Simon Confronts Anger Over Racial Remark

AP, IndyStar.com, Aug. 12

AURORA, Colo.—Black leaders reacted Wednesday to allegedly racist remarks from an Aurora Mall leasing agent by threatening a boycott.

Gerald Muhammad, a representative of the Nation of Islam, said a boycott if their demands aren’t met could drive the mall out of business within a year.

“Walk around the mall on any day and you’ll see the majority of customers are African Americans and Latinos,” Muhammad said.

But he and others who met with mall officials for several hours said they prefer a resolution rather than confrontation.

Denver and Aurora black leaders expressed anger about a leasing agent reportedly telling a tenant that the mall wants to attract more white customers.

“We just want to reduce the negative, um, aspects of the center—one of them is the young, black customer,” the agent is heard to say in excerpts a telephone conversation secretly taped by a restaurant operator and aired Monday on KMGH-TV in Denver.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, which owns and operates the mall, apologized and called the agent’s remarks “grossly inappropriate.” The company said it doesn’t intend to exclude anyone from the mall.

The agent, who was not identified, was taken off an Aurora Mall redevelopment project and suspended pending an investigation, the company said.

Black leaders didn’t detail what demands they presented to mall officials, but said they involved more job opportunities for minority youths and diversity training for the mall’s security workers.

Simon Properties owns malls across the country. Acen Phillips of Aurora, a retired minister, said the boycott wouldn’t be confined to the Aurora shopping center.

John Rulli, executive vice president of Simon Property, said the company is working with black leaders on a plan that can be implemented quickly.

Rulli acknowledged that activists complained that no black subcontractors were hired for the mall’s $100 million renovation scheduled to be complete in late 2006. He said minority- and female-owned companies make up about 10 percent of the project’s subcontractors.

Nearly 40 percent of Aurora’s 297,000 residents identify themselves as ethnic minorities. Blacks account for nearly 14 percent of the population.

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