A Santa Ana city councilwoman who compared Jewish property owner Irv Chase to Adolf Hitler and accused him of engaging in ethnic cleansing during a Santa Ana City Council meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 24, has apologized. But the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Orange County office is calling her apology inadequate.
Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Alvarez made her comments during a public hearing on a controversial property tax, known as the PBID, which is said to pay for marketing and security services provided by Downtown Inc. Chase’s son, Ryan, is the president of Downtown Inc., and Irv Chase had served as its secretary until he resigned from the company this week.
Alvarez apologized for her remarks the next day in interviews with local media.
Chase’s activities in Santa Ana’s downtown core have been the subject of controversy in this heavily Latino area. Many downtown business owners oppose the PBID tax — a portion of which goes to Downtown Inc. — because they say they do not benefit from the services provided.
“Ryan and Irv Chase … are very much interested in continuing the ethnic cleansing that is going on downtown,” Alvarez said on Wednesday.
Irv and Ryan Chase own buildings on four blocks along the city’s East Fourth Street. Alvarez’s comments were likely tied to another recent controversy involving the Chases in which they have been accused of trying to eliminate working-class, Latino shops and a Latino cultural center from the downtown core.
“Hey, so if Hitler rents you a place, he’s giving us a great deal, so who cares what he stands for?” she added.
Irv Chase is the child of Polish Holocaust survivors. He and Ryan Chase walked out of the meeting after Alvarez’s remarks.
“I’m very, very sensitive to the Holocaust,” Irv Chase told a Los Angeles Times reporter. “That was the lowest thing that she could have said.”
Two other city council members, David Benavides and Carlos Bustamante, renounced Alvarez’s comments.
Alvarez apologized during a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, Aug. 25.
“What I said was inappropriate, and I let my emotions get the best of me,” she said.
Alvarez told a Times reporter that getting emotional did not justify her statements and that the debate has affected her personally because her father owned a business downtown.
Kevin O’Grady, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County, called Alvarez’s apology disingenuous, claiming that her comment comparing the older Chase to Hitler was a repetition of a conversation she had had earlier with someone and not a spontaneous outburst.
“I do not think her apology went far enough,” O’Grady said. “She owes an apology to Irv Chase and to the Jewish community.”
In a letter to Alvarez, who also serves as deputy district attorney for Santa Ana, O’Grady raised doubts about her judgment and called into question her ability to serve in that capacity. He also wrote that her recent apology was “inadequate and did not illustrate an understanding of why your statements are so offensive and hurtful.”
Members of Santa Ana’s Latino community have also condemned Alvarez’s remarks.
In a letter to Alvarez, Zeke Hernandez, president of the Santa Ana chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, supported O’Grady’s call for the councilwoman to issue a public apology.
“Hopefully, she’ll respond as soon as possible with an apology that comes from the heart,” Hernandez said. “If that is not the case, I think we will definitely have to press this case with the council to express its position on this.”
Alvarez told The Jewish Journal she had apologized to Chase and to the Jewish community, though she has not issued a formal statement, nor has she spoken directly to Chase. She added that she was not aware of Chase’s background as the child of Holocaust survivors. She said she was looking to compare Chase to someone whose actions were deplorable and Hitler was the first to come to mind.
“It wasn’t my intention to offend anyone in any way, shape or form,” she said. “I feel horrible about the statement, but when you are upset you say things you don’t mean. I apologize to anyone who might have been offended by it.”