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Senator denies remark was racist

Allen: Name for opponent's volunteer not meant to be derogatory

By Mark Preston and Andrea Koppel
CNN Washington Bureau
Sen. George Allen says he didn't mean to offend a rival's campaign worker by calling him "Macaca."


George Allen
Jim Webb
U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. George Allen denies a remark he made to describe an opponent's campaign worker was racially charged, saying in a statement that the media misunderstood his comments.

The Virginia Republican called S.R. Sidarth, a volunteer on Democrat Jim Webb's campaign, "Macaca" on two occasions during an event Friday in Breaks, a town in Virginia's southwest corner near the Kentucky border.

Macaca is a genus of monkeys, including the rhesus monkey. The senator's campaign said that Allen did not know that "Macaca" refer to monkeys. (Watch Allen refer to Sidarth as "Macaca" -- 2:32)

In an e-mail to political supporters Monday, the Webb campaign questioned whether Allen had used a racial slur to describe Sidarth, an American of Indian descent.

Sidarth was filming Allen, a standard campaign practice that opponents often use for research purposes, as the senator campaigned throughout the state for a second term. He captured Allen's comments on camera, and the Webb campaign provided a link to the video in its e-mail.

"This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is," said Allen, who at times pointed directly at the camera. "He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great."

After suggesting Webb has not visited many parts of the state as well as criticizing his opponent for meeting with "a bunch of Hollywood movie moguls," the senator turned back to the camera and addressed Sidarth.

"Let's give a welcome to Macaca, here," Allen said. "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

In a four-paragraph statement issued Tuesday, Allen said, "In singling out the Webb campaign's cameraman, I was trying to make the point that Jim Webb had never been to that part of Virginia -- and I encouraged him to bring the tape back to Jim and welcome him to the real world of Virginia and America, outside the Beltway, where he has rarely visited.

"I also made up a nickname for the cameraman, which was in no way intended to be racially derogatory. Any insinuations to the contrary are completely false."

Allen said it "was certainly not my intent" to offend anyone by the remark.

"On every stop on my listening tour, I have talked about one of my missions for this country -- to make it a land of opportunity for all," Allen said. "I have worked very hard in the Senate to reach out to all Americans -- regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or gender. And I look forward to continuing to advocate this important mission for America's future."

As for Sidarth, Allen said, "I never want to embarrass or demean anyone, and I apologize if my comments offended this young man. Even though he has signed onto my opponent's campaign, I look forward to seeing him on the trail ahead."

In an interview with CNN before Allen released his statement, Sidarth said he had introduced himself to the senator days before he made the remark.

"He was doing that because he could, because he could get away with it," Sidarth said. "I think he was just trying to, trying to point out the fact that I was a person of color, in a crowd that was not otherwise."

Sidarth later said he did not view Allen's statement as an adequate apology. "First of all, if he is going to single me out in a crowd of 100 people, he ought to apologize to me personally," Sidarth said.

Webb campaign manager Jessica Vanden Berg added, "From my perspective, if a U.S. senator wanted to directly apologize to somebody, he would do so. Sidarth has not been apologized to."

Vanden Berg said Webb's "family and roots are in southwestern Virginia," and he has lived in Falls Church "for a number of years."

During the Senate campaign, she said, he has traveled extensively throughout the state. "So to say that Jim doesn't know Virginia is a lie," she said.

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