Thursday night the Austin City Council took public comment on the proposed budget. Hours of testimony -- including a large number of Hispanic parents and students tearfully pleading with council to keep funding after-school programs at AISD.
As the students were leaving the council chambers, Council Member Greg Casar gave them some parting words.
So did Council Member Sherri Gallo.
"I always make the kids and their parents pledge that when they turn 18, when the kids turn 18 the very first thing they will do is register to vote," Gallo said to applause.
And so did Don Zimmerman. But his advice didn't go over so well.
"I'd also like to ask for everyone here including the children when you grow up, I want to ask you to pledge to please finish school, learn a trade, a skilled trade, get a college education, start a business. Do something useful and produce something in your society so you don't have to live off others," Zimmerman said from the dais.
The comment resulted in boo's from the crowd.
"So apparently that's a controversial statement. It seems like we have people in this city that think you should be voting for a living. That your best chance to get ahead is to go to city government and demand subsidies," Zimmerman told Fox 7 in an exclusive interview Friday afternoon.
About 2 hours after Zimmerman's comment, Council Member Delia Garza broke her silence.
"Earlier Council Member Zimmerman said something that was really offensive. And it happened really quickly and now I'm hearing from members of our community that they're disappointed that more of us didn't stand up and say something...and I want our community to know that we do not condone what he said and we have your back. Not just the ones that are brown or black on this dais, there are other progressive members of this council that support you and understand your issues," Garza said.
"I don't understand the people who bring racism into this, I cannot fathom this because I've been the strongest critic of corporate welfare," he said.
On Friday, Zimmerman got some more backlash from his peers.
Council Member Pio Renteria wrote on his personal Facebook page that Zimmerman crossed the line. And quote "showed his true racist feelings towards our Hispanic families."
On Twitter, Casar wrote "he implied that those that rely on and ask for public programs are non-productive citizens."
"I've gotten a lot more calls of support than opposition. And people are really dismayed at kind of the idiocy of these false accusations and how we've got this cultural rot of entitlement mentality and it's not limited to one group," Zimmerman said.
Council Member Zimmerman is up for re-election in November. His opponent Jimmy Flannigan sent Fox 7 a statement as well: "Apparently not satisfied with having done nothing to solve Northwest Austin’s traffic, affordability, and public safety issues, Council Member Zimmerman has now attacked a group of school children who did nothing more than provide testimony asking for support for their after-school program. Instead of encouraging them to continue participating in their government, thanking them for their time, or simply saying nothing at all, Council Member Zimmerman saw fit to make offensive and condescending remarks to children." - Jimmy Flannigan.
Council Member Renteria also sent Fox 7 a statement: "I was severely disappointed by Council Member Zimmerman's insensitive comments. The working families and children who came to City Hall to share their personal stories, struggles, and hopes with the Council last night did not deserve to be treated with such disrespect. We were elected to serve all Austinites." - Sabino "Pio" Renteria
Council Member Greg Casar posted this on his Facebook: "I want to talk to you about the students, parents, and teachers from Hart and Wooldridge Elementary Schools who are in the pictures below. They came to City Hall to demand that in this time of prosperity, that Council not defund critical programs at Austin ISD schools.
They gave powerful testimony that moved the Council forward on this important issue. As some of you may know, Council Member Don Zimmerman made unacceptable comments to these kids and in response the entire chamber booed him to silence, and several Council Members have condemned his remarks.
In the end, these community members showed that they are way more powerful than the disparaging comments made against them and their community. To me, they are the perfect example of working people coming together, finding their voice, and fighting back against injustice, racism, and disfranchisement of their communities.
The real story from yesterday is the power that these kids, their families, and their supporters-- they are the ones crafting the City budget. That's a powerful thing." - Greg Casar
City Councilman Zimmerman released the following statement today:
In an off-the-cuff comment following a long day of city business, Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman urged school children present at Thursday night's Austin City Council meeting to pledge to finish school and pursue a lucrative career rather than expect government subsidies to foot the bill for day-to-day living.
A handful of Zimmerman's colleagues assumed there was a racist motive behind the comment and rushed to "apologize" for what was said. However, Zimmerman points out, he has made similar comments before over the last year and a half with no negative reaction.
"If my comment was designed to humiliate our young guests yesterday evening, then that begs the question: why would I say that about my own newborn son, or even myself?" Zimmerman asked.
During the June 9 Council meeting, Zimmerman said he would expect his son, born just three days prior, do "go do something useful" before registering to vote.
In another instance, on Feb. 25, Zimmerman joked that school children should learn a trade skill or go to college to aspire to become something more than a government official.
"The only people we should be apologizing to are non-subsidized taxpayers and business owners who are being chased out of Austin due to the runaway cost of government," Zimmerman added.