Geneva’s Republican candidate for mayor, Mark Pitifer, is getting some attention for recent public statements in which he referred to himself the “closest thing to a minority mayor this town has ever seen.”
Now, Pitifer faces more questions related to the novel he first published in 2006 (and again in 2013).
In the book “Return to Forever,” a fictionalized version of the ghost of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks from beyond the grave and shares a series of disturbing right-wing views on civil rights and racism in the modern era.
Mark Pitifer’s “ghost of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr”:
- blames racism on “minority people who look for racism in everything;”
- angrily insists that programs that address structural racism (like affirmative action) should be “banned on the grounds that they are socially and morally unethical;”
- states that victims of racism in the workplace should “keep a daily journal” and “ask for periodic written evaluations” and if they are still treated unfairly, should “go and find a new job.”
Pitifer has also shared other deeply disturbing views on racism during public campaign events in September and October.
- In September, he said “race isn’t the issue in this country,” instead insisting that children of color who are raised properly will be “successful,” effectively blaming parents for their childrens’ lack of success while denying the impact of systemic and structural racism.
- In October, Pitifer stated that there’s “not a lot” of racism in Geneva perpetuated by people that were raised in the city, and that racism is being brought to Geneva “from the outside in.”
- Also in October, Pitifer claimed “I’m the closest to a minority that you will ever have running for mayor in the history of Geneva. I am ALL RACES.”
It is undeniable that Mark Pitifer is well-known, and well-liked, in the Geneva community. Genevans from all walks of life say that Pitifer is fair, respectful, friendly, and kind. These are all invaluable qualities for a school counselor, a coach, a playground coordinator or a neighbor. Mark Pitifer, by many accounts, is a good person.
But when choosing a mayor, the Geneva community needs to take into account another very important quality: the political and social beliefs of the candidate, and Pitifer’s political views on race are dangerously out-of-date, shockingly insensitive and profoundly ignorant.
Pitifer’s MLK Espouses Horrific Right-Wing Talking Points On Race
Mark Pitifer has repeatedly referenced his book “Return To Forever” in several recent public campaign events, as well as in his email interview with Geneva Believer. The book took Pitifer years to complete, and he is clearly still quite proud it.
Pitifer’s book tells the fictional story of “Nino Jones, an elderly homeless man from New York City, agrees to join a group of heavenly mercenaries who are risking their eternities to pull off one of the most heroic challenges of all time. The target is Satan himself and the future of the whole civilized world hangs in the balance.”
Throughout the novel, Nino encounters many historical figures, including Einstein, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King Jr., in a place called “Forever,” which is essentially the afterlife or “heaven.”
When Nino encounters the Martin Luther King Jr., Pitifer’s version of MLK reels off a litany of damning criticisms of civil rights movement since his death, even blaming minorities for racial issues in society.
Like any fiction book, the values and beliefs of the author are often reflected in the words and actions of the characters..
Readers should know that King, during his life, never expressed the beliefs that Mark Pitifer attributes to him in the book.
“Our People Have Got To Awaken To The Truth!”
Early in their encounter, Pitifer’s Martin Luther King Jr. tells Nino:
“I don’t like the direction my civil rights movement has taken.”
(If he were alive today, would MLK refer to the Civil Rights Movement, made up of millions of people, as “his” movement?)
Pitifer’s MLK continues:
“After I died, the civil rights movement I started gradually became a business – a business that consisted of thousands of employees, and one that has made most of its bosses rich and powerful both politically and socially….(these leaders) realize that if this movement doesn’t continue to be important to your people and the country, then (their) way of making a living will come to an end.”
(If he were alive today, would MLK really say that civil rights leaders are more concerned with enriching themselves than pursuing justice and equality for everyone?)
At this point, Pitifer’s MLK becomes angry as he speaks about affirmative action:
“(Civil rights leaders) went from wanting equal rights to wanting special rights.” Martin’s voice takes on an angry tone. “I never wanted to be treated differently because I was black, I just wanted the same chances that everyone eIse had. Nothing more, and nothing less. The affirmative action program has good intentions, but it is a program that rewards based on the color of people’s skin and not on the content of their character!”
(It’s an established fact that Martin Luther King Jr. supported programs and potential initiatives that would specifically benefit black people. In 1965, he said “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro.”)
Pitifer’s MLK continues:
“In my opinion, all special rights programs should be banned on the grounds that they are socially and morally unethical – the brainchildren of well-intended, but blind, guides.”
(The City of Geneva has recently undertaken efforts to improve and increase diversity in hiring for all departments. Would Mayor Pitifer find these efforts to be “socially and morally unethical”?
And if a person of color gains an education or can support their family because of such a program, would Pitifer judge that person as “socially and morally unethical” for accepting it?)
Pitifer’s MLK goes on:
“They should only reward minority people for reasons of academic merit or financial need. If they reward for any other reason, then the program’s hypocritical, and we have become what we have despised. Don’t temper my words on this, Nino. Our people have got to awaken to the truth!”
(Again, MLK supported programs similar to affirmative action. It’s also disturbing to read instructions to people of color on how they should think about affirmative action, along with declarations like “our people have got to awaken to the truth,” written by a middle-aged white man from upstate New York and attributed to a fictionalized version of the greatest civil rights leader in American history)
MLK’s ghost (as written by Pitifer) continues:
“Well, Nino, one of the problems is that there are some minority people who look for racism in everything, They could be going fifty miles per hour in a fifteen-mile-an-hour school zone, but if they get a ticket for speeding, they feel it is because they are black. If they get fired from their job for repeated tardiness, it is not because they are habitually late; it’s because they’re black. This kind of oversensitivity to racism is what I believe creates prejudice and perpetuates racism in your modern society. All people of color must try to go the other way. Take racism out of everything. If somebody calls you lazy, maybe you are! Maybe that is just one person’s opinion, but it probably has nothing to do with the color of your skin.”
(The real Dr. King frequently and consistently spoke about examples of systemic racism during his era, and many of those issues still exist today:
- Mortgage discrimination
- School discipline discrimination
- Hiring discrimination
- Prison sentencing
- Health care
- Income inequality
- and more
It is impossible to imagine that, if he were alive today, MLK would not only blame the above issues on “oversensitive” people of color who “look for racism in everything,” and but also accuse those same people of the demeaning racial stereotype of laziness.
But it’s certainly not impossible for Mark Pitifer to imagine.)
Unprompted, Pitifer’s MLK even gives Nino some advice for people who are experiencing racism in the workplace:
“Racism and prejudice are very hard to prove, especially in the workplace. When you take a job, make sure you work hard and ask for periodic written evaluations. Make your boss put in writing any specific complaints about your work performance, and then keep a daily journal of how you have tried to make changes. Racist or not, a boss will have a hard time firing an employee who has a good work record. And if your hard work is unappreciated, then go and find a new job. Why would you want to work for someone who doesn’t appreciate the best you have to offer?”
(Of all the advice shared by Pitifer’s version of MLK in the 21st century, this might be the most jaw-droppingly bizarre.
Anyone who experiences on-the-job racism is first told by the ghost of MLK that it’s “very hard to prove” such accusations, essentially discouraging them from reporting it.
Rather than offer advice on how to hold racist employers accountable for their illegal, racist behavior, the ghost of MLK then says that people of color who are experiencing racial discrimination at work should take on the added responsibility of writing down everything they do throughout the work day.
And if their boss is racist and doesn’t appreciate their work, Pitifer’s MLK says that the solution is to go and find a new job.
More Of Pitifer’s Views On Racism From His Own Public Comments
On September 10th, Pitifer held a “Town Hall” event on the Hobart William Smith campus. Around 40 people were in attendance.
For nearly 45 minutes, Pitifer spoke about his life, his experiences, and his mayoral campaign. He also spoke about another book he has recently written, entitled “Raiseism.”
“I just finished writing my second book the other day. It’s called “Raiseism.” Raiseism is a word that I invented. Working in, living in Geneva, and working in Waterloo, I got to see young children growing into young adults for 35 years. And what some people who live more sheltered lives don’t realize is, in today’s society, there’s no clear cut difference between people’s…RACE is not the issue in this country. “Raise” is the issue in this country. You have children that are raised, and it doesn’t matter who it is that’s raising them…if these people take time, and stay in their lives, and support them, and take an interest in them, these kids are gonna be successful. And if they don’t have that, there’s no remedy for it.”
Taken at face value, Pitifer’s assertion that children who have responsible adults in their lives to raise and support them will be successful is not a disagreeable statement.
However, Pitifer is also saying, quite clearly, that “race is not the issue in this country.”
Instead, he believes that people of color who experience systemic racism simply weren’t raised right.
And if children don’t have that kind of adult support system, there is “no remedy” for any lack of success that they experience in life.
Best of all, Pitifer says that anyone who doesn’t understand his philosophy of “raiseism” has lived “more sheltered lives” than he.
On October 8th, Mark Pitifer participated in the Mayoral and Councilor-At-Large Forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Geneva, NY, and held at the Geneva Public Library.
The candidates were asked the following question:
“In a city as diverse as Geneva, issues of racial equality are critical. What are your thoughts on addressing systemic and structural racism within the city?”
Pitifer began his answer by sharing the story of how one of the kids from the Chartres Homes playground saw him in Wegmans and said ‘”Hey Pit, do those people realize they’re voting for a black mayor?”
“What he meant was, we had a good enough relationship working with the people at Chartres Homes, Puerto Rican, and African American, that they know when I sit and talk to them, I’m not seeing color.
…I may not be a minority, but I can tell you this, I’m the closest to a minority that you will ever have running for mayor in the history of Geneva. I am all races. I love all people.”
Pitifer’s statement that he is “the closest to a minority that you will ever have running for mayor in the history of Geneva” took many attendees by surprise, especially as Pitifer’s voice cracked as he declared in a near-shout, “I am ALL races.”
(Pitifer later doubled down on his statement that he’s the next best thing to a person of color as mayor when he told the Finger Lakes Times on October 20th, “I’m the closest thing to a minority mayor this town has ever seen.”)
The Republican candidate for mayor concluded his statement on systemic and structural racism in Geneva with the following declaration:
“But I’ll tell you this. I don’t think there’s a lot of racism with people who were brought up here. I think a lot of it comes from the outside in.”
The idea that racism is somehow being imported into the City of Geneva might be one of Pitifer’s most stunningly tone-deaf and outright offensive statements of all.
According to Pitifer, lifelong Geneva residents simply aren’t racist.
And according to Pitifer, Geneva would be a nearly unspoiled, racism-free, magical city, if not for all those people who are moving into Geneva and bringing in all their racism.
Pitifer’s Values And Beliefs Matter
Throughout his campaign, Mark Pitifer has spoken extensively about his 14 years working as a playground coordinator at Geneva’s low income housing apartment complex Chartes Homes (now Courtyard Apartments).
He has posted numerous videos and photos on social media of himself campaigning at Courtyard, and posing with people of color around the city.
Pitifer has made no secret of his belief that he will have strong support from Black and Latino voters in Geneva, and is campaigning hard to encourage those supporters get out and vote for him.
Mark Pitifer, from nearly all accounts, is a well-liked, respected Geneva resident who loves this city.
But he is running for mayor, and when considering a new mayor, voters need to dig deeply to find out the politics, not just the personality, of all the candidates.
No other candidate, including candidates of color, has made public statements about race like Pitifer has.
Currently, Geneva has an African-American At-Large City Councilor, Mark Gramling, who serves the entire city, just like the mayor.
Mark Pitifer will never be “closer” to being a black mayor than Mark Gramling is.
There are policies, budget items, and city initiatives that are tied directly to issues of race. If we have a mayor who believes that people of color are responsible for racism, that programs to address structural racism are socially and morally unethical, that the only people in Geneva who are racist are people who have moved to the city, and that people who experience workplace racism should just go get a different job, how can we expect him to address issues of racism within city government?
- If a longtime Geneva resident is accused of racism, will Mayor Pitifer assume the accuser is lying?
- If a city employee is accused of discrimination in the workplace, will Mayor Pitifer tell the accuser to go find another job?
- If the city continues its efforts to hire more people of color, will Mayor Pitifer push back against such an effort because he thinks it’s socially and morally unethical?
These are just a few important questions.
And it looks like we already have our answers.
(Editor’s note: the following are additional quotes from dead historical figures from the imagination of Mark Pitifer, added to the original article on 10-31-19)