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West County Wastewater District board member Leonard Battaglia listens as calls for his resignation are made during a meeting of the board in Richmond, Calif. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

RICHMOND -- An elected sewer director who's been publicly compared to the iconic television bigot Archie Bunker over comments he made about Asians and African-Americans refused to resign Tuesday even as his fellow board members demanded he leave office immediately.

Leonard Battaglia's colleagues on the West County Wastewater District said they were powerless to force him from the office he's held for 38 years, even as they voted for him to voluntarily step down.

Battaglia, 85, did not address that vote directly, but said he wanted to "forge a path forward" and that he was living with "my sorrow" over the tempest he caused.

Asked as he left the contentious meeting if he would resign, Battaglia said he had no comment. His term expires next year.

Leonard Battaglia at a meeting of the West County Wastewater District board  in Richmond, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.
Leonard Battaglia at a meeting of the West County Wastewater District board in Richmond, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. (Dan Honda, Bay Area News Group)

The board's 4-0 vote also included a formal censure of Battaglia for racist comments he made during an interview with this newspaper for an Oct. 19 story that revealed his pay and benefits for his part-time service last year added up to $592 an hour. The board also stripped him of committee assignments, including a seat on a joint powers authority with Richmond officials.

"Our district and its board of directors celebrate and respect the diversity of our constituents, employees and partners. We have a long-standing reputation for dedication to community service and building partnerships with citizens and diverse organizations in our geographic region, and we cannot let this incident tarnish that," board President Alfred Granzella said, reading from prepared remarks.


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"He has brought shame on this district that is almost impossible to mend," said Director Michael Caine, who brought the resignation motion.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who called last month for Battaglia's ouster, repeated that position Tuesday and said she would support a recall effort should one be started. "He should have resigned," she said. "That would have shown he is sincere."

In an interview about his high pay and benefits, Battaglia repeatedly used a slur to describe people of Asian decent and said his experiences as an Air Force fighter pilot led him to believe that African-Americans "think slower" than other races because "that's the way God made them." In a subsequent interview, he said, "I don't think I'm a prejudiced person."

At a Richmond City Council meeting last month, two residents likened Battaglia to Archie Bunker, the fictional character of the 1970s sitcom "All in the Family" who often went on racial tirades.

Tuesday, wearing a purple blazer adorned with pilot wings on the lapel, Battaglia said his comments were "out of line and insensitive (and) showed a serious lack of judgment." He did not address or repudiate the specific slurs.

For the tiny district that provides sewer service to San Pablo, portions of unincorporated Contra Costa County and most of Richmond, Battaglia's remarks brought a jarring spotlight. So did public compensation data showing that its part-time elected board members were paid at much higher rates than directors at similar-sized special districts in the region. There are thousands of the small districts across the state governing everything from recreation leagues to public cemeteries to water service, often with little scrutiny.

But Tuesday's public comments were focused on Battagiia's remarks and the fact that he made them while representing a diverse community.

"The comments you made are an insult to the flag you pledge allegiance to," former San Pablo Council Member Leonard McNeil said to Battaglia.

Responding to the director's claims that African-Americans are slow, McNeil, who is black, said, "I think I'm very quick when I see prejudice and someone who is a bigot and a racist."

Despite the harsh public comments and the board's request for Battaglia to resign, tension seemed to quickly ease after the meeting.

As Battaglia walked outside, fellow Director Paul Soltow greeted him warmly, saying, "We'll be seeing you, Leonard."

"OK," Battaglia replied as he climbed into a black pickup truck and drove slowly away alone.

Contact Thomas Peele at tpeele@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow him twitter.com/thomas_peele.