A Denver woman attending an Aurora City Council meeting on Monday said former City Councilwoman Polly Page made racist remarks to her after the woman chose not to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Northside resident Andrea Chavez said Page, seated behind her, used an expletive along with the word “Mexicans” after Chavez and others stayed seated or took a knee as a form of protest while the pledge was recited. Chavez was there with other progressive advocates supporting newly elected council members.
Page did not return six phone calls from Denverite on Wednesday and Tuesday. City records show she served as a City Council member from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. She served as Mayor Pro Tem in 1993. She currently serves on the city’s Oil and Gas Advisory Committee.
Monday’s meeting was the first with new council members and Mayor Mike Coffman, a former Republican congressman, in the dais. The new-look council represents a shift in the political majority, which now favors liberal council members on the nonpartisan legislative body.
The council chambers have been the site of several protests following the death of a black man in police custody earlier this year.
Chavez said Page’s remarks were heard by several people sitting near her, one of whom contacted Denverite to confirm. Chavez said she was taken aback and responded by letting Page know she is Native American, not Mexican.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Well you don’t act like one,'” Chavez said. “I really didn’t know what to say.”
“Anger arose when I heard the first part, but then despair almost hit me when she said that (second comment),” Chavez added. “I knew exactly what she meant. I think she meant that Native Americans need to stay quiet and be Indians on the reservation.”
A video posted on Facebook showed Chavez’s friends approaching Page and asking her to respond to her alleged remarks. Page can be seen denying the claims before wrapping her arm through the arm of a uniformed Aurora police officer.
The incident was first reported by the Aurora Sentinel.
Councilwoman Crystal Murillo, a Democrat who is Mexican-American, spoke from the dais about the incident shortly before Monday’s meeting ended. She said she’s had slurs said against her in the past. Several other council members condemned the remarks from the dais.
“I’m really sorry … that that happened to you, merely for expressing your beliefs and your constitutional right,” Murillo said. “I believe there’s no place for racism in this chamber, in our city, state, country. I think as leaders it’s incumbent upon us to speak out when we see something that’s wrong.”
City spokesperson Lori Mackenzie said in an email to Denverite that no one on the city’s staff witnessed the comments, so they could not address them specifically.
“Obviously, it’s our hope that public discourse at council meetings would be civil and productive and that everyone would be respectful,” Mackenzie said in the email.
Taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem is a form of silent protest popularized by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick started kneeling during the playing of the anthem in 2016 to protest police treatment of African Americans.
Chavez said Tuesday no one from the city had reached out to her about the incident. She said she doesn’t expect an apology or want one, adding that an apology from Page would be “disingenuous.” She added that she didn’t want to stay silent about the incident and wanted to bring attention to the things people of color experience.
“Just by her comments alone, I know where she stands,” Chavez said.
Coffman was out of town and not available for comment on Wednesday.