Yes, sir, you are racist.
In fact, there is no other word to appropriately describe the rhetoric spewed by Leelanau County Road Commissioner Tom Eckerle last week.
Eckerle’s first utterance, a vile reference to “those n——s in Detroit” during the preamble to a public meeting, probably was enough for us all to get the picture. That was before the 75-year-old Suttons Bay resident confirmed his bigotry to the world by doubling, tripling and quadrupling down on his previous racist statements.
It appears Mr. Eckerle hasn’t met a reporter to whom he won’t confirm his racism with an encore barrage of n-word laced recitations of his world view.
In several instances, Eckerle coupled escalations of his rhetoric with claims he is “not a racist.”
We beg to differ.
His right to espouse such repugnant, ignorant and foul beliefs is protected by the First Amendment. But freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from repercussions.
We were heartened by the immediate, and decisive reaction by Leelanau County residents who, when news of Eckerle’s rhetoric broke, denounced his behavior and pledged to remove him from office through a recall if he didn’t leave of his own volition.
And for about a day it appeared an arduous recall process would be necessary as Eckerle declared he had no plans to resign.
The only other way to boot an elected official from office is through executive action by the governor, and we appreciate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reluctance to step between public officials and their constituents.
Eckerle and his behavior provides an opportunity for a countywide statement of values — either through public declarations and reforms or at the ballot box.
We were relieved when Eckerle reversed course and loosened his stubborn grip on the office he isn’t fit to hold.
The semi-retired farmer, who is two years into a six-year term on the county road board, told a Record-Eagle reporter late Friday he plans to forfeit his seat. Not because of the nationwide backlash. Or because his racism has dealt irreparable damage to his community. No, Eckerle said he will resign because he doesn’t want to “burden” a newly-hired, soon-to-start road commission manager with the problems he created.
That’s sure thoughtful from a guy who a day ago seemed hell-bent on digging a pit big enough not just to bury himself, but to take down Leelanau County with him.
We hope all elected and appointed officials pay close attention to the lessons Eckerle presented them. Not the racist dog whistles he spends so much time repeating. No, the lesson here is one of public service.
Holding elected office comes with a bundle of sacrifices — time, stress and self interest to name a few.
Self interest is the one on display this week in Leelanau County. Tom Eckerle showed us all how not so serve the constituents who relied upon him to represent them while in office.
He reminded us that some people simply are unfit for office.
The experience also begs for introspection from us all. How we respond to those who casually seed conversations with racial slurs and other more covert racism matters.
Silence is support.