Mr. Potato Head Draws Complaints

ByABC News
September 29, 2000, 2:08 PM

W A R W I C K, R. I., Sept. 30 -- A 6-foot Mr. Potato Head statue, one ofdozens dotting Rhode Island as part of a tourism campaign, will betaken down because of complaints that the grinning, brown-skinnedfigure appeared racist.

The Tourist Tater was painted dark brown to appear suntannedand wore an ill-fitting Hawaiian shirt, glasses and a hat.

The fiberglass figure had been on display since May, but no onehad complained until its photo appeared Thursday in a newspaper.

Tourism officials decided Friday to take it away from outsideCity Hall.

The whole Potato Head campaign is supposed to encourage peopleto visit. Obviously, we did not intend to offend anyone, MayorScott Avedisian said.

East Providence affirmative action officer Onna Moniz-John saidshe thought the statue resembled the antique figurines she collectsthat portray blacks as buffoons, such as Little Black Sambo.

Hes a Potato

If you look at this potato head, the only thing missing is awatermelon, Moniz-John said.

Tom Schumpert, head of the state Economic Development Corp.,which is directing the Mr. Potato Head campaign, said the statueseemed more offensive in the photo.

If I saw it first, I would have said, We need to correctthis, said Schumpert, who is black.

Kathy Szarko, the artist who designed Tourist Tater, saidthat she meant no offense and that several other spud statues are asimilar color.

Hes a potato. Thats why hes brown, Szarko said.

The statues for the Birthplace of Fun campaign are based onthe toy created by Hasbro Inc., which is based in Pawtucket.

Other figures include the Salty Spud, dressed in brightorange rain gear and carrying a fishing net, and Edgar AllenPoe-tato, honoring the writer, who lived in the state for a shorttime.