The congressional race in Ohio’s second district is shaping up to be an odd one. And it’s not just because one Democratic candidate is a self-described “Reagan conservative” and another starred recently on “The Apprentice.”
With the Democratic primary just days away, state and local party leaders are ripping into David Krikorian, one of the hopefuls to challenge GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt in November, for disparaging remarks he’s made recently about his chief primary opponent, Surya Yalamanchili.
According to accounts given to local politicians, Krikorian has appeared at campaign events to ridicule Yalamanchili, an American of Indian descent, by dramatically pronouncing his name to emphasize its foreign nature.
“Now do you really think that a guy with a name like that has a chance of ever being elected?” Krikorian allegedly said to members of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Clermont County.
The comments — which Krikorian denies – drew a quick response from local Democratic leaders, who shot off a letter to Krikorian Wednesday calling his behavior “deeply disturbing.”
“Your comments on Surya’s name are are best insensitive and worse appear racist,” wrote Timothy M. Burke and David Lane, the Democratic chairmen in Hamilton and Clermont counties, respectively. “It is deeply disturbing to us that you would use his name, which is obviously derived from his ethnic heritage, against him in a denigrating manner, especially considering how strongly you value and celebrate your own heritage.”
They added: “We will be voting for Surya next week, just as 18 months ago we were delighted to vote for someone else with an unusual name — Barack Obama.”
That isn’t all. Chris Redfern, chairman of Ohio’s Democratic Party, also caught wind of Krikorian’s alleged comments, and penned his own letter of disgust, calling Krikorian’s words “destructive.”
“We are a Party that proudly values diversity and inclusiveness,” Redfern wrote. “Your words fall short of these ideals.”
Yalamanchili, who recently starred on “The Apprentice,” hinted this week that he’s more concerned about what the comments say about Krikorian’s take on voter attitudes around Cincinnati than he is personally offended. “What’s most disappointing is that they seem to assume a certain level of racism on the part of the people of the 2nd district,” he told local media.
It’s not the only reason the Democrats are attacking Krikorian in the lead up to Tuesday’s primary. The Ohio businessman, while running for the same seat as an Independent in 2008, referred to himself as a “Reagan conservative,” a distinction that doesn’t exactly win points among the Democratic faithful. And during a primary debate last month, Krikorian attacked the notion that government workers should have the right to organize under unions, saying that “it puts the public at a disadvantage.”
Still, it’s the more recent charges of denigrating Yalamanchili’s heritage that are attracting most of the attention this week. And many say there’s good reason for that.
“They aren’t borderline racist remarks,” Cliff Schecter, an Ohio-based political consultant who is not involved in this race, told TWI Thursday. ”They are racist remarks.”
The episode has even attracted attention on Capitol Hill, with Schmidt herself condemning Krikorian’s remarks in an April 26 letter to the Democratic hopeful.
“Your remarks … were offensive to all that find even the hint of racism appalling,” Schmidt wrote. “You owe Mr. Yalamanchili and the Indian-American community an apology. Though I doubt one is forthcoming given your history.”
Krikorian, for his part, has denied the charges, and says he’ll be issuing a longer statement today.