The people of Hillsboro have long been aware of Drew Hastings’ sometimes controversial Facebook posts over the years, and they still re-elected him as mayor last month with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Most people either agree with a lot of what he says or seem to realize that Drew makes Facebook comments designed less to reflect what he personally thinks and more just to be provocative and get a reaction.
Given that fact, if the latest dust up only involved the usual “Get Drew” crowd it could be dismissed. But his comments have also understandably riled a number of individuals who are not typically part of the mayor’s team of adversaries.
Steven Williams, for example – even though he was a Democratic candidate for mayor hoping to run against Drew – has not been a consistently vocal opponent of the mayor’s. He has often mentioned that he personally liked Drew.
It’s worth mentioning here that when Steven, who happens to be black, ran for mayor of Hillsboro in the Democratic primary, The Times-Gazette covered his candidacy with multiple stories, interviews and pictures while most others from here to Cincinnati pretended he didn’t exist. Now they consider him newsworthy.
Steven contacted me last Monday and said he was upset at a Facebook post by the mayor. He said the post, which included a comment that “blacks have all but formally declared war on whites” and other observations about the perceived state of affairs in America, had caused a lot of concern among local black residents. Steven made a few more points, including the suggestion that he was speaking for a number of other people.
I called Drew, who told me he had taken the post down Sunday morning. He said it did not represent what he was trying to say and he was sorry for posting it. So I wrote a story describing, in detail, the mayor’s Facebook post (which Steven had saved and sent to me via a screenshot), Steven’s concerns about it, and the mayor’s apology.
Drew’s apology was not just the typical “sorry to anyone I may have offended” rhetoric. He specifically mentioned the local black community and said directly, “I apologize to them.” We posted the story online Monday and ran it on the front page Tuesday. It concluded with Steven’s final conciliatory remark, “I think the first step was taking it down, and the fact he comes forth like this, absolutely, I accept that.”
I was happy that not only did the mayor quickly apologize for an ill-advised Facebook post, but that Steven accepted the apology. That’s the way adults are supposed to handle such things, I thought to myself.
Then came Tuesday. Channel 9 out of Cincinnati either saw our story or was contacted by someone, and pretty soon the big TV van came rolling into town, hot on the trail of a story that would allow them to produce a package with an irresistible black-white angle. When I saw the version of the story they eventually put online (I did not see their broadcast version) it included more comments from Steven.
“Steven Williams of Hillsboro said he isn’t such a big fan of his mayor,” the story read. “He even said that the comments should be enough for Hastings to be fired.” Fired? What happened to all is forgiven?
I asked Steven that very question, and he replied that while he forgave the mayor, he and I had never discussed “the accountability part of it.” We never discussed the accountability part of it because Steven never raised it. In fact, after he read my original story online on Monday, Steven texted me and said, “Just read it. Good job, and I’m glad he issued the apology. I like him, he just did something in bad judgment. He’s human.”
It is worth noting that Channel 9 updated its online story Wednesday morning, and the comment attributed to Steven that the mayor should be fired had disappeared. Either way, it should be acknowledged that Steven doesn’t speak for all black people in Hillsboro, and even if he was ready to forgive, that doesn’t mean everyone else was, too.
Drew’s Facebook post wasn’t racist, but it was irresponsible and insensitive. People have a First Amendment right to make irresponsible and insensitive comments. If not, a big part of social media would dry up and blow away. The big trap that is Facebook is that it just sits there beckoning everyone to use it. Say something! More often than not, the wisest choice is to tell Facebook to shut up and leave you alone.
When Drew offered his explanation of his post in our story, what was telling to me was this comment: “I wasn’t thinking about our town and our citizens at the time.” I know that Drew thinks about Hillsboro about 99 percent of every day. The trouble is, when he’s on social media he needs to raise that percentage to 100, or just tell Facebook to shut up and leave him alone.
Personality-wise, Drew has much in common with Donald Trump, who is leading the GOP presidential race and who once famously said, “Frankly, I don’t have time for political correctness,” a sentiment a lot of people appreciate in this overly-PC world. But Drew is not running for president. He is the mayor of a small southern Ohio city that doesn’t need these diversions.
As an independently elected mayor, Drew doesn’t work for city council, but the next council meeting will probably involve a considerable amount of time devoted to complaints on this subject, all brought on by the mayor himself. Drew should just go ahead and apologize now to council members for putting them in the middle of this while they were otherwise minding their own business.
This will pass, as it should. Drew made a mistake, and he apologized, and ideally his apology would be accepted, he would learn an important lesson, and we could all move on. But we don’t live in that world. There is a pot to be stirred, and people will probably stir it for a while. It’s hard to blame them in this case, because Drew himself provided the recipe from a cookbook that should be left on the shelf.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.
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