Lake Wales, Florida - 70-year-old John Paul Rogers wants to become the next mayor of Lake Wales, but critics say he could have a tough time bringing the town together because he's a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Retired University of South Florida Professor Darryl Paulson, an expert on the Klan, says Rogers was the head of the organization in Florida that was part of one of the largest and one of the most violent branches of the KKK, The United Klans of America.
Residents in the city of about 13,000 people are talking about the controversy. Stacy Harris, who is white, lives in a nearby city and says, "I think that that's terrible. Definitely."
Nekia Chadwick of Lake Wales is black. She says, "I think that it will be a bad choice to vote him in because what will happen to Lake Wales? With us black people? So is that still in him? Has he changed? I don't think that can change."
Commissioner Mike Carter is running against Rogers and says, "This is not what this town needs. Look around you. Lake Wales is beautiful. We have many, many wonderful things and a whole lot of wonderful people."
Link: See a map of active KKK hate groups in Florida
Carter was at a recent candidates forum when the question about Rogers' history with the Klan came up. Carter says, "He said that he was not a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but rather that he was a member of the United Klans of America and that organization stood against Communism and drug addiction and favored strong state rights and he was not sorry and was not going to renounce his feelings of what he did."
Paulson says Rogers was the grand dragon of the group.
Carter adds, "This is the United Klans of America, which is one of the most violent organizations of domestic violence against our own citizens and this needs to be put to a rest."
David Smith, the president of the Lake Wales branch of the NAACP says "Rogers needs to fess up." Smith says not only does the NAACP want to hear his response to whether or not his past will affect his ability to represent Lake Wales as mayor but so do most blacks and whites in Lake Wales.
The voters will have the final say when they head to the polls for the mayoral election on Tuesday, April 5th. If Rogers doesn't win, he'll still have his job as a commissioner through May of 2012.
Tammie Fields, 10 News