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Napa 9/11 flier under fire over sexual pun

Published: Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 10:33 p.m.

A Napa group building a memorial to the 9/11 terrorist attacks was derided Thursday as tone-deaf and showing poor judgment for a flier that included a sexual pun.

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A flier invites readers to celebrate "Napa's 30-ton erection," referring to a 9/11 memorial.

The announcement from Napa4ward about an upcoming fundraiser in which steel I-beams taken from the World Trade Center will be raised invites people to celebrate “Napa's 30-ton erection!”

Below the headline is a drawing of the proposed Main Street garden with four jutting pillars surrounded by glass panels.

Two of the four businessmen responsible for the flier and ongoing fundraising efforts defended their choice of words, insisting they didn't intend any phallic imagery.

Artist Gordon Huether, who composed the headline, said erection is a technical term that applies to I-beam construction.

He lashed out at the Napa Valley Register, which published a critical editorial, accusing the writer of “watching too much porn.”

“It never occurred to me that it would turn into some perverted thing,” Huether said. “Anyone who knows me knows the memorial is not something I take lightly.”

His counterpart in the group, City Councilman Alfredo Pedroza, also said there was no double meaning. He said the flier was an attempt to attract potential donors to a July 2 event and he “didn't scrutinize each word.”

“For folks that interpreted it differently, that was not my intention,” he said.

But one member of the group acknowledged in the editorial a deliberate attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor. Civil engineer Ryan Gregory was quoted as saying it was “kitschy” and an “attention-grabber.”

Gregory didn't return calls Thursday seeking comment.

Others who read the flier had mixed opinions about whether it was offensive or inappropriate for a memorial about people killed on Sept. 11.

Steve Countouriotis of Petaluma, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who visited Ground Zero for the first anniversary of the attacks, called the flier “immature, juvenile and senseless.”

“It was school-boy humor,” said Countouriotis, who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “And for that guy to say people misinterpreted him ... I don't think he's sincere.”

Santa Rosa political consultant Herb Williams, whose son was killed in the war in Iraq, called it a “very unfortunate media error.”

However, he didn't believe it was intentional.

“It was a stupid error,” he said in an email. “It should have read 'Erecting Napa's 30-Ton Memorial.'”

Another Santa Rosa resident, attorney Anne Dennis, whose brother Thomas Dennis died in the World Trade Center towers' collapse, was more light-hearted about it.

“I don't find that offensive,” she said while looking at the flier online. “It's probably not the most politick choice of phrasing. I can say my brother would have found it funny.”

The newspaper editorial disagreed, calling the flier a “major step backward” in the three-year-long project, which is slated for completion Sept. 11.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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