On the eve of Thursday’s Ethnic and Racial Conference on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, one of the announced panelists withdrew from the event, alleging racism on the part of two other panelists.
“I am going to decline to participate rather than give credibility to two of the most objectionable racists in our community,” Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stuart Soffer wrote in a Wednesday night email communicating his decision.
“Jack Foster and Barbara Blunt Muhammad,” Soffer replied Thursday when asked whom he was referring to in the email.
“They are both people that I don’t care to associate with and I will not lend credibility to either one of them,” Soffer said. “They are a detriment to our community. The composition of this group just does not give me a warm fuzzy feeling. I had several calls from the black community telling me that this was an ambush. I received two phone calls letting me know that this was not a reputable organization.
“I’m not trying to be ugly here,” Soffer said. “I just believe that these people are a detriment to everything positive that people are trying to achieve in this community.”
“I don’t have time to entertain stupidity,” Foster said when asked to respond to Soffer’s comments about him. “He should be taken off the County Election Commission and the State Board of Elections for making comments like that. If anybody is a racist, he is.”
Muhammad said Soffer’s comments might have been motivated by her efforts to educate people about what she described as the injustices done to blacks in the United States.
“I’m not a racist,” Muhammad said. “Maybe he’s calling me a racist simply because I talk about the injustices that have been done to my people and to myself. I just want things to be right. Every time we talk about the injustices inflicted upon our people we are called racist. We are not the racist people. History tells us that. I believe that Mr. Soffer is just confused.”
Muhammad said she was puzzled by Soffer’s change of heart because he had initially been enthusiastic about participating in the event.
“When I talked with Stu he was so excited about coming to this,” Muhammad said. “He asked me what he should wear. I even have a parking pass for him. I hoped that he would be part of the conversation.”
Soffer and Foster had an Oct. 22, 2012, confrontation over the subject of race on the first day of early voting for the Nov. 6, 2012, general election.
Foster used a bullhorn across Barraque Street from the Jefferson County Courthouse to urge voters to vote for a black mayor, a tactic with which Soffer took issue.
“Vote for Obama and a black mayor,” Foster said that day. “Don’t go back to the plantation. Vote for Obama and vote for a black mayor. Don’t turn back the clock.”
Soffer confronted Foster over his actions and told him that he believed urging voters to make a choice based on race was illegal. Soffer also filed a formal complaint with the U.S. District Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas over Foster’s actions.
Soffer and Muhammad have traded rhetorical barbs via Letters to the Editor in the Commercial.
“Soffer, it sounds as if you may have a lack of intelligence, hallucination episodes, dementia, paranoid schizophrenia or maybe are bipolar; your facts are just plain wrong!” Muhammad wrote in a Jan. 30 letter. “Ask (former Pine Bluff Police Chief John) Howell why was he fired. Soffer, what inspires me to write is Almighty God and truth. Soffer, a nominee for racist of the year!”