(l-r) Mrs. America contestants Leha Guilmette and Lori-Ann March in “Game of Crowns.”
Photo: Jason Wise/Bravo (NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Well, we guess Mrs. America CEO and co-founder David Marmel won’t be voted Mr. Congeniality anytime soon.

As the Washington Post reports, four contestants in this year’s pageant—three African American, one white American —are calling for an apology from Marmel, alleging he used racial slurs and stereotypes during a pre-competition event in Las Vegas in August.

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Joined by lawyer Gloria Allred at a news conference in New York City on Monday, the women accused Marmel of multiple racially-biased statements, including saying that “black women need to stop having babies with four baby daddies and all black men are in jail because they need to stop selling drugs and killing each other,” as reported by NBC News.

Brandy Palacios, Mrs. Missouri 2018, told the assembled press that Marmel had called her over to sit next to him at the party, where several other contestants were present during the ensuing conversation. She recounts:

When I sat down, he began to have a conversation on what he had done for the black community, including developing a program called the Black Achievement Awards, founded by the founder of Ebony magazine. As he spoke, he diverted the conversation to his concern about athletes kneeling for the flag, and how that was disrespectful. He stated how he had fought alongside black men in the Vietnam War, and this was a slap in their faces.

He continued with the conversation by stating that black men need to stop shooting each other, and black women need to stop having so many babies. He went on to describe a black friend who had gotten himself up out of poverty, and said that he makes no excuses, and there is no room for others to make excuses during this time. ...

We were shocked by his language during this conversation, and none of the ladies said anything, including myself. He went on to say how he worked in the newsroom for Ebony magazine, and that was one of the most racist places he worked. He said that they would use the word “nigger” throughout his time working there, and they gave him a pass to use it, because they were brothers. At this point, he rolled up his sleeve and put his arm next to mine, in order to compare skin color. ...

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During the course of the conversation, Marmel purportedly also name-checked the single black winner of Mrs. America, Austen Williams (2014), letting the contestants know that at least one other black contestant had made it to first runner-up.

If this sounds like your average, older Trump-voting white man sticking his foot in it, it is—except that as CEO of the pageant, he seemed to be checking the political temperature of his black contestants and let them know exactly where he stood on some of the most provocative issues of the day. At the very least, it was inappropriate and insensitive. At worst, entirely manipulative, and yes, racist.

“Originally we weren’t going to say anything because we all thought who would believe us,” Crissy Timpson, Mrs. New Jersey, told the New York Times, revealing that the party was actually the second time she’d heard Marmel speak in such a matter, the first being days before when she arrived in Las Vegas. “If we came forward after the pageant, people would think we were just upset about either not winning or placing the way we wanted,” she said.

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The women are not pursuing legal action but are asking for a formal apology from Marmel.

“They have decided that it would be wrong to stay silent about this matter,” Allred told the Times. “They feel it is their duty to share what they allege was their experience because they do not want next year’s contestants to be subjected to what they consider to be racially offensive and demeaning comments which have hurt them and caused them so much pain.”

In defense of Marmel, Shawn Marshall, vice president at the Mrs. America organization, dismissed the accusations, saying Marmel was simply relaying his experiences with African Americans to the women, and pointing to Marmel’s Jewish heritage as evidence that the comments should not have been interpreted as offensive.

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“If there’s an apology, they owe Mr. Marmel,” he told the Times.