Ham Lake Mayor Paul Meunier apologized Monday night for a comment some city officials called a racial slur. But his supporters say he's not the one who should be apologizing.

Before urging his political foes at Monday's City Council meeting to "stop the politics of personal attacks and focus on the issues at hand," Meunier apologized for a comment his supporters say triggered a "smear campaign" against him by longtime city officials.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 150 reacted by giving Meunier a standing ovation when he was finished with his speech.

At odds with council members who oppose a new sewer system, Meunier said at an April 16 City Council workshop meeting: "I feel like a black person in a room with 30 white people." Meunier, who is white, then explained he meant it as a "metaphor for what it means to be a minority in this world."

"I made a comment about race that I regret," he said Monday night. "I fully understand that I do not know what it's like to be a minority and should not have suggested that I do.

"To those that I may have offended, I apologize. ... However, I would like to clarify the thinking and experiences behind my comment, which have nothing to do with race at all."

Meunier then offered his vision for Ham Lake -- a vision that includes "adapting to the changing environment."

But his plans have often been rebuffed by council members, including Gary Kirkeide, the man he defeated for mayor in 2006.

"He's trying to bring that city out of the 20th century, with the rest of that council kicking and screaming," said Bruce Sanders, a member of the Coon Rapids City Council and an avowed political admirer of Meunier. "Paul's a bright guy and the Council wants to take him down. It's so clear."

Mel Aanerud, chairman of Ham Lake's Park and Tree Commission, did not attend the April 16 meeting, but said he was appalled -- not by Meunier's comment, but by the reaction to it. Don Wilson, who manages the city's VFW, sent e-mails to key officials, saying he was offended by Meunier's remarks, even though Wilson did not hear them. Council Members Kirkeide, Julie Braastad and Joey Erikson publicly decried Meunier's remarks.

"We have some very, very conservative people who have been in charge for a while," Aanerud said. "They still haven't gotten over the shock that Paul won -- first on the City Council, then as mayor."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419