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Kilmer apologizes

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By David Giuliani

Actor Val Kilmer on Wednesday apologized for comments attributed to him that many residents have considered derogatory toward Hispanics and veterans.

Under a heavy police presence at the old courthouse, the San Miguel County Commission approved Kilmer’s plans to convert three guesthouses on the actor’s ranch property in Rowe into a lodging business.

At a meeting last month, the commission delayed a decision on Kilmer’s request for the lodging business until he appeared personally to answer to criticism of his magazine quotes.

In magazine interviews years ago, the actor was quoted as insulting San Miguel County residents by calling 80 percent of them drunks and by describing Vietnam veterans as “borderline criminal or poor.” San Miguel County is overwhelmingly Hispanic.

In a short speech, Kilmer, who was in “Batman” and “Top Gun,” said his words had been “twisted” in the national magazine interviews. He said he had been concerned about DWIs and that he was quoting a Santa Fe judge’s take on the DWI problem in San Miguel County.

Kilmer, wearing a suit and bolo tie and sporting a ponytail, maintained that he had a high respect for veterans and had never said anything “disparaging” about their service to the country.

“I sincerely apologize for my comments that have been seen as negative about my community and neighbors,” he said.

He said he loved the Las Vegas area, saying he made sure a couple of his movies were filmed here.

He said he was upset that people thought that he would think poorly of his community and neighbors. He said the issue in San Miguel County had gained so much attention that a reporter had asked him about Wednesday’s commission meeting when he was in Switzerland recently.

Kilmer, who has lived in the Rowe area for more than two decades, said he was committed to his community, noting that he had contributed to local groups such as Pecos teams.

Abran Tapia, a Rowe resident who appealed Kilmer’s request for the lodging business, complained about the “police state” nature of the meeting. He said everyone should be allowed a chance to speak.

Only Tapia was given the opportunity to speak against Kilmer’s permit. A dozen people, including Tapia, had spoken at a previous public hearing.

Tapia said that compared to Kilmer’s 20 years in the Pecos area, Hispanics have been there for more than four centuries. He said the Hispanics have treated the “gringos” well.

He said the county shouldn’t “take crap” from Kilmer. He said Kilmer was not Batman, but the Joker, another character in the “Batman” movie.

The county took the unusual step of requiring Kilmer’s presence because of what officials said was the “clear and present” danger caused by an expansion of actor’s ranching operation given his previous comments.

But County Attorney Jesus Lopez acknowledged to the commission that Kilmer had met all the requirements in his request for the conditional use permit. He said it would be unlawful to deny the actor’s request.

He said the county had received hate mail and calls over the last few days from people around the country, some threatening boycotts of the county. (That was probably in reaction to a Monday story in the Wall Street Journal.)

“We succumb to threats from no one and never will,” the attorney said.

The commission then unanimously approved Kilmer’s request.

• • •

Those attending weren’t necessarily opposed to the commission’s final decision. They were more critical of the meeting’s procedures and the actor’s alleged comments.

Jose Salas, a Vietnam veteran from Las Vegas, said Kilmer met all the requirements for the permit, but he said the public didn’t get the answers it wanted from Kilmer.

Antonio Chavez, another Vietnam veteran from the area, wouldn’t say how he would have voted on Kilmer’s permit. But he said the county didn’t run the meeting well. He said the commission should have allowed everyone a chance to speak.

Cathy Kahn of Romeroville agreed with Chavez. But she said she would have to study the issue more before she had an opinion on the county’s permit approval.

“Everyone has the right to speak,” she said.

The law enforcement presence was striking. At least a half dozen city, county and state officers were in the courthouse meeting room — some in the row behind Kilmer. Other officers posted at the east entrance used a wand to check for weapons on those entering. Still more officers were around the building.

Most county meetings have no police whatsoever, other than the sheriff himself, who attends because he is an elected county official.

While Kilmer was allowed in early, a crowd of about 30 people waited during the lunch hour outside the east entrance. A reporter and cameraman from one Albuquerque TV station almost didn’t get in because of the room’s capacity of 64. The fire marshal allowed them in, temporarily raising the capacity limit.

County officials said only four people who wanted to attend the meeting weren’t allowed in because of the capacity requirement.

About 20 of the people in the room were from the media and police.