To win his ongoing feud with the school board president, Salt Lake City school board member Michael Clara has taken to attending meetings festooned in a colorful sombrero, a blue poncho, a fake mustache and a heavily-armed “pistolero” T-shirt.
“It’s a form of protest,” Clara told Salt Lake City CBS affiliate KUTV.
He compared the protest costume to the garb worn by the Frito Bandito, a Pancho Villa-like Mexican bandit mascot used by Frito-Lay Inc. to peddle Frito Corn Chips from 1967 to 1971.
Clara’s clash with school board president Heather Bennett and other board members involves a host of issues including his belief that the school district assigns too many school resource officers — campus cops — to schools with high populations of minority students.
He has sued other board members over his belief that they violated Utah open meetings statutes.
He also believes he is treated differently as a board member because of his Hispanic ethnic background.
The trouble that has led Clara to dress in his Frito Bandito outfit occurred at a Feb. 17 school board meeting when Bennett asked district superintendent McKell Withers to position a district police officer at the front of the meeting room. Bennett was concerned, she claimed, because Clara had exhibited “extreme” behavior during a prior phone call between the petulant pair.
“I’m going to sit here like the Mexican criminal that you and [Withers] want me to be,” Clara declared at the Feb. 17 meeting, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Bennett charged that Clara lost his composure during the phone call.
“Mr. Clara was so overcome with anger, he assaulted me with threats, profanities and scatological references,” she wrote in a memo obtained by KUTV.
Clara said Bennett’s reaction to the phone call is overblown.
“Even if I offended her, that doesn’t require a person who is authorized to use deadly force to sit and stare at me for the whole meeting,” he told the Tribune.
“If I did threaten her, the thing to do is call police, have them do an investigation and file charges,” he told KUTV.
“When we start dissenting, all of a sudden it’s criminalized,” he said.
The long-dormant Frito Bandito was the marketing creation of worldwide advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding Communications.
Mel Blanc — the legendary voice behind Bugs Bunny, Barney Rubble, Marvin the Martian and so many other cartoon characters — provided the heavily-accented voice of the Frito Bandito, notes Don Markstein’s Toonopedia.
Yes, the Frito Bandito was a thief. It’s true. But he was a merry, talkative thief who only stole delicious Fritos.
“Ay, ay, ay, ay! oh, I am dee Frito Bandito. I like Fritos corn chips, I love them, I do,” he sang, to the tune of the traditional Mexican mariachi song “Cielito Lindo.”
Some people did not like the Frito Bandito. Eventually, in 1971, the (now apparently defunct) National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee filed a $610 million lawsuit for “malicious defamation” of an entire ethnic group. (The $610 million figure was $100 for each Mexican-American person.)
The lawsuit caused the end of the Frito Bandito. The Muncha Bunch replaced the Bandito. They didn’t last long, and were themselves replaced by a character named W.C. Frito,. who looked like a cross between Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr. Magoo.