TUESDAY, May 4 — A woman has stepped forward to corroborate allegations that Lansing mayoral candidate Kathie Dunbar had once used the N-word more than 15 years ago in a conversation with Rina Risper, the publisher of the New Citizens’ Press, which caters to the African-American community in Lansing. Risper is Black and Dunbar is white.
Margaret — who no longer lives in Lansing and who is identified only through a pseudonym to protect her identity — told City Pulse she was once good friends with Risper and Dunbar, an at-large Councilwoman. But that quickly dissolved after a tense encounter on the Troppo patio in downtown Lansing in 2006, Margaret explained.
More than 15 years ago, she said, she and Risper and Dunbar were dining at Troppo when Dunbar tried to make a “joke” that involved the repeated use of the N-word in reference to Black people. Margaret said Risper had told her not to use that word in the past. Dunbar persisted.
“I just remember cringing,” Margaret said. “Kathie is very outspoken, outgoing. She does stand-up comedy — and she’s actually really funny on stage. That was part of it. She thought she could do that with Rina, even though Rina told her that she cannot use that word. She told her: ‘You cannot say those words. You can’t call me that. That’s not OK.’
“But she still did it.”
Risper, fed up with the blatantly derogatory remarks, left the table in frustration, Margaret said.
“I just remember her saying it and thinking: Well, this isn’t OK,” Margaret added. “Kathie tried to brush it off like Rina was being oversensitive. I think Rina has just had enough at that point.”
Dunbar said she has no memory of that encounter at Troppo, much less using the N-word.
“Did I have meals at Troppo? We did all the time. Do I remember this specific incident? No,” Dunbar explained. “I never used the N-word in my jokes. For comics, our material often bleeds into our social lives, but I can say with certainty that I did not make jokes using that word.”
Dunbar, 52, filed to run for mayor in the August primary election last month.
And less than 24 hours after filing, Dunbar was accused of a series of offensive missteps.
The claims are several: Risper alleged on Facebook that Dunbar once told her that “your little Black newspaper won’t make it.” She also claimed that Dunbar used the N-word and made off-color remarks about how Risper resembled “Buckwheat” from the “The Little Rascals” films that were first popularized in the mid-1930s — all claims that Dunbar flatly denies today.
“I said a racially insensitive term back then that I didn’t realize was racially insensitive. And that was Buckwheat, which was only in reference to myself. I didn’t call Rina that name,” Dunbar explained, noting that her naturally curly hair had led to the nickname when she was a child. “I recognize I have made jokes in the past I wouldn’t say now. None of them involved the N-word.”
Risper also alleged that Dunbar had repeatedly propositioned her to have a threesome with her now ex-husband in 2006, continuing to pressure her even after Risper declined the invitation.
“She is a sexual predator and a racist,” Risper posted to Facebook last month.
Former City Councilwoman Jody Washington also alleged that Dunbar had inappropriately “grabbed” her sister from behind, though wouldn’t elaborate.
Dunbar also denied asking — much less badgering — Risper for a threesome with her ex-husband. She also clarified that if she had ever touched Washington’s sister's rear end, “it was not in any kind of lewd manner.” She also doubled down on those denials this week.
As for the butt grabbing? “I can’t even imagine a context where that would happen,” she said.
Her ex, Sam Dunbar, also spoke in Dunbar’s defense in a statement Dunbar said her former husband gave her for public consumption.
“That didn’t happen. We never, ever, approached Rina for sex. Ever. I usually stay out of my ex’s political affairs, but I have to speak on this. I find the idea that a person can make up lies from whole cloth and spread them around for political gain to be a disgusting trend in our political system. I’ve got issues with my ex-wife. She’s my ex-wife, for God’s sake. But I can say with certainty that she’s not a sexual predator.”
Meanwhile, Margaret is also defending Risper’s allegations, which have faced some criticism after it was revealed that Risper publicly supports Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley’s mayoral campaign. Risper has also declined multiple interview opportunities with City Pulse.
Margaret said she was shocked to see how Dunbar had denied Risper’s experiences — including Risper’s recent claims of how Dunbar had tried to pressure Risper into a threesome.
Margaret said Dunbar also once invited Margaret to have sex with her and her husband. Unlike Risper’s claims of sexual harassment, Margaret said she only had to decline the invitation once and wouldn’t classify the request as harassment. It simply made her feel “uncomfortable.”
“I was dating someone at the time and I just let the whole friendship fizzle out from there,” Margaret said. “I was uncomfortable about it, but I didn’t feel like she was using me. I felt like she genuinely wanted me to join her and her husband. It wasn’t because she was using me for my job or my connections. I didn’t feel pressured. I didn’t ever feel like she was harassing me.”
Without knowing the woman’s real name, Dunbar said she couldn’t be sure if she ever asked Margaret to have a threesome with her and her ex-husband. But even if she did: Who cares?
“Attraction is not transferable. Just because I may have — and I can’t say that I have — offered any kind of sexual interaction does not mean that I did that with Rina or anyone else,” Dunbar said in response. “I’m not attracted to Rina. I’m also entitled to privacy in my own sex life.”
Of course, without workplace power dynamics in play or other underlying relational issues, one simple request for a threeway with a friend may not alone be classified as sexual harassment. Risper’s unevidenced claims, instead, appear to be rooted in her repeated denials to Dunbar’s alleged request — which both Kathie and Sam Dunbar contend never actually happened.
Dunbar — who identifies as a bisexual woman — said the LGBTQ community is often hypersexualized with the assumption that bisexual woman are sexually attracted to everyone.
“Anyone in the LGBTQ community can attest to that,” Dunbar added. “I’ve dealt with many instances of this running stereotype out there, including with my current partner. This idea is that because you’re bisexual you must be incapable of being monogomous. That’s just not true.”
— KYLE KAMINSKI