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Priest sees `bigotry, hatred' in Park City

A Roman Catholic priest here says immigrant bashing has replaced the lack of downtown parking as the hot issue in this year's election for mayor.

"The ugly head of bigotry, hatred and prejudice has resurfaced in Park City. This year's elections have given it voice," the Rev. Robert Bussen of St. Mary of the Assumption parish told his parishioners on Sunday. "The target . . . is our Hispanic community. They have committed two unpardonable sins: They have enrolled their children into our school system and they have moved into our neighborhoods."Among the examples Bussen cited, he said Brad Olch, the incumbent in the race, complained to a radio host about "drunken Mexicans" creating a disturbance.

He also brought up comments mayoral challenger Nikki Lowry made in an interview with The Park Record, a Park City newspaper, saying that low-income housing in the city had attracted too many Latinos.

"I don't want the `ghettoization' of Park City with more low-income housing," Lowry told the newspaper.

Lowry did not return phone calls Tuesday. Olch said his comments were taken out of context.

"I was referring to a situation where our police officers were called to an apartment complex where Mexicans were drinking," Olch said. "It was a one-time incident. The problem in Park City is that we have a lot of illegal Hispanics who are having an impact on the schools. We welcome Hispanics in our community, but they need to be here on a legal basis."

Many Hispanics say they don't feel welcome.

"Politicians attack our community because immigration is a big issue and they can make points," said Abelardo Rea, a Park City community activist who expects to receive his legal residence by the end of the month. "But we are important for the economy of this place. I'm not a citizen yet, but if I had the right to vote, I wouldn't vote for any of the candidates."

Hispanics and community activists say the wealthy residents of Park City don't like rubbing shoulders with the people who wash their dishes, clean their toilets and build their condominiums. According to the 1990 Census, the average household income in Park City was $62,952. The average household income for Utah was $35,000.

Shelley Weiss, a founder of Conexion Amigo, a group that seeks to build bridges between white and Hispanic communities, said some Park City residents are working to cross the cultural divide between the groups.

But at a recent town meeting on immigration, Weiss was shocked by some of the sentiments that were expressed.

"Angry white parents said, `Our schools are going to (expletive). Our kids' education is being compromised. That's why we left Southern California,"' Weiss recalled.

During his Sunday homily, Bussen told parishioners to take a stand against politicians who divide the city.

"Tell them that you will not tolerate any candidate who panders to the hatemongers in our midst," Bussen said.

Bussen urged his parishioners to reach out to the Hispanic community by volunteering to teach English-as-a-second-language classes and by helping Hispanic children learn to ski.