DOWNTOWN — Daniel La Spata, who is running to unseat 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno, apologized Tuesday for taking a photo wearing a banana costume while surrounded by smiling African-American children and people wearing monkey masks in Millennium Park.
“I apologize unequivocally for the photo,” La Spata said in a statement. “The photograph and the costumes were not racially motivated, but I understand how it could be perceived.”
The 2013 photo, which La Spata removed Thursday from his Facebook page, was taken during his bachelor party, when his friends surprised him with a banana costume and chased him in Millennium Park while wearing monkey masks. Kids in the park asked to take a picture with the group, according to a statement from the campaign.
Black Caucus Chairman Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) criticized the photo in a statement, as did Latino Caucus Chairman Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th).
“Whether it’s Ralph Northam in Virginia, or an aldermanic candidate here in Chicago, there should be no place in our politics for this kind of blatant racist imagery,” Sawyer said. “I have no interest in having a colleague in the City Council who would participate in this sort of bigotry.”
Villegas said he had concerns about La Spata’s behavior.
“Whether it’s elected officials from Virginia or the White House, hate has no home here and definitely not on the City Council,” Villegas said in a tweet.
Northam came under fire last week after photographs from a medical school yearbook surfaced in which he was possibly photographed in either black face or a Ku Klux Klan robe and mask. At first the governor said he could not recall being in either photograph, then later stated he definitely was not in either photograph.
Unlike Northam, spokesman Jeff Salvatore said on Tuesday, La Spata has not wavered on the images linked to his 2013 bachelor party.
“Daniel is absolutely remorseful,” he said. “We’re not gonna hide that at all.”
The photo was posted five years ago, but came to light after a 1st ward resident flagged it, according to Moreno spokesman Raymond Valadez.
“We became aware of it through a post made by an African American 1st Ward constituent, Rob Cole, who posted a comment, along with the photo, expressing his anger at seeing the photo of LaSpata, dressed as a banana with his friends dressed as monkeys, mocking young African American boys,” Valadez said.
The photo came out after a rough news week for Moreno. On Feb. 5, police said they were investigating whether he falsified a police report when he told them his Audi was stolen. It turned out, the car was being used with his permission by a woman he was dating, Liliya Hrabar.
Sawyer is running for re-election. He faces two challengers: Chicago Police officer Richard Wooten and accountant Deborah Foster-Bonner. Villegas is unopposed.
If elected, La Spata vowed to use his office to “break down racial inequities” in the city.
“As alderman, I will use my office to break down racial inequities in our ward and city, as I’ve done personally and professionally for the last 13 years,” La Spata said.