AURORA, Col. — A white city councilman has rejected calls to resign for using racial and religious stereotypes to portray Muslims, Latinos, blacks and Asians in videos intended to promote his sports bar.

steve sundberg posted the videos to the Legends of Aurora Sports Grill Facebook page in 2020, but they only caught the attention of leaders and advocacy groups in December.

Sundberg has since apologized and removed the videos, saying they were an attempt at humor during the darkest days of the pandemic, but he continues to draw outrage from constituents, other council members and elected state leaders who are demanding his resignation.

Steve Sundberg.aurora city

The situation is reminiscent of last year’s racism scandal in Los Angeles, where a recording surfaced of three Latino council members and a Latino labor leader making crude and bigoted comments about blacks.

One of the three, the former president of the Council Nury Martínez, resigned shortly after the recording was made public. But the other two, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, resisted widespread calls to step down, including from President Joe Biden. Cedillo’s term ended in December, but de León is still on the council.

Sundberg, who made more than a dozen videos before was elected in 2021he is shown in one wearing traditional Muslim clothing and a turban while sitting on a prayer rug, reading aloud reviews of his restaurant in a Middle Eastern accent.

Hello, I’m Steve Syeed from Legends. My job is to respond to Google and Yelp reviews,” he said, intentionally sacrificing language.

When an employee approaches and asks if he’d like bacon, the councilman grabs a scimitar and appears to repeatedly yell «harman,» an Arabic word meaning Muslims are prohibited from eating, using, or doing anything.

In another video, Sundberg pretends to be a man named Victor, a poncho-wearing Spanish translator touting the day’s special menu, a beef or chicken enchilada dish with cheese and onion, in broken Spanish and English.

Reached by phone, Sundberg defended the videos, saying he has played various characters over the years on his restaurant’s website, including a crocodile hunter and a French chef, and these were no different.

Before hanging up the phone, Sundberg added that no one raised concerns about the videos when they were first posted and that media reports of subsequent dissent had been exaggerated.

“In a dark Covid shutdown, when businesses were struggling to survive, with people experiencing mental health issues, uncertainty, suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence and fear, we were able to provide through a series of videos, humor and joy. , which boosted business and cheered people up,” the councilman later wrote in a text message.

But not everyone laughs.

“He feels like he is above reproach,” said Aurora City Councilman Juan Marcano, who is Latino and thinks Sundberg should resign. “I grew up with people like that, they think racism is humor. When people show you who they are, believe them.»

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a nonprofit advocacy group, said Sundberg’s videos were offensive and intended to demonize Muslim traditions.

«It’s Islamophobia,» Hussein said, adding that Sundberg nonchalantly mocked and belittled Muslim customs.

Aurora, with almost 400,000 inhabitants, is one of the most diverse cities in Colorado. About 30% of its population is Latino, 16% is Black, and 6% Asian, according to US Census data.

Víctor Márquez, a Latino chef at the sports grill, defended Sundberg during a City Council meeting last month, saying the restaurant was struggling and facing possible closure when a plan was hatched to do skits to attract business.

“We didn’t want to hurt anyone. We decided that instead of closing the business, we would do marketing,” Márquez said in Spanish through an interpreter, adding that some staff members had been laid off before the videos were made.

But some state lawmakers said there was no excuse for Sundberg’s actions.

State Rep. Iman Jodeh, a Democrat who in 2020 became Colorado’s first Muslim lawmaker, said Sundberg should resign.

“I think what he did was inexcusable,” said Jodeh, whose district includes Aurora. «It’s exhausting constantly having to call people or explain what they’re doing wrong.»

In a third video, Sundberg purports to promote the $10.99 daily special (chicken curry, vegetables, and white rice) with a South Asian accent.

«But we must warn you, it’s like an aphrodisiac when you try this,» he says.

In a fourth video, promoting Legends’ dark lager, also known as a stout, Sundberg uses a German accent while speaking in a men’s room with a black customer. repeating a stereotype about the genitals of black men.

At last month’s City Council meeting, several residents demanded Sundberg’s resignation. Aurora Councilwoman Alison Coombs agreed with them.

“He had a chance to make amends and his approach was unsuccessful,” he said, adding that he believes Sundberg has failed to acknowledge the harm he caused because he continues to maintain that it was all a joke.

“He has been detrimental to the community and his response has been inappropriate,” Coombs said.

On Wednesday, a couple dozen patrons sat inside Legends, drank beer, ate and watched sports. Some called Sundberg a pillar in the community, known for raising money for people in need.

«This of him is absurd,» said client Don Blosser. «I can’t think of anyone here who would call him a racist.»

Manager Michele Long, a Latina, said the promotional videos were an attempt to stay relevant during the pandemic.

“They were never meant to be malicious,” he said, adding, however, that he understands how people can view them as offensive.