EAST LAKE — Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche said Monday night he will no longer use an alias to post online comments after he was chastised for anonymous statements about race, gays and other politicians.
Roche apologized for angering fellow commissioners and promised: "I'm not a racist. I'm not a homophobe."
"It's a lesson I've learned and won't do again. I'll certainly post out there under my name, which I have. … It's caused undue pain to some of my colleagues, for that I'm very heartfelt apologetic for. Because that wasn't the intent," said Roche, 49, a Republican who completed his first year on the seven-member board this month.
The St. Petersburg Times reported last week that Roche acknowledged using the alias "Reality" to post comments on news reports on tampabay.com, the Times website. The comments created a political stir and prompted Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala to kick Roche off the Affirmative Action Committee, the county panel overseeing the human rights office and discrimination policy. She called having him on the panel "an oxymoron."
Roche on Monday night gave his first face-to-face interview since the Times article was first published when he talked to reporters outside the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in East Lake, where a town hall meeting on neighborhood issues took place.
Pressed by reporters, Roche said the Times "misrepresented" his comments. Though he did not deny posting online comments, Roche refused to answer repeated questions about how the statements were misrepresented.
He said he wasn't good at dealing with questions about his posts, but acknowledged mistakes.
"I'm a human being," he said. "The only perfect person I know of was nailed to a cross 2,000 years ago."
Asked to disavow any specific comment attributed to his online persona, Roche declined.
"Put your questions in a public form to my office and I'll do my best to get back to you," he said.
Latvala, who in one post was accused of having a "God complex," and Commissioner Neil Brickfield, both Republicans, said they were pleased with Roche's statement Monday.
"We are all elected and we have to work together in the interest of our community. And we need to show respect for each other privately and publicly," Latvala said.
Reality's comments, made as Roche was a candidate and after he was elected, included saying this year that St. Petersburg was "unique" in Pinellas for "thug shootings" and "prostitutes beatings" and "social service recipients.'' In September, Reality questioned whether being "openly gay" meant a "forced societal acceptance of an unnatural lifestyle choice."
In July 2010, Reality complained of "race pimps," concluding, "Whitie isn't to blame for your ignorance."
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter with @DeCampTimes