Steinbrueck defends controversial choice for public reading

SEATTLE -- A Seattle mayoral candidate Tuesday defended his choice for a public reading, saying it's an important part of American history and not meant to be offensive.

Candidate Peter Steinbrueck read from "The Conjure Woman," a story about race relations set in the post-Civil War era South at an event at the Seattle Public Library last week. Steinbrueck, who is running for Seattle mayor, read the story in dialect at the "Candidates Read (and Greet)" event Monday night.

The 5-minute excerpt included the terms "Negro" and "colored man" read in dialect, and was recorded by the Seattle Channel.

"It was just extraordinarily difficult to read and kind of a funny choice for a read-aloud," said Deborah Wang, a reporter for KUOW who covered the event and broke the story. "I could sense the audience was just kind of, you know, shifting in their seats, maybe getting a little bit uncomfortable."

"I would not say that this meant that he's a racist or he is making fun of African-Americans," Wang continued. "He just chose a really difficult book to read which is written entirely - almost entirely - in the dialect of a former slave. I think this would be hard for anybody but a professional actor."

Steinbrueck said he chose the book because it's not only one of his favorites but because the library's event fell close to Juneteenth, an annual event marking the end of slavery in the United States.

"I read from the author's written word, exactly as it was written," Steinbrueck said Tuesday. "It is in dialect, so if you find this book offensive, then the same would apply to Mark Twain's Huck Finn. Maybe some people find that offensive, too. There's really little difference in that regard."

"I'm sorry, but if that's a problem we should bring it out in the open and discuss it as a city and as a community," Steinbrueck added.

Political strategist Ron Dotszauer, who has worked in politics in Washington for almost 40 years, said it remains to be seen whether the video will impact the mayor's race and Steinbrueck's campaign.

"My reaction was: why did he try to do this to begin with? It was certainly an error in judgment, in my opinion," Dotszauer said. "Clearly he shouldn't have attempted to do that, make that sort of characterization, the voice inflections. He made a mistake in my opinion and the consequence is yet to be determined."

Steinbrueck stood by his choice Tuesday.

"I can't speak for people who feel uncomfortable reading an important historically-significant passage by an African-American author of some greatness," he said. "If that makes people feel uncomfortable then we should have a conversation about that in this city. That's just too politically correct for me."