Birmingham ethics board asked to review commissioner's email for alleged antisemitism

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Birmingham officials said Wednesday they are seeking a review for a claim from an advocacy group that a city commissioner used anti-Semitic language in a recent email to residents. 

City Manager Tom Markus requested the Oakland County suburb's Board of Ethics determine if the terms Commissioner Clinton Baller used in the Oct. 26 email constituted "an incident of racial or ethnic conflict" as identified in a plan Birmingham has had since 1992, representatives said in a statement.

“The City has consistently condemned any and all forms of discrimination," Markus said.

Clinton Baller

Baller denied using anti-semitism in his message and criticized the request from the Anti-Defamation League's Michigan chapter that sparked the review.

If the Board of Ethics accepts the request, the board would review documents to find whether there "are sufficient allegations of complaint" about the email to warrant hearings or an advisory opinion, according to the statement from the city.

In a letter to Birmingham Mayor Pierre Boutros this week, ADL Michigan regional director Carolyn Normandin cited the Oct. 26 email from Baller to residents.

According to a copy obtained by The Detroit News, the commissioner referenced campaign contributions to two candidates, David Bloom and Andrew Haig, among those seeking three seats on the group in the Nov. 2 election.

Haig won one of the seats. Baller's email noted he backed the two other winners, Katie Schafer and Elaine McLain.

Baller wrote in the email that the supporters giving thousands of dollars to Bloom and Haig — contributors ADL Michigan said are in the Jewish community — weren't  "betting on a race here. They're buying the ponies."

He earlier referred to a political action committee tied to the candidates as a "cabal," and called its leader, fellow commissioner Brad Host, a "willing marionette."

Normandin said the terms "are common anti-Jewish themes that promote hatred of the Jewish community."

"My office received a number of reports regarding the letter. I must say I find the language used ... troubling and unbecoming a City Commissioner," she wrote. 

Normandin said her group found that anti-Semitic incidents have climbed 240% in Michigan in the last five years, "often through divisive and dog-whistle language designed to promulgate hatred. Community leaders must be held to a higher standard." 

In another email to residents Wednesday, Baller rejected the claim.

The commissioner's father identified as a non-practicing Jew, he said. Baller wrote that his first wife was raised Jewish, as well as their son.

"I will not apologize, and I will not retract my statements. My email was not antisemitic. It was political," he wrote. "If the ADL letter proves anything, it's that wealthy donors can influence more than politics. The ADL letter is born out of a politically motivated desire to continue the pre-election deceptions, misinformation and fear-mongering of a political faction clawing for traction and relevance."

He added: "The people making this allegation don't know me. Those who do, including many of my political foes, know I don't have an antisemitic bone in my body.

"... If I have any regrets, it is that this is a distraction for the commission on which I sit, the administration that works so hard to sustain our city, and for you, the community I serve."

Normandin and ADL Michigan officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night on Baller's latest email.