The transit manager in Louisiana's second-biggest city apologized Tuesday but could still be forced to resign after he said many residents might not take the bus because so many drivers are black.
In an interview last Thursday on "The Clay Young Show," a local political podcast, Bob Mirabito, chief executive of the Capital Area Transit System in Baton Rouge, or CATS, said:
"I don't see the color of somebody's skin, OK? CATS is, I think, actually 95 percent African-American. And unfortunately, our demographics don't match Baton Rouge. I would love to have a workforce that matched the demographics of Baton Rouge, because I think there are some people out there who may not ride a CATS bus because they don't like the color of the operator's skin."
U.S. Census figures from 2013, the last year for which full statistics are available, show that 55 percent of Baton Rouge's 229,426 residents are black and 39 percent are white.
John Delgado, a member of the Baton Rouge Metro Council, called Mirabito's remarks "just idiotic" and said he should be fired, telling NBC station WVLA: "He's really saying that he wishes he had more white drivers."
Mirabito said in a statement Tuesday (PDF) he regretted that the controversy has "distracted our community from our continued push to move our transit system forward."
"My comment, heard in its entirety, was not racially motivated, and I apologize that is the impression it has given people," he said.
Several other members of the Metro Council have called on Mirabito to resign. But Mirabito, in his only public comment since the podcast interview, told the Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper Monday: "Whether the staff is made up of 95 percent African-American or white or Asian, it should be a goal to try to match the demographics of the community that we're providing service for.
"If my workforce were 95 percent white, then there may be people who would not ride the bus because of the color of that person's skin," he said.