Western Pennsylvania political figures and advocates for the disabled are reacting with dismay to a wisecrack from Former Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey, who at a victory party Tuesday compared Obama supporters to people with mental disabilities.
"I was a little surprised,” said Nate Locklin, president of the Ross Township Republican Committee. “Jim likes to tell jokes. That one was a little off. I was a little disappointed. I did not think it was appropriate. Disabilities aren't funny."
On Wednesday afternoon Roddey issued an apology for the remarks.
"I regret my comments," he said. "I have a long record of supporting people with disabilities and should have remembered that before I spoke. My remarks were inappropriate and I apologize."
The GOP chairman of Allegheny County, Roddey served as master of ceremonies for the victory party for state Rep. Randy Vulakovich at Monte Cello’s restaurant in Hampton Township.
About 300 people attended the party for Vulakovich, the Republican in the special election to fill the seat of former state Sen. Jane Orie in the 40th District.
Orie resigned after being convicted for using her office staff to do campaign work. She was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison.
After speaking to the crowd about Vulakovich's victory, Roddey launched into the Obama joke, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which gave this account:
"There was a disappointment tonight. I was very embarrassed. I was in this parking lot and there was a man looking for a space to park, and I found a space for him. And I felt badly—he looked like he was sort of in distress. And I said, 'Sir, here's a place.' And he said, 'That's a handicapped space.' I said, 'Oh I'm so sorry, I saw that Obama sticker and I thought you were mentally retarded."
The crowd at the restaurant responded to Roddey’s joke by clapping and hollering, the Post-Gazette reports.
But some local Democrats aren’t laughing.
“Jim Roddey should be ashamed of himself,” the Allegheny County Democratic Committee tweeted after learning of the former county executive’s statements.
Allegheny County Democratic Committee chairwoman Nancy Mills of Moon Township on Wednesday called on Roddey to apologize to the people he offended and to resign from his post as GOP chairman. She asked Republicans to press Roddey to do the same.
"If I made a comment like that my own friends would have called on me to step down immediately," she said. "Furthermore, Mitt Romney needs to show leadership and hold his supporters like Jim Roddey accountable for their attacks. Romney should join me in denouncing Roddey.”
Reached Wednesday, Brown said, "I honestly don't think he was thinking. To make a joke out of a person with a disability is unconscionable."
Butler County Republican Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, who attended Vulakovich's victory party, admitted the jest didn't portray Roddey in the best light.
“It was clearly not one of Jim’s better jokes," he said. "While no one can condone a joke made at the expense of the handicapped, I think he was probably caught up in the euphoria of the moment. Jim’s longtime involvement with civic and charitable causes is more indicative of the kind of person he is than one unfortunate, off-color remark.”
A petition calling for Roddey’s resignation has been started in light of his comments, Mills said. As of 6 p.m., it had 84 signatures.
What do you think of Roddey’s joke to the crowd? Did you find it offensive? Overblown? Leave your opinions in the comment section below.