The city of Sandpoint doesn’t plan on getting “caught with its pants down” on Sunday when the tabloids and national media arrive to focus once again on Mark Fuhrman.
The retired Los Angeles police detective is supposed to be questioned at a secret location Sunday by O.J. Simpson’s defense attorneys.
They want to question the ex-policeman before Simpson’s civil trial in the deaths of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.
Media from across the country already have snapped up many of the hotel rooms and rental cars in Sandpoint.
But the city, human rights organizations and local businesses want to avoid the rash of negative publicity that followed Fuhrman when he moved to Sandpoint last summer. The town was painted as a racist haven for whites, which hurt tourism.
“I don’t think we really saw how this thing (last summer) could get completely out of hand, and we got caught with out pants down,” said Mayor David Sawyer.
“We see this as an opportunity to re-image ourselves in the national press.”
The city and human rights groups are printing about 1,000 posters, bumper stickers and buttons with the slogan “Sandpoint is too great for hate.”
The signs will be plastered in downtown windows and on cars. Media kits, with information about the city and its human rights efforts, will be handed out to the press corps.
The mayor also plans to hold a press conference at City Hall to address any media that will listen.
Even considered was a plan to hang a large banner with the slogan “Sandpoint Loves Diversity” across the main street downtown. That idea was dropped as overkill.
“There will be a lot of media in town, and when we ignored them in the past, it didn’t serve us well,” said Debbie Ferguson, a member of Sandpoint’s Human Rights Coalition. “This time, we decided to make an effort to get them accurate information; otherwise the story comes out pretty slanted to one side.”
In the past, Ferguson said, the media focused on the Aryan Nations in Hayden Lake, the Militia of Montana and the handful of racists, such as former Ku Klux Klan leader Louis Beam, who moved here.
“When that is the only exposure they get of our community, it’s not a fair representation,” Ferguson said. “The negative coverage is still going on,” she added, referring to a story in this month’s GQ magazine. The article about North Idaho is titled “A Journey to the Heart of Whiteness”; a teaser on the front page refers to the area as “Fascistville, Idaho.”
“I don’t think we are trying too hard or being phony; we are being realistic,” Sawyer said. “We can’t control what the media are going to say. But we have a chance here to let the media define what is going to be on center stage or let the community decide. We chose the latter.”
Yet, some residents say putting up posters and holding press conferences will focus more unwanted attention on the town.
“I think it’s a little bit silly and we are going overboard,” said downtown business owner Beth Evans. “We have a good town, and I don’t think we need to do all this.”
The group planning the media blitz is paying for the posters, stickers and T-shirts with money raised from selling Christmas cards. The cards were designed by local students during a campaign to promote racial tolerance and diversity in the schools.
“If the media are going to use Mark Fuhrman as an excuse to come back to town, then we should use the opportunity to combat our negative stereotype,” said businessman Clarence VanDellen.
“Our image in the media has been so opposite of what we really are that this can’t hurt.”
Fuhrman’s attorneys asked for the deposition to be given in a secret location to avoid a media circus and protect Fuhrman’s privacy.
The meeting was ordered held here by an Idaho court because this is Fuhrman’s county of residence and he is only a witness, not a party, to the civil lawsuit.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: POLISHING ITS IMAGE Among steps Sandpoint is taking to impress the national media are: Printing posters, bumper stickers and buttons with the slogan “Sandpoint is too great for hate”; Providing the press with media kits highlighting the city and its human rights efforts; Planning a mayoral press conference. Rejected as overkill was a plan to hang a banner with the slogan “Sandpoint Loves Diversity” across the main street.