Racially tinged comment may be end of Carpentersville trustee's career

  • Carpentersville Trustee Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski.

    Carpentersville Trustee Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski. Daily Herald file photo

Published: 4/6/200 4:24 PM | Updated: 4/7/2008 9:05 AM

By her own admission, the comment Carpentersville Trustee Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski made over the weekend to her African-American neighbors' children spells the beginning of the end of her political career.

On Saturday, police issued the first-term trustee a $75 citation for disorderly conduct after Ramirez-Sliwinski compared her Sparrow Road neighbors' tree-climbing children to monkeys, Sliwinski said Sunday afternoon.

The neighbors say it was a racist comment, but Ramirez-Sliwinski maintains that her comment was misinterpreted.

"Technically, I don't consider it a mistake because that's not what I meant," she said. "They're children. They're climbing in a tree. What would you think?"

Ramirez-Sliwinski, a Hispanic who has been a strong advocate for the village's illegal immigrant population, says she has no plans to challenge the citation. She's already decided this will be her last term, believing this incident won't do her any good in the court of public opinion. Her term expires in April 2009.

"After this incident, I probably will not run again," she said through tears. "In the eyes of the public, this is wrong."

Police had no comment Sunday. They are expected to release a report on the incident today.

Village President Bill Sarto could not be reached Sunday.

The incident took place on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Ramirez-Sliwinski's next-door neighbors, Dametta Stewart and Georgia Lockett, were letting their children enjoy the warm temperatures outside their homes, they said.

Their sons were climbing a tree in front of the Stewart house, Stewart said. Stewart says she was in the house when she heard the trustee tell the boys they were "making the neighborhood look bad and they're a bunch of monkeys."

Georgia Lockett, who lives next door to Stewart, said she heard the whole thing and called the police.

"Why would anyone speak to a kid like that? I feel that was a racist statement," Lockett said Sunday.

The very idea that someone could ever accuse her of being racist is absurd, Ramirez-Sliwinski said.

"If anyone knows what it's like to be discriminated against, I do," she said.

To drive her point home, she singled out the Barack Obama campaign sign on her front yard.

"I support African-Americans," she said, adding that she's an Obama delegate in the upcoming Democratic convention.

Ramirez-Sliwinski says her neighbors have got her all wrong.

"My comment was, 'This is not a tree for them to be climbing in like monkeys,'" she said, adding that she calls her own grandchildren monkeys. "I would have said the same thing if they were Mexican kids."

Ramirez-Sliwinski says she told the boys to get out of the tree because she didn't want them to fall and hurt themselves. And, as head of the village's park committee, she has a duty to protect trees as well, she said.

The bad blood between the neighbors has festered for years. Lockett and Stewart, who together have lived on Sparrow Road for five years, charge that Ramirez-Sliwinski frequently complains about their children and inserts herself into the family's personal affairs, including the way they sort their garbage on trash pick-up days.

Ramirez-Sliwinski says she's only doing her part to keep Carpentersville beautiful and says it would reflect badly on her if her street was left untidy.

The next village board meeting on April 15 is expected to be a tense one for Ramirez-Sliwinski.

Last week, she backed an ordinance to declare Trustee Paul Humpfer's seat vacant after he was convicted of domestic battery. The resolution came nearly a month after Humpfer was found guilty on four counts of domestic battery, including hitting his wife with a baseball bat during a May 2007 argument.

Ramirez-Sliwinski has previously locked horns with Humpfer and Trustee Judy Sigwalt over how best to handle the village's illegal immigration issues.

After the board failed to support her on the Humpfer issue last week, she rebuked the trustees, accusing them of not caring about Carpentersville's image.

Going into the next meeting, Ramirez-Sliwinski expects that she, too, will be asked to resign, something she says she will not do.

"I'm not going to pull a Denny Hastert and just walk away," she said.

If other trustees try to force her off the board, Trustee Ed Ritter says he will not participate in such efforts.

"I'm not willing to hang someone over one misspoken word," he said. "I'm not going to pass judgment on her based on one small incident."