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Lawmaker Apologizes for Comment

June 19, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee apologized Monday for what he said was an ``offensive″ remark about the creation of a black-owned airline as part of the proposed merger between United Airlines and US Airways.

But Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., in a speech on the House floor, said he was still concerned that the planned carrier under the ownership of Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson would be tied too closely to the newly merged United and not be an effective competitor.

Oberstar, at a Transportation Committee hearing last week on the proposed merger, said DC Air, which would lease equipment, personnel and maintenance service from the merged airlines, would have a ``plantation″ status.

Johnson said the use of the word in reference to a black-owned company was racist and demanded an apology.

Johnson, Oberstar said, ``called upon me to change my attitude. I came to the well today to apologize to Mr. Johnson and to the committee for my careless, inappropriate and offensive remark.″

He added that he has been a champion of minority rights and a stalwart backer of Haiti and ``I cannot let that record of 40 years be tarnished by one ``ill-chosen″ word.

He said he opposed the proposed merger but hoped that if the Justice Department approves it it would require the merging airlines to divest additional assets to DC Air to make the startup carrier a more viable competitor.

Johnson said he accepted Oberstar’s apology, and commented: ``His statement showed me that as a man he searched his soul and searched his heart, and realized what he said, and apologized for it.″

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