Sen. George Allen remains in damage control mode

Sen. George Allen met Wednesday with Indian-American political leaders concerned that he referred to a rival’s campaign staffer as “Macaca” and told the Virginia native of Indian descent, “Welcome to America.”

Members of the US Indian Political Action Committee said they have received hundreds of e-mails about the comments Allen made Friday at a speech that S.R. Sidarth was videotaping for his Democratic challenger, Jim Webb.

“Obviously, we’ll be looking at his actions in terms of working with us and hopefully trying to mend some of the fences that have been broken,” said Sonjay Puri, a businessman and director of the PAC, which claims 30,000 members.

Allen said the leaders told him he has a strong record of supporting issues of interest to the Indian-American community, including the economy and immigration.

“They said they see this as a silver lining for recommitment,” Allen said. “I said, ‘This is a heck of a way to get a silver lining.'”

Macaca is a genus of monkeys including macaques, but Allen has said he just made up a word that sounds similar to “Mohawk,” a nickname Allen staffers gave Sidarth because of his partially cropped hair.

“This fellow over here with the yellow shirt — Macaca or whatever his name is — he’s with my opponent,” Allen said during a GOP rally at Breaks, Va., near the Kentucky border. “He’s following us around everywhere.”

After mentioning that Webb was in California on a fundraising trip, Allen exhorted the crowd: “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.”

Allen, who is positioning himself for a possible presidential run in 2008, has said he apologizes to Sidarth if he took any offense, but the 20-year-old college student has said he thinks Allen’s remarks were an attempt to highlight Sidarth’s race in what he says was an all-white crowd.

Puri said before the meeting that the context of Allen’s remarks are intended to offend.

“If you read his comments in their totality, it becomes very clear no matter how you explain the phrasing it is insensitive to a young kid who is of Indian-American descent,” Puri said.

Allen, who was governor from 1994 to 1998, has been accused of racial insensitivity in the past. He wore a Confederate flag pin in his high school yearbook photo and used to keep a Confederate flag in his living room and a noose in his law office.

As governor, he kept a picture of Confederate troops in his office and proclaimed a Confederate History and Heritage Month, which praised the South’s “four-year struggle for independence” and made no mention of slavery.

Allen has said he has since grown. Last year, he co-sponsored a Senate resolution apologizing for the body’s failure to pass anti-lynching legislation.

At a speech outlining his foreign policy agenda, Webb told reporters Allen was wrong to bully a young campaign volunteer, especially since Allen has used the same tactic of videotaping Webb appearances.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press