Clay, West Virginia mayor Beverly Whaling has resigned after agreeing with a friend on Facebook who called Michelle Obama an “Ape in heels.” There is already a petition to have her recalled with more signatures than citizens of the town she runs.
Whaling’s friend, Pamela Ramsey Taylor, was placed on leave as a director at the Clay Development Corporation, a non-profit group that is not part of the local government. Taylor was welcomed back to work on December 23, the West Virginia Gazette-Mail reported on December 11. However, The Washington Post reported on December 27 that Taylor has been fired for good.
Whaling has since apologized for her comments and says that she is not racist. Later, The Associated Press confirmed that Whaling has resigned.
Here is a look at the controversy.
1. Taylor Wrote That She Is ‘Tried of Seeing a Ape in Heels’ as First Lady
The controversy started on November 12, when Taylor wrote a Facebook message after seeing photos of Obama talking with the new First Lady, Melania Trump. Taylor’s post read:
It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady back in the White House. I’m tired of seeing [an] Ape in heels.
Over an hour later, Whaling wrote, “Just made my day” in a comment on the post. A person who posted screenshots of the comments said that they should both lose their jobs.
The comments were picked up by WSAZ in West Virginia. Taylor told the station that she deleted the comment and apologized on Facebook, but her Facebook page has been deleted. Still, Taylor said that she has received death threats because of the comment and is talking with her attorneys about filing a lawsuit against those who slandered her.
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2. Taylor Was Placed on Leave & Was Set to Return for Work, but Was Fired for Good on December 27
“While we respect Ms. Taylor’s right to free speech, we strongly oppose any form of racism or hate speech,” Joe Murphy, vice chairman of the Clay Democratic Executive Committee, told the West Virginia Gazette-Mail. “We fully support our president and the first lady.”
On December 11, The West Virginia Gazette-Mail reported that Taylor will get her job back. She was set to return to work on December 23 and the Clay Development Corporation did not provide the Gazette-Mail with a comment.
On December 27, The Washington Post reported that Taylor was fired for good by the Clay County Development Corp.
Robert Roswall, commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, told the Post that the entire incident later exposed issues with how the Clay County Development Corp. was run. Rules were not being followed within the organization, which received government funding to provide services to elderly residents. Taylor’s firing eventually led to West Virginia state officials taking over the organization with the Appalachian Area Agency on Aging taking over authority of day-to-day operations for six months.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore also issued a statement on the controversy:
On behalf of my fellow Mountaineers I would like extend my sincerest apologies to first lady Michelle Obama. West Virginia truly is better than this. These radical, hateful, and racist ideals are exactly what we at the West Virginia Democratic Party will continue to fight against. These words and actions do not represent West Virginia values.
We will continue to fight for a West Virginia that is inclusive, not divisive and a home for all to feel safe, welcome, and protected. In a time when we are at a crossroads and many fear the future we must stand together against hate of all forms.
The Clay County Development Corporation’s Facebook page is flooded with negative reviews now. One person praised the company for firing Taylor.
“I’d like to apologize to anyone who was offended and most certainly the First Lady. I’m sorry that this happened,” Clay Councilman Jason Hubbard told WSAZ. “The Town Council would like to condemn the horrible and indecent post that is the center of the controversy. This post is an individual and isolated act. This kind of racial intolerance is not what this community is about.”
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3. Over 100,000 People Signed a Petition to Get Whaling Recalled, but Less Than 700 People Live in the City
After news of the post began to circulate, a petition on The Petition Site popped up, asking that both Taylor and Whaling lose their jobs. The petition has over 110,000 signatures. However, the city has a population of 648. The latest Census estimates show that just 9,386 live in all of Clay County, West Virginia.
The petition reads:
Clay County Development Corp. Director Pamela Taylor Ramsey posted a hateful, racially motivated statement to Facebook, which was not only liked by the Clay County Mayor Beverly Whaling, but commented on in a way that showed she agreed with her comments. Every grant and piece of paper Mrs. Taylor and Ms. Whaling have to fill out and sign promises equal opportunities and a racism free workplace.
As the Gazette-Mail notes, a recall vote would need signatures from the registered voters who live within Clay. Ultimately, the recall wasn’t needed since Whaling decided to resign.
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4. Whaling Says She Didn’t Intend for Her Message to be Seen as Racist
Whaling has been in office for just over a year, taking office on July 1, 2015. Her term wasn’t supposed to end until June 30, 2019.
Whaling did issue an apology for her comment to the Washington Post, writing, “My comment was not intended to be racist at all.”
Here is Whaling’s full statement:
I would like to apologize for any unintentional harm caused by my comment. My comment was not intended to be racist at all. I was referring to my day being made for the change in the White House! I am truly sorry for any hard feeling this may have caused! Those who know me, know that I am not in any way racist! Again, I would like to apologize for this getting out of hand!
On Tuesday, Whaling resigned from her post.
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5. Donald Trump Won Clay County With Over 70 Percent of the Vote
Trump easily won West Virginia during the general election against Hillary Clinton with 68.7 percent of the vote. Trump won every single county in the state.
In Clay County, Trump earned 77.4 percent, while Clinton earned just 19.1 percent of the vote. Clay County is located in the Southern area of West Virginia and borders Kanawha County, which includes the state capital, Charleston.
Since Trump’s election, there have been several cases of hate crimes throughout the country against minorities.
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