Santa Monica, Calif.—Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger apologized Friday for remarks taped in a closed-door meeting in which he said the mixture of Hispanic and black heredity produces “very hot’’ personalities.
“Anyone out there that feels offended by those comments, I just want to say I’m sorry, I apologize,’’ the Republican governor told reporters outside a seaside hotel in Santa Monica.
Disclosure of the remarks in a Los Angeles Times story Friday came in the midst of Schwarzenegger’s tight re-election race and set off a day of fingerpointing from opponents and words of support for the governor by lawmakers of both parties.
On the tape, Schwarzenegger and chief of staff Susan Kennedy speak affectionately about a Republican Hispanic assemblywoman and speculate about her nationality.
Whether Cuban or Puerto Rican, “they all are very hot,’’ the governor says on the recording. “They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it.’’
Schwarzenegger’s campaign arranged a morning news conference in Santa Monica so the governor could respond to the revelations.
Schwarzenegger said he cringed when he read his own words in the newspaper and added that he would be upset if he heard any of his children making similar statements. He said the comments were not “meant to be in any negative way.’’
As part of his efforts to mend fences with Democrats and moderates this year, Schwarzenegger has displayed a more restrained, statesmanlike demeanor while all but retiring his trademark Hollywood swagger. But the newly disclosed remarks challenge that carefully managed image and provide a reminder of his history of off-the-cuff and sometimes off-color remarks.
He once called California legislators “girlie men’’ and talked of kicking nurses’ “butts,’’ the kind of comments he has sought to avoid during his re-election year.
The Democrat who wants to unseat him, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, said the governor “used language that is deeply offensive to all Californians.’’
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Schwarzenegger’s “racist comments were disgusting,’’ while Esteban Torres, chairman of the National Latino Media Council, called the remarks “an enormous slip of the Schwarzenegger tongue.’’
But it wasn’t immediately clear if the remarks would distract, or damage, his campaign. Even some Democrats said they believe Schwarzenegger’s remarks were more playful than disparaging.
“This is usual political banter. We do this all the time. In this case, it just happened to be taped,’’ said Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, a Democrat who chairs the state Legislative Black Caucus.
“These are hardly Nixon’s Watergate tapes,’’ said Richard Stapler, a spokesman for state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a Democrat.
State Sen. Martha Escutia, a Democrat who chairs the California Legislative Latino Caucus, said Schwarzenegger “has never been disrespectful to the Latino community.’’ She added that the public discussion “should remain focused on education and health care.’’
The assemblywoman who was the subject of the remarks, Bonnie Garcia, was at the governor’s side during the Friday news conference and said she was not offended. Garcia, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, is the Legislature’s only female Hispanic Republican.
She earlier told the Times that she often calls herself a “hot-blooded Latina.’’
The Times’ story reported details from the six-minute tape, which was recorded during a March 3 speechwriting session that included the governor and a handful of advisers.
The newspaper did not say how the tape was obtained. Schwarzenegger Communications Director Adam Mendelsohn said the governor’s office would not release the tape publicly because it was a private conversation.
The participants suggest during the meeting that they know they are being recorded.
The release of the taped comments comes after a surprisingly genial and productive period for Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-controlled Legislature. They recently cut deals to raise the state’s minimum wage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while sending proposals to raise billions of dollars for transportation, levees, schools and housing to the November ballot.
Schwarzenegger’s joking, sometimes bawdy personality is well documented. But his conduct has been controversial at times. Just days before California’s 2003 recall election, the Times published a lengthy story recounting allegations of groping or other mistreatment of women on movie sets and other locations. The story prompted an apology from Schwarzenegger, who acknowledged having “behaved badly sometimes.’’