April 8 2009 12:00 AM

Why some on the Lansing City Council backed the Cadillac Club owner despite his racially charged comments at last week’s hearing over the venue’s liquor license.

Love the sinner, not the sin.

That seems to be the explanation for the decision of four Lansing City Council members in voting last week against a resolution to strip Cadillac Club owner Dave Sheets of his liquor license, despite what at least two Council members felt was damaging testimony Sheets gave.

Despite the racist overtones of Sheets’ testimony about hip-hop night patrons at his club, President Derrick Quinney, At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen and Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Kaltenbach all voted against the resolution.

When At-large Councilwoman Carol Wood questioned Sheets about his willingness to sanction his own business by closing at midnight, Sheets response was, “Ms. Wood, how do I say this politely. I mean, this crowd that shows up … dark, obviously. They don’t show ‘til midnight. Unbelievable. These people don’t show up ‘til 11:30, 12 at night and we close at midnight … . I mean us white folk go out at 8 o’clock. These folks … ."

That comment caused a stir in the crowd over his racially insensitive remarks.

Asked to respond to his comments, and the perception that he was characterizing the patrons of the hip-hop parties at the Cadillac Club, he responded, "Characterizing? That’s the way it works! It’s a fact."

He added, "If you spin this story and make me look like a piece of shit, I will never do a story with you again."

Sheets’ attorney, Charles Ford, who is black, said the comments should be taken as a comment on the patrons, not their race.

"Dave services everybody,” Ford said. He said ’these people.’ Don’t take that as a racial connotation. He’s talking about the people who rent his club … . They don’t start ‘til late. He didn’t mean it the way that everyone took it."

This isn’t the first time in recent months that Quinney has presided over a meeting featuring racist language. Quinney, who is black, has endured being addressed as “massa’s boy” to his supposed “massa,” Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. To him, Sheets’ comments were "ignorant," but he voted against stripping Sheets of his liquor license because "although Mr. Sheets hasn’t been the best neighbor for other businesses in the area, (we’re) giving him the opportunity to correct those issues." He mentioned Sheets’ contributions to charity and his work in community service.

Kaltenbach echoed Sheets’ sentiment. “Well, it’s true, isn’t it? My kids don’t go out until 10 at night,” stating that he thought the issue of a late-arriving crowd wasn’t in any way a racial characterization but “more of an age thing.”

Allen agreed with Ford’s assessment of the situation. Despite telling Ford during the hearing it may have been a mistake to allow his client to take the stand, she said his comments about his patrons didn’t sway her vote.

“He was very frustrated and angry, and it was showing. Sometimes testimony of that sort can turn people off," she said, adding that Sheets “should have been given a break," partly because he invested a great deal of money into the club’s original incarnation as a fine dining establishment. Still, his comments to Robinson and about his patrons were “inappropriate.”

In the meantime, Sheets has a chance to make good on a promise to control his club. He has met with Lansing Police Capt. Ray Hall to address security concerns.

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