'That's not who I am': Wheaton Republican lawmaker apologizes for disparaging remarks

  • Ken Mejia-Beal, left, and Amy Grant are candidates for the Illinois House 42 seat.

    Ken Mejia-Beal, left, and Amy Grant are candidates for the Illinois House 42 seat.

 
 
Updated 9/22/2020 9:43 PM

State Rep. Amy Grant attempted to defend her character a day after the release of audio recordings in which the Wheaton Republican can be heard referencing the race and sexual orientation of her Democratic opponent, Ken Mejia-Beal.

The disparaging comments, released Monday by Democratic state lawmakers, were taken from a recorded phone conversation with an unknown caller that Grant says likely occurred Aug. 31. The full recording has not been released.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A visibly shaken Grant had trouble recollecting details of the call during a meeting with the Daily Herald Editorial Board on Tuesday, but said she believes the short clips were taken out of context and are a mischaracterization of her views.

"I made a very clumsy and insensitive statement that does not reflect how I feel about my colleagues and any candidates," Grant said in a prepared statement at the start of the meeting. "My faith is part of my daily life, and hearing those words calling me 'racist' rocks me to my core because that's not who I am."

Mejia-Beal is trying to unseat Grant in House District 42, which includes all or parts of Wheaton, Winfield, Carol Stream, Warrenville, Lisle, West Chicago, and Naperville.

In one of the recordings, Grant is heard saying Mejia-Beal, a gay, Black man from Lisle, is afraid to travel to the heart of her district, "not because he's Black but because of the way he talks, he's all LGBTQ." In another, Grant says Mejia-Beal is "just another one of the Cook County people ... another Black Caucus."

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The Democratic state representatives who presented the clips have said they won't release the full conversation, citing privacy concerns. Repeated attempts by the Daily Herald to reach House Majority Leader Greg Harris were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Grant said she left a voicemail apologizing to Mejia-Beal but has not spoken to him directly. She reiterated her sentiment to the Daily Herald, at times stumbling over her words as she expressed a commitment to reaching across the aisle.

"I just don't have the type of personality that would look at another person and say, 'Oh, you're not just perfectly right, so I'm going to disparage you,'" Grant said. "If I hurt his feelings, I am very sorry."

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Mejia-Beal said Grant's message to him was a "word-for-word" reiteration of a public statement she issued Monday morning, which said, "I deeply regret the comments I made about Ken Mejia-Beal, and reached out to apologize to him this morning. These comments do not reflect my heart or my faith."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Mejia-Beal acknowledged the voicemail in a statement posted to his Facebook page, saying the recordings were a "grievous insult to every member of our community."

"In her hurtful, degrading and wholly unacceptable comments which have now come to light, Rep. Grant makes it clear that she only sees the color of my skin and my sexual orientation -- and that in her mind disqualifies me as a leader and even disqualifies me as a member of our community," his statement says.

Grant told the Daily Herald her comment regarding the Black Caucus was meant to suggest the General Assembly already is heavily represented by Democrats. And she said she would never intend to imply that the "LGBT community is something that would hamper a person's ability to run for state (representative). It's actually a ludicrous suggestion."

Grant said she was unaware that she was being recorded at the time and doesn't recall her specific wording.

The caller claimed to back U.S. House candidate Jeanne Ives -- Grant's predecessor in the 42nd State House District -- and told Grant he was interested in supporting her, too, she said. About halfway through the conversation, which lasted five to 10 minutes, Grant said, she realized "there's something wrong here."

Grant asked for the caller's name, wrote it down and "promptly lost it," she said. She also is unsure what phone number was used.

Democratic lawmakers have shared a different account, saying Grant had initiated the call as part of her fundraising efforts and knew the conversation was being recorded.

Grant says she believes the conversation would be interpreted differently if the full call was released.

"They're accusing me of being racist," she said, "and I'm not racist."

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