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Lee County Commission candidate explains controversial email

By Staff | Jun 2, 2020

Announced Lee County Commission candidate Steven “Sonny” Haas said Saturday he is not guilty of describing the district he hopes to represent in terms he admits could be construed as racially charged.

If he is guilty anything, it’s poor punctuation.

Haas has come under fire for an email response to a Lehigh Acres resident who asked why he should support Haas’ bid to unseat Commissioner Frank Mann in the race for the District 5 seat, which encompasses much of east Lee County.

Haas response, “as a lifelong resident and twenty plus year Lehigh resident” “heart broken about what the good ole boy lee county system has done to Lehigh” explains his discovery of what he called the truth: “That Lehigh was turned into a colored quarters by design. To re build fort Myers.”

The 500-plus word missive expands on the theme, using what is referred to as the “N-word” twice.

Haas said Saturday his mistake isn’t sharing what he says unnamed Lee County movers and shakers not only know but acknowledge among themselves. It is his failure to put quote marks around the remarks he says are not his in his answer to Lehigh resident Eric Engelhart. Haas said Engelhart, who he does not know, first asked for his position on the incorporation of Lehigh and then whether Haas would “stand up to current commissioners who are not doing the right thing” for Lee County.

“I said so you want a politician’s answers or do you want to know the truth about the direction of Lehigh, what the county has done, what the county has allowed to happen?” Haas said in a telephone interview. “He said he wants the truth. My mistake was I miss-wrote the e-mail. I didn’t use proper punctuation when I typed the email. Every line I wrote and statements I made was a quote of what has been said to me from various movers and shakers in the county over the last six years.”

Haas declined to provide any names.

The email came to light after Engelhart forwarded it to members of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, including Mann.

Engelhart did not respond to an email requesting comment.

In his email, Haas said he has the support of Lee County’s “African American community leaders” because they know he is for jobs and opportunity. He said Saturday he still has that support although he was taken to task for 1) his failure to attribute those statements he says were made to him and 2) his spelling out of the racial epithet.

“That’s the first mistake I made,” he said, “was the lack of quote marks. The second mistake I made was I spelled out the N-word. I can’t even say it — that’s the mistake I made.

“Those statements were not from me, not from Steven Haas, not from Sonny Haas, they were quotes,” he said.

Haas concedes some supporters were blunt in their response, but said he understands that, too.

“I got my ass whupped,” he said. “But they love me, I got no problem with that.”

The email also references Lehigh’s growing Hispanic community.

“Now I’m seeing the results of the new census,” Haas wrote.

“60 percent Latin. 20 percent black. 20 percent white.

“The Cubans are colonizing Lehigh. Lehigh is 40 percent grown.

“Almost 110 thousand residents now.

“The funny thing. It won’t be a (N-word deleted) quarters after all.

“It will bought up by the Cubans. But they are buying and renting. They are working folks.”

Haas said the reference has been taken out of context in the media. He said he has no issues with those of Cuban heritage moving to Lehigh and calling the community home.

“Which, I am absolutely for,” he said. “With open arms I greet them. Not only will we have a culturally diverse community, but they are homeowners, they are business leaders, and we’ll have the best Little League team in the community.”

As for incorporation, Haas said he has always believed what Lehigh needs is a commission member who supports the community. If voters decide to incorporate, he would embrace that as well.

Haas was asked if he was contemplating dropping out of the race, for which pre-qualifying began May 25. Formal qualifying begins June 8. The Primary is Aug. 18.

He said no, reiterating he still has his support base.

“Everybody who has texted me in the last few days says ‘You do not drop out, you have to win, you have to be in that chair,'” he said, adding “especially leaders of color, business leaders, who have given hugs” have urged him to stay the course.

As of Saturday morning he said he had received no emails or phone calls asking or demanding he withdraw.

As of Monday, the District 5 Commission seat had three announced candidates, Haas and Mann on the Republican side; Juan A. Gonzalez, on the Democratic.

Gonzalez did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Mann provided the following statement:

“I am astounded by what I read in the e-mail from Mr. Haas. The ‘N’ word hasn’t been heard out of a politician’s mouth, even in the South, in over 40 years, nor should it be.”