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Aldermanic candidate apologizes for controversial banana costume photo

daniel laspata

Daniel La Spata has apologized for a photo from his 2013 bachelor party. | Ald. Roderick Sawyer via Facebook

A photo that surfaced Tuesday of 1st Ward aldermanic candidate Daniel La Spata wearing a banana costume while posing with four black children and men wearing monkey masks isn’t racist, his campaign said — even as the City Council’s Black Caucus chairman said it was.

La Spata’s campaign manager, Jeff Salvadore, confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times the authenticity of the Sep. 2013 photo that was first posted on La Spata’s Facebook page but that has since been deleted.

Salvadore said there were no ill intentions behind the photo, but that La Spata understands how it could be perceived as racist and “apologizes unequivocally” for any pain he caused.

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The photo was taken during a “goofy, kind of a fun activity” that was part of La Spata’s bachelor party, Salvadore said. La Spata’s friends had surprised him with the banana costume, then put on monkey masks and chased him around Millennium Park.

A screenshot of the Facebook post shows La Spata called the gathering “the most absurd bachelor party of the year.”

The four African-American boys in the photo asked to pose with the group because the costumes looked “ridiculous,” according to Salvadore.

“We 100 percent understand that you could perceive it as [racist],” Salvadore told the Sun-Times. “But the motivation was not there … There was no racial motivation for that photo whatsoever.”

“I know Daniel’s character personally. This photo doesn’t represent that character,” Salvadore added.

In a statement released by the campaign, La Spata said, “The photograph and the costumes were not racially motivated, but I understand how it could be perceived. As alderman, I will use my office to break down racial inequities in our ward and city, as I’ve done personally and professionally for the last thirteen years.”

No place for … racist imagery

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) called the photo racist, comparing it to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s blackface scandal of the past two weeks.

“There should be no place in our politics for this kind of blatant racist imagery,” Sawyer, the chairman of the council’s Black Caucus, said in a statement. “I have no interest in having a colleague in the City Council who would participate in this sort of bigotry.”

Latino Caucus Chairman Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) also criticized the photo. “Whether it’s elected officials from Virginia or the White House, hate has no home here & definitely not on the City Council,” he tweeted.

La Spata’s opponent in the City Council race, incumbent Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), could not be reached for comment. On Twitter, he said “this type of insensitivity and bigotry has no place anywhere.”

A Moreno political ally, Juan “Johnny” Elias, spurred the photo’s resurfacing when he shared it on Facebook Tuesday morning.

Elias formerly headed 1st Ward First, a political action group that worked to reelect Moreno.

In his post, Elias tagged State Rep. Will Guzzardi (39th), who endorsed La Spata and has been critical of Moreno.

Elias wrote, “Will Guzzardi, as my representative can you please check into this disgusting photo and report back about the person you just endorsed for alderman.”

Elias could not be reached for comment.

The bachelor party photo resurfacing Tuesday could be well-timed for Moreno, who has plenty of troubles of his own.

Last week, the Chicago Police Department opened an investigation into whether Moreno filed a false police report last month claiming his car had been stolen.

Further complicating Moreno’s re-election campaign was a Sun-Times story quoting Moreno as acknowledging that he steered business to political power broker Victor Reyes.

Moreno politically toxic for Mendoza

Moreno acknowledged receiving campaign contributions from Reyes, but denied any quid pro quo or political pressure.

All of that apparently made Moreno politically toxic for mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza, who was already under fire for her close ties to three other political allies at the center of one of the biggest corruption scandals Chicago has seen in decades: aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Danny Solis (25th) and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Last week, Mendoza said she would be a no-show at a Feb. 20 fundraiser she was scheduled to attend to bankroll Moreno’s re-election campaign.

Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Tuesday he has no update on the investigation aimed at determining whether Moreno filed a false police report.