Rep. Jodeh: Aurora’s Sundberg can’t serve diverse communities he ridicules with racist tropes

Aurora City Councilmember Steve Sundberg imitates an Arabic individual while advertising a meal special at his bar, Legends. The bar’s Facebook page is filled with a bevy of similar videos.
Screengrab from a Facebook video.

As a Muslim and Arab state representative who has called Aurora — one of the most diverse cities in America — home my entire life, I am proud to represent all cultures and religions in Aurora. It is a true honor that my constituents trust me with, and it’s one I do not take lightly.

Councilmember Steve Sundberg’s blatant disregard for that diversity and communities of color in his promotional videos for his bar, depicting antiquated stereotypes around Arabs, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, and South Asians, is beyond deplorable and callous.

Legends Sports Bar is in my state House District, and my constituents, and Aurora, deserve better than to be reduced to racist videos. I will not stay silent while their elected officials make them feel threatened by capitalizing on shortsighted views to attract clientele.

It is people in power using these stereotypical, racist tropes that are giving permission to

others to be equally racist and bigoted toward all marginalized communities. And I do not want these videos to attract people that share his unfortunate, racist humor into our neighborhoods.

In a study, Who is Aurora, published by the City of Aurora in 2016, it finds that many of Aurora’s residents are foreign born, and over 160 languages are spoken in Aurora Public Schools alone. These numbers have only increased since then.

According to the 2020 US Census, the City of Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest city, is made up of 42% people that do not identify as white. And according to the City of Aurora, the percentage of people of color has been steadily increasing almost every 10 years.

Meaning, Councilmember Sundberg is voting on decisions that impact more than 186,886 people of color. (It is important to note, that people from the Middle East and North Africa are instructed to check “white,” on some U.S. Census and other documents, meaning there is a significant number of residents in Aurora that are not captured as people of color on the Census.)

It is cause for great concern that it has eluded Councilmember Sundberg as to what it means to represent Aurora, or, at the very least, become culturally competent about his own constituents. How can diverse communities trust that our government is working for our best interest when our elected officials mock our heritage, our religious practices, and add to our struggles?

This is not Sundberg’s first blunder that has come to light recently. In October, an investigation confirmed that he made sexually suggestive comments around Aurora city staff. The Sentinel reported that under a Colorado law that gives cities broad authority to withhold records related to sexual harassment, a group of three other council members decided not to discipline Sundberg, with Sundberg saying the allegations were minor’, and because Sundberg had reportedly apologized. No recordings were made, or minutes taken of the group’s meetings.

In 2021, when interviewing to fill a vacancy on council, Sundberg stated that he would oppose conducting an equity study of the city’s functions. As a Council member, he then opposed funding for the Diversity Equity and Inclusion office at the City of Aurora. And when an opportunity presented itself to uphold indigenous heritage, in a city located in a county whose namesake honors the Arapahoe Nation, he sided with his Republican city council members, and he voted down a land acknowledgement meant for the beginning of every council meeting and at special events.

This is why representation matters. Having a city council that reflects all people who call Aurora home is vital to undo years of exclusive and harmful policies. Sadly, we continue to suffer because people of color are at the center of Sundberg’s distasteful jokes and suggestive actions instead of being at the center of his policies.

In an article published by the Atlantic titled “We’re All Tired of Being Called Racists”, Trump rally goers were asked about their feelings on being labeled racist. One rally goer, Roseanna, who chose not to give her last name, told the journalist “I’m sick to death of it. I have 13 grandchildren — 13,” she continued. “Four of them are bi-racial, Black and white; another two of them are Black and white; and another two of them are Singapore and white. You think I’m a racist? I go and I give them kids kisses like nobody’s business.””

And when asked about the infamous chant “send her back” in reference to Muslim immigrant and Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, her sentiments were very paradoxical to her frustration with being called racist. “Look, but she is gonna get — you know, I don’t want her stinkin’ Muslim crap in my country,” Roseanna said. “Sharia law. That’s not America, she is a Muslim through and through…she wants that all here.”

When elected officials cannot recognize systemic racism in policy because their bigoted views have been normalized outside of city hall, the result is Councilmember Sundberg, who has clearly proven himself to be incapable of respecting all people he was elected to represent.

I’m not sure what’s more offensive, his desperate and pathetic attempt for financial gain at the expense of marginalized people while appealing to immature base humor, or that he is blatantly disregarding and offending people when he is elected to be a leader in a community needing to come together to decrease racial tension and increase inclusivity.

It pains me that Aurora is now retraumatized, and having to deal with things like this only deepens those open wounds. As a Muslim and Arab American, these abhorrent stereotypes are reminiscent of decades past. Growing up in the wake of two Gulf Wars, 9/11, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, seeing racist depictions of people who share my faith and heritage, became so commonplace that it was overwhelming to counter and dispel. But movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter have opened the conversation around what underserved and underrepresented communities need from others to recognize their identity and their cause, as well as what it should and should not look like.

Having a city council member fail to recognize those cultural necessities and needs, as an elected official trusted to represent a diverse constituency, even when they do not share their same identity, signifies a betrayal of their belief in the system.

In “Dear fellow white people: Here’s what to do when you’re called racist,” an article published by the Washington Post, the author outlines the realities of white fragility and implicit bias, while also deconstructing the “token minority best friend defense.”

The article draws upon the parallels between supporting Trump, who is married to an immigrant, but continues to stand by his belief he is in fact not racist. “I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world,” he told reporters last month, and he often name-checks black celebrity friends to support his contention. At the same time, he continues to take racist jabs at individuals and groups.

It seems that Councilmember Sundberg really believed that going this route of advertisement was OK in 2020 when they were published, and up until December 19, 2022, still thought it was OK, which is proof that he clearly never intended to serve a diverse population that would feel welcome in Sundberg’s establishment.

This makes me wonder which clientele he does want to serve exactly. I have no doubt that statements and apologies to affected communities are well underway. As such, I have been fielding emails, calls, and texts from allies, community leaders, and constituents — in Aurora and beyond — not asking for an apology or censure, but calling for his resignation. And I couldn’t agree more. A true apology would come in the form of resignation.

State Rep. Iman Jodeh is a Democrat and represents District 41 in central Aurora


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1 month ago

My letter to the editor:

Let me open the conversation, Iman Jodeh. Seems very high handed, hateful and egotistical of you to declare political war against another leader of my community.

How important do you think you are to call for the resignation of any other elected official? Do you really believe you are that important? Stick to State politics as that is what you were elected to do.

This whole letter infers you have no respect for white citizens in any way, shape or form, the other 50+ percent of Aurora citizens. Your opinion is offensive to me not Steve Sundberg who has done an incredibly good job as a leader in Aurora, no matter what you think.

I strongly suspect that you have not been inundated with information from your people to not accept Steve’s apology but to call for his resignation. Give us a count from only the citizens of Aurora. Give me a count from all that would only be self serving. This is your column, no one else is on the bottom line.

I’m tired of being called or implied that I’m a racist by you and others. I just don’t care anymore when someone of color calls me a racist. It’s not true and it’s only political to discount my and other’s stances.

I reject your letter and your service for even thinking to write it. I reject the Aurora Sentinel for printing it and it only helps to develop hate in the Aurora community.

My feeling is that you should be ashamed for writing it and Dave Perry should be ashamed of publishing it.

Dick Moore
Ward V

Bart Emanuel
Bart Emanuel
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

You’ve demonstrated repeatedly since I started reading this paper that you’re an unrepentant bigot, Dick. You’ve thrown tantrums about no longer reading this paper, but yet here you are. Cope and seethe more. You are a walking fossil in every way that counts, especially as it pertains to your ideology, and your time is nearly up. Tick tock.

1 month ago
Reply to  Bart Emanuel

This “conservative fossil and unrepentant bigot” wishes you a very Merry Christmas

1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Moore, Dick; first of all, others ‘imply’, you ‘infer.’ {Pease keep in mind for future rants.

This is someone who knows what it is like to be part of a heritage and a background that Sundberg disparages by his juvenile display of racism. You have no validity in criticizing her well-measured remarks, as you have not lived her experience.

I note that you directed your ire at her, not at the substantive arguments she made about why Sundberg, by his behavior is incapable of representing such a diverse city as Aurora.

And Dick, if you’re tired of being called a racist (probably by all those voices in your red head), stop being one).

1 month ago
Reply to  GeneD

Merry Christmas, GeneD.

The name is the game
The name is the game
1 month ago

I doubt that anyone considers Dick a racist. Those familiar with him simply consider him a lazy old man who has a tendency to whine. And most have nothing against his politics, besides it being a rehash of the phony “conservative” stance of many over the last few years. True conservatives from the past would have a chuckle at the stuff that often triggers Dick. He’s the type that gets incensed over meaningless bs, while his buddies in government pick his pocket. I remember when political conservatives expelled wimps like Dick from the conversation and actually started to make some inroads in getting their ideas accepted by the public. Hopefully, this will happen again.

1 month ago

Merry Christmas to you, whatever your real game name is. Thanks for not calling me a racist. Don’t remember any past comment from you. But welcome to the others who comment on this Sentinel Blog.