Georgia politician considers resigning amid racial strife

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ATLANTA (AP) — A councilman in a mostly white north Georgia town who drew nationwide scorn for his comments on interracial marriage says he's considering stepping down from his position.

City Council member Jim Cleveland said he is praying about the decision, though some townspeople have urged him to stay on the council in Hoschton (HOOSH-ton), he told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"I'm getting 'don't step down, hang in there, everything's going to be okay,'" he said.

Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly also faces calls for her resignation.

In documents released by the city, Councilwoman Hope Weeks wrote that the mayor told her they had a strong candidate for the city administrator job "but he was black and we don't have a big black population and she just didn't think Hoschton was ready for that."

Mayor Kenerly has said she doesn't recall saying that. Messages left for the mayor at city hall Wednesday were not immediately returned.

Cleveland drew fury from some townspeople and others when he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he opposes interracial marriage because he's a Christian. The idea "makes my blood boil because that's just not the way a Christian is supposed to live" and that a lesson from the church is to "keep your races pure," he's told the newspaper.

"This all goes back to when I was a kid and I was brought up in the South — rural Georgia — and it was preached in the church," he told the AP on Wednesday.

He thinks his comments are being taken the wrong way, he said, and that he wants to apologize for "anything I've said that offended anybody."

"I am much more tolerant now than I used to be," he said in the interview.

Now, when he sees a mixed-race couple, "I say 'okay, that's the way of the times.'"

"I have never ever done anything vicious, cruel, ugly to a black person because of any of my beliefs," he added.

Faith leaders in the town planned a prayer vigil for Wednesday. The city's website was offline Wednesday, with a message saying it was undergoing some work.

The city of about 1,500 people is only 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Atlanta. It's only a 45-minute drive from the University of Georgia's diverse study body on its main campus in Athens.

The town takes its name from the Hosch Brothers, who founded it in 1881, according to records from the Georgia Historical Society. Trains that connected the community to other parts of Georgia fueled its growth over the years.

Cleveland, a former AT&T manager who has been on the council for about a decade, said Wednesday that he's weighing the effect of a possible resignation. If there are multiple resignations among the mayor and city council, he worries the city would be unable to carry on its official business.

"I've done so much for the city," he said, adding that he's paid $300 a year and donates all of it back to the city so it can be used for Christmas bonuses for employees. He's also spent hundreds of hours over the years renovating and repairing city buildings, he said.

But in recent days, the fallout from his comments about racial issues seems to have gotten progressively worse.

"The more I talk to anybody, it seems like the worse everything gets," he said.

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