Idaho town turns to PR to combat racist reputation

COEUR D'ALENE, ID: Coeur d'Alene, a town of 40,000 in Northern Idaho, has turned to PR to combat the perception that it is a haven for white supremacist groups.

COEUR D'ALENE, ID: Coeur d'Alene, a town of 40,000 in Northern Idaho, has turned to PR to combat the perception that it is a haven for white supremacist groups.

The town has found itself in the news more often than it might like thanks to local neo-Nazi Richard Butler, whose Aryan Nations group regularly holds nationally publicized parades in the area. Local businesses and government officials, however, are taking steps to ensure that Coeur d'Alene and surrounding towns do not become permanently saddled with a racist image.

Mayor Steve Judy recently announced he was creating a new post, human rights coordinator, specifically to combat the area's right-wing image and promote local human-rights efforts.

'We would like a chance to tell the real story,' said Jonathan Coe, president and GM of the local chamber of commerce. 'It takes a significant level of attention to stay on top of this and generate positive stories.'

PR will be a major component of the human rights coordinator position.

A description for the job states that the person who is hired will 'create and provide links to local, regional and national media to create a more positive perception of Northern Idaho's commitment to human rights.'

The coordinator will also be charged with developing a Web site and handling community responses to local hate-group marches. Whoever takes the job will be under a statewide microscope, as programs developed for Coeur d'Alene will be used as templates for other towns in Idaho that want to improve their human-rights image.

The Association of Idaho Cities, a group representing 201 towns and cities in the state, is teaming with Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to underwrite the position's 50,000 dollars yearly salary.

The decision to create the position has already generated substantial coverage. Following a story in USA Today last month, the mayor was so flooded with phone calls that he no longer responds to requests for interviews, according to an aide.

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