When it discovers that the little girl it sought to help is white. Hah! You can't make this stuff up. Furor grows over Riordan's remark to girl By Gary Delsohn -- Bee Capitol Bureau Published 2:15 am PDT Friday, July 9, 2004 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office continued to back embattled Education Secretary Richard Riordan on Thursday amid growing outrage and demands for Riordan's resignation over his bizarre comment to a 6-year-old girl. Riordan, a former Los Angeles mayor long known for occasionally making off-the-cuff comments that offend some people, was under attack for telling the youngster at a Santa Barbara library reading program last week that her name, Isis, "means stupid, dirty girl." A Schwarzenegger spokesman said Riordan and the governor spent time together last weekend and that Schwarzenegger has no plans to ask him to resign. "The governor appreciates the mayor's commitment to education, to reform and to children and looks forward to him continuing in his job," Rob Stutzman said. "That's the end of the issue, as far as we are concerned." But instead of disappearing amid the ongoing budget talks and other Capitol business, the controversy escalated Thursday with several groups demanding Riordan's resignation. "It is abusive to use such language toward a child, regardless the gender, race, socioeconomic background or national heritage," Alice A. Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a statement. "To say that he was only kidding or joking suggests that Mr. Riordan, who is in charge of developing education policy for our children, knows nothing about children and has even less respect for them." The NAACP and other civil rights groups had planned to attend a Capitol news conference Thursday called by Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton, who was demanding that Riordan step down. Dymally's office abruptly canceled the event, however, after learning that the girl is white. Dymally, who is African American, was quoted in Thursday's San Jose Mercury News stating that the girl was African American and asking whether Riordan "would ... have done that to a white girl?" The NAACP, the California Coalition for Racial Equality and a spokesman for League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation's oldest Latino civil rights group, continued to call for Riordan to step down, but Dymally changed his mind. "Mayor Richard Riordan has extended another apology ... and expressed his regret to me by way of a Los Angeles bishop," Dymally said in a statement. "To err is human; to forgive is divine. I have requested a meeting with Secretary Riordan to further discuss the issue." That prompted a reaction of disbelief from the girl's mother, who had been avoiding media calls to shield her daughter. She said she felt compelled to speak out after Dymally's comments. "If he feels the man should step down, why does it matter if my daughter is white?" Trinity Lila of Goleta said in an interview. Lila said Riordan should probably step down but isn't demanding he do so. Riordan, who is a close friend of Schwarzenegger's and was his first Cabinet appointment after the governor took office in November, was out of state and was not taking calls from the media. "I let my daughter go to story hour and figured she'd be safe in a room full of librarians and parents and other children and the secretary of education," Lila said. "If I was in the room, I would have defended her. But she did OK without me. I'm really proud of her for standing up for herself. She's OK. She's moved on. It's not like I'm going to sue to pay her therapy bills." The controversy began July 1 when Riordan, a wealthy venture capitalist whose foundation has spent millions of dollars promoting literacy and computer programs for minority and other children, attended a summer reading program at the Santa Barbara Central Library. With a few dozen children seated on the floor next to Riordan, Isis D'Luciano, a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl, asked him a question. "Did you know that my name actually means an Egyptian goddess?" she said with noticeable pride in her voice. Riordan looked somewhat confused for a moment or two before answering: "It means stupid, dirty girl." The kids groaned and giggled, before Isis again said her name was that of a goddess. "Hey, that's nifty," said Riordan, who issued a statement a short time later saying he "teased" her and "immediately apologized ... for misunderstanding." Lila said her daughter didn't correct Riordan because "she told me she didn't want to hurt his feelings. I got the impression she just didn't think he was very bright." "I really didn't know much about the man, so I wasn't aware of how socially inept he is," she said. "He's a bureaucrat and I guess he's a grandfather. But it doesn't seem like he's had a lot of exposure to kids. It was really a stupid thing to say." While critics pointed to numerous verbal gaffes Riordan has made over the years, associates and others rushed to his defense. Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, said she doesn't agree with Riordan on too much politically but believed the remarks were out of character from a man she is convinced has great affection for children. "I've seen him make a lot of gaffes, but nothing like this," she said. "He's always been extremely sweet and caring with kids. I'm wondering if maybe he had the flu or a cold and was taking some medication or something that affected him, because this doesn't make sense." And Kevin Spillane, political director for Riordan's 2002 gubernatorial campaign, said he doesn't think Riordan should or would resign. "Why should a man who has a lifetime of doing charitable work for children resign over one unfortunate remark that he quickly apologized for?" Spillane asked. "And for Mervyn Dymally to try to make political hay by shamelessly playing the race card in this is ridiculous. Richard Riordan has done more for black children than Mervyn Dymally can ever dream of," he said. Dymally was unavailable for comment.