“Look at the ass on that girl,” is a common passing comment, heard at the bars, a house party, even on Pacific Avenue.
Although the sexually offensive and degrading implications of these words mark a constant struggle for gender equality advocates, fire and offense are added to these comments when they come out of a public official’s mouth.
City Councilmember Tony Madrigal is currently treading on the slippery slope of public opinion, facing a severe drop in his once-high approval ratings.
But first, there was the ride-along.
On the night of March 29, Madrigal accompanied a male Santa Cruz police officer on a nightly route. While they were driving along Pacific Avenue, Madrigal made several derogatory comments about women walking outside. According to the officer with Madrigal, he made remarks like, “Look at that fat ass, that’s great.”
Next, there was the publicity.
The Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) released the information, and City Manager Richard Wilson publicly scolded Councilmember Madrigal.
In his letter to Madrigal, Wilson advised him to do three things: read and comply with the city’s Discrimination/Harassment Policy, and apologize to the chief of police and all officers involved with his conduct, both publicly and in person, and not to schedule any future ride-alongs with the SCPD.
Then came the apology, which Madrigal issued on May 10.
In it, he noted the “significance of the insult,” addressing not only the members of the SCPD, but also every woman in the Santa Cruz community.
“I fully intend to avoid making any such comments in the future and will diligently and proactively learn from my mistakes by completing the appropriate sensitivity training,” Madrigal wrote.
Fourth was the call for censure.
Although an intricate version of a slap on the wrist, many people called for it. Many others wanted his resignation. In essence, these were just immediate reactions.
Mayor Emily Reilly, along with other members of the City Council, unanimously approved legislation mandating sexual and verbal sensitivity training for all members of the council.
Since the circus, Madrigal has made himself scarce in the public eye — understandably so, as this is not a pleasant situation.
As Madrigal hides out for a while, presumably waiting for the storm to pass, we should also put down the torches and pitchforks, taking some time to acknowledge the situation at hand.
Madrigal said something stupid and inappropriate. Granted, he is a public figure, which is why he should, and is, taking public steps to right whatever wrongs he committed.
But when we all look back on our lives, stupid things are said and done. Madrigal is no different. He is a mere mortal, and this so-called “scandal” has at least shed light on the lax training politicians are receiving when it comes to sexual and verbal harassment.
As a city, it is well and good to assume that our government representatives are well versed in the art of tact. This is not always the case (in politicians and citizens), and this situation has proven to the city of Santa Cruz that harassment education is vital in a social environment, especially when you have political obligations.