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  Chronicle's Chip Johnson: West County Official Asked to Step Down Over Racial Remarks
October 24, 2013

West County official asked to step down over racial remarks
Posted on October 24, 2013 | By chjohnson@sfchronicle.com (Chip Johnson)
West County Wastewater District Director Leonard Battaglia is one for the books.
In this case, history books. Literally.
Battaglia, 85, who has served as an agency director since 1975, opened up in a newspaper article last weekend and promptly inserted his foot squarely into his own mouth. After nearly 40 years in office, the sewer system director seems to have contracted a unique strain of potty mouth.
The El Sobrante travel agency owner created quite a stir when for unexplainable reasons he went off the rails about non-whites during an interview about compensation as a member of the wastewater district.
According to Contra Costa Times reporter Thomas Peele, Battaglia used objectionable language to describe Asians before stating, as fact, that African Americans didn’t possess the mental capacity to fly jet fighters during his days as a pilot in the Korean War.
“I flew with black pilots. I’d say ‘break’ (suddenly turn right or left) and they’d hesitate,” he was quoted as saying. “They’d miss it because they think slower. They have an African American mentality. They can’t help it. It’s the way God made them,” he said. “Like in Richmond. It’s a mess.”
He later told the newspaper he stood by his words.
I have to say, Battaglia didn’t exactly exhibit genius intellect himself in choosing to denigrate Asians and African Americans in Richmond, a city of 103,000 citizens, of whom nearly 26 percent are African American, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
A call to Battaglia’s travel agency business in El Sobrante requesting an interview was not returned.
His words are almost as ignorant and deplorable as former Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis, who in 1987 said in a national television broadcast that some African Americans don’t possess the mental capacity to manage a Major League Baseball team. Even worse, he made the remarks during an appearance on ABC’s Nightline News show to honor the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color barrier.
Campanis went on to suggest the mental deficiency matched a physical disability (a lack of buoyancy) which prevented African Americans from being able to swim. The public outcry to Campanis’ stupidity forced him to resign from the team two days after he said it.
Unfortunately, for Battaglia, his memories about African American pilots don’t match up too well with historical fact.
Capt. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., an African American pilot, flew 101 missions in Korea, including unarmed reconnasaince missions reserved for only the most skilled fliers. One of 25 African American pilots in the U.S. Air Force, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and went on to command a fighter squadron.
Second Lt. Frank E. Peterson Jr was the nation’s first African American Marine pilot. He flew 64 missions during the war, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross and six Air Medals.
I wonder if Battaglia’s skills earned him any of those laurels?
Sooner than later, those same repugnant, ignorant utterances Battaglia spoke are going to be used to end his political career. He’s up for re-election in 2014, but he may not survive the firestorm headed his way.
At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Richmond City Council Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, joined by two city council members, called on Battaglia, who holds elected office, to resign his post.
The one thing that I can say with confidence is that the next meeting of the West County Wastewater District is going to be well- attended – it won’t be boring and it won’t be business as usual.