Melissa Harris-Perry at the 24th annual GLAAD Media Awards March 16, 2013, in New York City
LARRY BUSACCA/GETTY IMAGES FOR GLAAD
he comptroller for Dutchess County, N.Y., a northern suburb of New York City, is facing the wrath of politicians and citizens alike after tweeting a message in which he referred to MSNBC news anchor Melissa Harris-Perry as a "damned dirty ape," the Daily News reports.
Jim Coughlan, a Republican who is also eyeing a state Senate seat, made the comment in response to an ad Harris-Perry made in which she made reference to the need for communities, not just parents, to take resposibility for the well-being of children.
"We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we've always had kind of a private notion of children: 'Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility,'" Harris-Perry says in the ad that remains controversial among conservatives.
"We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities," she adds.
This prompted Coughlan to tweet Harris-Perry: "Unless you're my wife don't call them 'our' children. Keep your stinking paws off my kid, you damned dirty ape."
Coughlan has since insisted that he did not know the celebrated anchor was black and that he didn't mean anything racist by his tweet, saying that he was just quoting from the movie Planet of the Apes.
"I don't watch MSNBC," he told the Daily News. "I don't know about their stories or their journalists."
However, state Democrats and Republicans alike aren't buying his argument, calling him out on his behavior. "This is irresponsible," Dutchess County legislator Gwen Johnson, a Democrat, told the news organization. "As an African-American woman, I find this very insulting and appalling.
"If you're a public official and you're running ... you should know what you're tweeting about and who you're tweeting about," she added, referring to Coughlan's insistence that he did not know that Harris-Perry was black.
Republicans are also distancing themselves from him. "Jim Coughlan is toxic," one conservative told the Daily News. "The Democrats are dying to run against him in November because they know he's the best chance they have of keeping this seat in Democratic hands."
Coughlan, on his end, is unfazed. Although he has suspended his Twitter account, the Daily News reports, he has repeatedly shrugged off criticisms, saying that it is just "Albany insiders who are scared of my candidacy because they know I'm not going to be a patsy in the Senate."