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Oklahoma City councilman apologizes for 'fried foods' remark

David Greenwell ward 5, during the swearing in ceremony for the Oklahoma City Council, Tuesday, April 9, 2019.  Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman
David Greenwell ward 5, during the swearing in ceremony for the Oklahoma City Council, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Photo by Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman

Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell apologized Wednesday for a remark about "fried foods," made during a discussion of taxpayer support for a northeast Oklahoma City market and cafe, after a councilwoman said on Twitter the comment was racist.

The council was considering allocation of $560,000 in federal community development funds to Restore Food to open a grocery at 1708 NE 23 St. Intended to sell fresh fruits, vegetables and meats, the market will address the northeast-side's 'food desert.'

After introduction of the proposal, Greenwell asked about division of floor space among groceries and the restaurant.

After a city staff member answered, Greenwell responded, "And no fried foods, right?"

In response to another user's post with video of the exchange, Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon wrote Wednesday morning, "As disgusting as this racist comment was, I’m glad that it happened while being filmed."

"I in no way meant to be racial or insensitive or demeaning," Greenwell said in an interview Wednesday evening. "I apologize to everyone for the insensitivity of my question."

Greenwell said his concern was with fast-food outlets, as prime contributors to poor health outcomes in Oklahoma City, and not intended to stereotype Black residents of the northeast side.

Noting he was without information on the cafe's menu, he said he was trying express his concern over the city's standing as No. 1 per capita in fast-food restaurants, where frying is ubiquitous.

"That's where the focus needs to be," he said.

"I should have asked in a more sensitive manner," Greenwell said. "I in no way meant to be disrespectful."

Mayor David Holt said by text Wednesday night an apology was due.

"The question Councilman Greenwell asked was insensitive and does not align with our ideals of an inclusive city," Holt wrote.

"An apology was owed and I’m glad he rendered it," the mayor said. "All people, but especially elected officials, have to be conscious of how our words affect others. We can all learn from these experiences.”

Restore Food is a community-based nonprofit with plans to convert a 6,000-square-foot commercial space for the market and cafe. Restore Food has an agreement with Homeland stores as an operational partner, a city official said.

Tuesday's council meeting was conducted virtually, rather than in-person, with members at home or in their offices.

In response to Greenwell's "fried foods" comment, Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice, who represents the neighborhoods Restore Food will serve, said, "Having food options is really what the goal is.

"This was the vision of young people who were concerned and wanted to do something," she said.

Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper commented briefly and then Nice said, "I am curious about why fried food matters."

"Yeah, I guess that was kind of my concern, too," Cooper said.

Holt, who was presiding from home, left the call at that point for a previously scheduled national television interview. Holt handed the meeting off to Greenwell, who is vice mayor.

"Then maybe he can answer that," Nice said, referring to Greenwell. "I'll wait."

Greenwell, however, did not respond.

In Wednesday's interview, he said he was interrupted by a business call. Greenwell is an accountant.

City Manager Craig Freeman eventually drafted Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone to run the meeting. Stone presided until Holt returned a half-hour later.

Greenwell continued to vote, though, including in favor of the Restore Food proposal.

Hamon said by text there had been other troubling incidents.

She said Greenwell made "rude and disrespectful" remarks to her during an executive session in December. And there was a zoning case when, she wrote, he "insulted the neighborhood the case was in and I pushed back on him, but no one else spoke up."

"I’d like to see those chairing the meeting be the ones to call out this kind of behavior," she wrote.

In the instances she cited, she wrote, the individuals being insulted "have been the ones to push back with no guidance or support from the mayor or other council members who have had longer tenure."

William Crum

OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman. Read more ›