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'Ape in heels' mayor resigns amid racism firestorm

Michelle Obama. Racist Facebook comments about her have forced the resignation of two public officials in a small West Virginian town. Manuel Balce Ceneta

The mayor of a tiny town in West Virginia has resigned amid a firestorm over racist comments about Michelle Obama, according to the town recorder.

Clay Mayor Beverly Whaling, who had commented approvingly on a Facebook post comparing the first lady to an ape, turned in her letter of resignation early on Wednesday (AEDT). Joe Coleman, the town recorder, said Whaling's resignation was effective immediately, according to AP.

The mayor's resignation came one day after the director of a local, government-funded non-profit organisation was removed from her position over the Facebook post.

After Donald Trump's election as president, Pamela Ramsey Taylor, director of the Clay County Development Corporation, took to Facebook to comment on the upcoming shift from Obama to Melania Trump, writing: "It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady back in the White House."

She added: "I'm tired of seeing a Ape in heels."

NBC affiliate WSAZ reported that Whaling, the mayor, then replied: "Just made my day Pam."

The comments were later deleted - and both women's Facebook pages were eventually removed, according to local reports - but images of Taylor's post and the mayor's response had already gone viral.

Taylor told ABC affiliate WCHS that she was put on leave; but a representative of Clay County Development Corporation, a non-profit organisation that receives state and federal money, said that the board "removed" Taylor from her position as director and appointed Leslie McGlothlin to take her place.

When asked by The Post how to contact Taylor, the representative said he did not know because Taylor no longer worked there. McGlothlin did not respond to a request for comment.

Joshua Shamblin, a former council member, said on Wednesday that "the county is sorry that this has been placed upon everyone instead of just the few who made hurtful remarks".

He added that local officials were "shocked" by the incident but were prepared to move forward.

The mayor's resignation followed intense criticism, with more than 150,000 people signing an online petition calling for the mayor's termination.

Whaling apologised in a statement sent to The Washington Post, writing: "My comment was not intended to be racist at all. I was referring to my day being made for change in the White House! I am truly sorry for any hard feeling this may have caused! Those who know me know that I'm not of any way racist!

"Again, I would like to apologise for this getting out of hand!"

Clay town councilman Jason Hubbard told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that town officials planned to discuss the incident on Wednesday (AEDT) at a previously scheduled council meeting.

Taylor also told WSAZ that the heated public response to her Facebook post had become a "hate crime against me", explaining that she and her children had received death threats. Taylor said she is planning to file a lawsuit against people who had slandered or libelled her, according to the news station.

Source: Lexi Browning and Lindsey Bever - The Washington Post / AFR