Radio Host Suspended for Insulting Mayor

The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 23, 2003; 9:03 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - A radio talk-show host was suspended for two days Monday for alluding to Rochester's black mayor as a monkey.

Bob Lonsberry apologized to Mayor William Johnson Jr. in taped remarks at the beginning and end of his three-hour show on WHAM radio, which was handled by a stand-in host Monday.

"I would certainly apologize for any interpretation of my words which would appear to be racist," and Lonsberry, who is white. "I am not a racist. But then racism is in the eye of the beholder, not in the heart of the speaker."

Lonsberry, a Republican, has been highly critical in recent months of Johnson, a Democrat who is running for Monroe County executive - the region's top political post - in the November election.

Last Thursday, as monkey sounds played in the background, Lonsberry joked about "monkeys loose up at the zoo again," the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported.

"That's really fine, really fine," he said. "Yeah, yeah, and he's running for county executive. What is with that?"

He made a similar reference last month after an orangutan escaped from its cage at a city zoo. "Headline: Orangutan escapes at zoo, runs for county executive. Fascinating stuff," he said.

Johnson was elected Rochester's first black mayor in 1993. While Lonsberry did not mention Johnson by name, the mayor told the newspaper that he believes Lonsberry "should know better."

Steve Minarik, the county Republican Party chairman, said Lonsberry's commentary was "beneath the standards of public discourse" and questioned whether the suspension was severe enough.

The station did not say whether Lonsberry will be paid during the suspension or when he will return.

Last year, Mayor Johnson was also the target of remarks by current Republican county executive, Jack Doyle, deemed racially insensitive by political rivals. Johnson announced his candidacy after Doyle said he would not seek re-election this year. Doyle, who is white, has said the controversy had no bearing on his decision.

Originally published in The Washington Post.