US mayor apologizes for saying trash collectors ‘not trying to Jew anybody’

Video of Odessa, Missouri council meeting removed from social media for violating standards; town of 5,000 does not appear to have any Jewish presence

Mayor Stephen Wright of Odessa, Missouri (center) said the town's trash collectors are "not trying to Jew anybody" during a meeting of the Board of Aldermen, May 15, 2023. (Screenshot via JTA)
Mayor Stephen Wright of Odessa, Missouri (center) said the town's trash collectors are "not trying to Jew anybody" during a meeting of the Board of Aldermen, May 15, 2023. (Screenshot via JTA)

JTA — The mayor of a Missouri town has apologized for saying a local trash company is “not trying to Jew anybody” at a recent public meeting, writing in an open letter that the remark was “not in keeping with the beliefs and values” of the town.

Stephen Wright, the mayor of Odessa, made the remark at a Monday meeting of the local Board of Aldermen, amid a discussion of changes to trash pickup in the town of 5,500. On Wednesday, Wright posted an open letter on the city government’s Facebook page, addressed “to our Jewish Community” and apologizing for the statement.

“Those statements were not in keeping with the beliefs and values of the City of Odessa,” Wright wrote. “It was not my intent to degrade or marginalize anyone, or any group of people, nor to further any negative stereotypes based upon their heritage or belief.”

Odessa, located 30 miles east of Kansas City, does not appear to have any organized Jewish presence. Joe Spaar, the co-publisher of a local paper, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “I’ve lived here my whole life and I haven’t met one Jewish person.”

“It’s not a thing that’s in your consciousness here,” Spaar said, adding that he assumes Wright also doesn’t know any Jews. “There’s no Jewish community. … There’s no Jewish church or anything around here.”

The town removed the video of Monday’s meeting from its social media channels, and the mayor’s apology letter did not specify what he had said. Odessa’s city clerk, Karen Findora, said the city had removed the video because the mayor’s comments had “violated our social media policy.” She would not comment on the mayor’s statement itself but said Wright would likely make a more detailed apology at the next board meeting, scheduled for Monday.

JTA obtained the video of the meeting via a public records request.

Referring to getting “Jewed” on a financial arrangement is a classic antisemitic trope referencing the stereotype that Jews are cheap. Other local government officials have gotten into hot water for using similar language: A Tampa Bay, Florida, city council member apologized for using the phrase in 2020 and subsequently met with a local Jewish leader. And last year, two state lawmakers in Kentucky apologized for using the phrase “Jew them down.”

The mayor’s remark did not elicit any audible reaction from the handful of people at the meeting, though one attendee who had been nodding along with him appeared to look away uncomfortably after he uttered the slur.

Some Facebook commenters said they supported the mayor and believed his apology was sincere, while others called for his resignation.

Among those sympathetic to the mayor is Spaar, co-publisher of a publication called The Odessan. Spaar told JTA he considered the mayor’s comments at the meeting “a very innocent-type remark.”

“He wasn’t being mean or trying to disparage anyone,” Spaar said. “He was just using an antiquated colloquialism.”

Spaar lamented that the city removed the video.

“They should’ve just taken their lumps,” he said. “They’ve got to realize that if you make a public comment, it’s public.”

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