if the council’s June 24 appointment of Garcia stands, so Woerpel said he made the motion to rescind with the intention of appointing someone — though not necessarily Garcia — at the next council meeting on Sept. 9.
Markovich said the rescind vote merely suspends the appointment until then. It’s unknown who the council will choose.