CASCO – The Board of Selectmen voted 3-1 Tuesday to censure one of its members for forwarding a racist e-mail about Michelle Obama.

That board member, Barbara York, apologized for sending the e-mail last summer and said she would never do anything like that again. But she didn’t resign, as some had demanded.

The vote, which amounted to a public rebuke, was anti-climactic. It came at the end of an emotional meeting that was at times ugly and contentious, but at other times was surprisingly moving.

The most powerful moment occurred near the end, when Antonio Jackson, an African-American resident who demanded two weeks ago that York step down, said he now forgives her.

Addressing about 100 people who jammed into the Casco Fire Station, he talked about how much the e-mail upset him when he first saw it. The e-mail, which has circulated widely on the Internet, includes side-by-side images of the first lady and a monkey with similar facial expressions.

“It enraged me,” Jackson said.

Jackson recounted how York visited his home recently and apologized to him and his wife. He said he has gotten to know her personally.

“What I am asking is to stand with me in forgiveness to Ms. York,” he said.

Nearly everyone stood and applauded.

York stepped out from behind the selectmen’s table, walked over to Jackson and embraced him.

Mary-Vienessa Fernandes, an African-American resident who was furious at York two weeks ago when she brought a printout of the e-mail to the selectmen, said she accepted York’s apology.

Fernandes said she appreciated the support of Casco residents, many of whom showed kindness to her over the past two weeks.

Kevin Hancock, president of Casco-based Hancock Lumber, said that Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela often spoke about the power of forgiveness.

“I believe if Dr. King and Nelson Mandela were here tonight, if we would ask them what we should do, they would ask us to forgive and not seek revenge. And I forgive,” Hancock said.

Some people were angry that someone had made the e-mail — forwarded by York more than eight months ago — public in an attempt to hurt and discredit her.

Others said York should resign.

Jackee Wurslin held up a photo of her 26-year-old son, who is black, and said the e-mail reflects racist attitudes that are usually hidden.

“Seeing this, I wonder what you are thinking behind those closed-door meetings we can’t attend,” she said.

Laura Dingley, 41, whose ancestors in the 1770s were among the first white settlers of an area that is now part of Casco, said people shouldn’t be offended by the e-mail.

“It was a joke, plain and simple,” she said, no different from the dumb-blonde jokes that people have made about her.

At one point, board Chairman Calvin Nutting ruled Dingley out of order for not speaking on the matter at hand, and warned her that she would be removed by a sheriff’s deputy if she did not stop.

Dingley walked over to Nutting, picked up his microphone from the table and said she had the right to speak because she has lived in Casco her entire life. She kept talking.

After the meeting, York said she was pleased with the support she received from the community. She also said the selectmen were right to censure her.

“I did something wrong, something hurtful,” she said. “I don’t have any problem with what they had to do.”

Selectman Carroll Morton voted against the censure, saying it should have been more strongly worded.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]