Glendale Mayor Dave Weaver expressed regret to a Japanese counterpart for the City Council's decision to place a memorial to sex slaves taken by the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II in a public park — a vote in which he was the lone dissenter.
Weaver wrote the Oct. 1 letter, which some council members said was improper, in response to a missive from the mayor of Higashiosaka, Glendale's sister city. In his July letter, Mayor Yoshikazu Noda admonished the Jewel City for installing the controversial statue.
Weaver's letter echoes earlier statements he made to Japanese media about why he voted against the memorial for so-called "comfort women," which included concerns about appropriateness and placement. However, it contradicts the sentiment of other city leaders, who adamantly supported placing the 1,110-pound bronze statue of a young woman in traditional Korean dress sitting next to an empty chair.
"His opinion doesn't coincide with the rest of the council. In fact, it directly conflicts with it," said Councilman Zareh Sinanyan.
Councilwoman Laura Friedman said while everyone is entitled to their opinion, when the council votes, it makes a decision as a group.
"We don't always have to agree, but we all have to respect the final decision, and that includes the mayor," she said.
In the letter, Weaver states that he regrets the statue was installed and the "deep divide" it created between Glendale and Higashiosaka. After Glendale installed it in Central Park on July 30, officials from the Japanese city considered ending the 50-year cultural exchange relationship with Glendale for several reasons, one of which was statue.
"I hope that this critical wound can heal itself in time," Weaver said in the letter.
The statue has been a point of controversy for months. Glendale installed it following a request by the Korean-American Sister City Assn., despite a barrage of emails from Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans protesting the roughly $30,000 replica of a memorial that sits outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
While advocates for former comfort women say Japan hasn't sufficiently apologized to the estimated 200,000 Korean, Chinese, Filipino and other women coerced into prostitution, opponents disagree. They say an apology issued by a former Japanese prime minister in the 1990s should have been enough.
Other Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans believe the women acted willingly, although many former comfort women have publicly shared disturbing stories of their servitude, and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims on its website that some women based in war areas were "deprived of their freedom and had to endure misery."
The Glendale statue is the first one honoring comfort women on the West Coast.
In addition to disliking the statue, Noda said he was upset that all sister cities would have to collectively pay for sister city monuments, a concern based on a misreading of a July 9 city report. Glendale officials have since clarified that the maintenance of each individual monument will be paid for by their individual sponsors.
In his letter, Weaver blamed the Los Angeles Times' reporting on the July 9 council meeting — the date the statue was approved — for the confusion. However, the Higashiosaka mayor solely quoted a city staff report in his July 25 letter and none of the three stories written about the July 9 decision by the Los Angeles Times or the Glendale News-Press mentioned a maintenance fund.
Weaver did not return multiple requests to clarify which article he was referring to in the letter.
Weaver also states in his letter to Higashiosaka that the city never asked the "public to weigh in on their opinion of this statue." However, the city held several public meetings regarding the statue, at both the council and lower-level commission level.
While Weaver wrote that Glendale should not have taken sides on what he considered an international issue between South Korea and Japan, Councilman Ara Najarian said Glendale was right to install the statue.
"Elected officials need to take stands on important issues and I find no more important issue than protecting and upholding human rights," Najarian said, adding that he plans to ask for a follow-up letter from the remainder of the council be sent to Higashiosaka officials.