TAMPA — In the midst of describing why he thought the city of Tampa was being charged too much for construction costs, City Council member Orlando Gudes put it this way Wednesday to a Tampa Bay Times reporter:
“We’re getting Jewed.”
Gudes, 52, a first-term council member and retired police officer, immediately retracted his words, saying he shouldn’t have said it. He later said he didn’t want to be misinterpreted as using a slur against Jewish people.
“Sometimes people use the word ‘I got Jewed’ meaning by a Jewish person ... And I thought, someone could take that the wrong way," said Gudes, who is African American . “Let’s not go down that road, okay? I’m not a racist.”
Gudes said he wasn’t referring to Jewish people when he used the phrase to comment on a city estimate of $400 per square foot to build a new East Tampa community center.
“I was just talking in the moment because I was passionate about it,” he said. He said he didn’t think the Times should write a story about what he said.
“There was no intent by me of anything,” Gudes said in an interview in his office a few hours later. “They’re just trying to throw a story out there for some papers.”
Former Mayor Sandy Freedman, who is Jewish, said she considers Gudes a friend, recently had lunch with him and remembers seeing him graduate from the police academy decades ago.
When told what Gudes said, Freedman, who was mayor of Tampa between 1986 and 1995, sighed.
“Oh, god,” she said.
The phrase is “derogatory and disheartening,” she said, adding that she was surprised that Gudes uttered it.
“I’ve never seen that side of him,” Freedman said.
The phrase plays into harmful stereotypes and implies Jewish people practice dishonest or overly aggressive business dealings.
Freedman said it might be a phrase people hear growing up, “but at a certain point in time, you know it’s wrong. You’ve got to consciously purge that from your vocabulary.”
She said she hopes she isn’t disappointed in Gudes moving forward. She said Gudes would have been offended if he learned she used the “n-word” — which she said she has never done.
“It offends me in the same way,” Freedman said.
Gudes mentioned his friendship with council member John Dingfelder, who is Jewish, as evidence he harbors no ill will toward Jewish people.
Informed of Gudes’ comment, Dingfelder said they had been friends since they met when Dingfelder taught at Robinson High School 20 years ago and Gudes was the school resource officer.
'"I am confident that he is not anti-Semitic as he knows that as minorities, blacks and Jews have worked together for decades on important civil rights issues!" Dingfelder wrote in a text.
At Saturday’s Gasparilla parade, Dingfelder said he didn’t have a float to ride on, so Gudes invited him to ride with his Krewe of Libertalia, “which was 90 percent African American ... and they showed me a great time!”
Gudes said he wanted to make clear that his use of the phrase “wasn’t about any people, per se, it wasn’t about any culture.”
“I’m sorry I said it,” he said.