Specter's ethnic jokes lay an egg

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Didja hear the one about the senator who put his foot in his mouth?

Sen. Arlen Specter was apologizing like crazy this week over insensitive, ill-chosen Polish jokes -- as opposed to the other kind -- that he offered to a New York audience last Friday during one of the many events surrounding the Pennsylvania Society weekend in New York City.

According to the New York Post, Mr. Specter was addressing a GOP group in Rockefeller Center's Rainbow Room, when he asked if anyone in the audience was Polish.

"About 10 guests out of hundreds there raised their hands," the Post reported. "Specter deemed the number insignificant and forged ahead with some supposedly funny Polish jokes, including the old one about the man who interrupted him once, saying, 'Hey, careful. I'm Polish!' Specter said he responded, 'That's OK -- I'll tell it more slowly.' Specter also told two other tasteless jokes in the same Polish vein. 'No one walked out, but it was offensive,' said our source."

Blasted all over the blogosphere, the remarks drew predictable outrage from Polish fraternal groups, among others.

"I find it appalling,'' said Tim Kuzma, president of the Polish Falcons of America, based in Green Tree.

Mr. Kuzma was just one of the Polish community leaders the senator, who is up for re-election in 2010, took the time to call yesterday when he could otherwise have been solving the problems of the Middle East or sorting out this pesky economy.

According to his staff, Mr. Specter also reached out to Rick Pierchalski, president of the Polish Cultural Council in Western Pennsylvania; Michael Blichasz, president of the Polish American Congress, Eastern Pennsylvania District; and Frank Spula, president of the Chicago-based Polish American Congress.

In a letter to Mr. Blichasz, the senator said of his remarks. "In retrospect, I can see that they were inappropriate and I regret having made them. You may be sure I will never make the same mistake again."

Mr. Kuzma said he was pleased that Mr. Specter had called, but said that he and other community leaders were pressing for a face-to-face meeting with the senator to more fully clear the air.

"I do respect that he called, that he did apologize; it was a good step and the right thing to do," he said. "We feel that it is important that he meet with us directly. He said he would do that."

Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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