Policy Adviser to Mayor Liccardo Wishes Hitler a Happy Birthday

Not everyone should take a crack at comedy, especially senior policy advisers to the mayor of San Jose. Add in a little social media and a reference to the worst person in the history of the world and the results will go poorly.

Khanh Russo, the director of strategic partnerships and innovation for Mayor Sam Liccardo, celebrated his birthday on April 20. In an attempt at humor, he posted a message on Facebook passing along well-wishes to other people with the same birthday. The names included: George Takei, of Star Trek fame; Joey Lawrence, best known as the older brother on the '90s sitcom "Blossom"; Mother Angelica, a Franciscan nun; and Hitler.

Yep, that Hitler.

The German chancellor and leader of the Nazi Party, Hitler. The Hitler who pulled the world's nations into war and is responsible for the genocide of 6 million Jews and approximately 5 million more people.

An outraged reader sent San Jose Inside a screenshot of the post, which stayed up for at least a couple of hours before being removed.

Khanh-Russo-Hitler-Screenshot

Russo, who was reached by phone at his office Thursday, admitted that he posted the message as a joke before realizing "it was insensitive and inappropriate." He added that he was looking at famous birthdays online and thought to himself, "'Oh, look, Joey Lawrence. He's really cute. And, oh, Hitler, that's odd.' But I put him up there."

Following that conversation and a briefing with the mayor's spokesperson, Ragan Henninger, Russo called San Jose Inside for a second conversation.

"I am very sorry that I did that," he said.

The timing of the post could be seen as especially disrespectful and ill-timed because it appeared just days after April 16, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Henninger sent a text Thursday evening noting that Liccardo and his chief of staff, Jim Reed, were aware of the situation and spoke with the city attorney.

"We are taking the matter seriously, but can't comment on specific disciplinary actions," Henninger said.

San Jose Inside reached out to several political insiders about the matter and the reaction was mixed.

"Bottom line, you don’t embarrass your boss," said one person. "It’s just so stupid. What can else can you say?”

Another source said this could be a test for Liccardo. "That type of poor judgment should be purged from a position such as the mayor’s office, especially three and a half—four months into the term."

Liccardo's mayoral campaign posted a video to YouTube in October featuring Russo and his husband, David, who have been avid supporters of the new mayor. According to the video, Liccardo officiated their wedding at City Hall—the first same-sex marriage ceremony to take place at 200 E. Santa Clara St.

Russo also volunteered on the campaign, he said, and records show he made a maximum contribution—$1,100—to Liccardo on the first day allowed.

Khanh-Russo-campaign-money

When asked why he supported the mayor during the campaign, Russo responded, "Cause he’s amazing.”

In March, the mayor's office hired Russo to coordinate partnerships between the mayor's office and media organizations, nonprofits and businesses. He previously worked at Cisco.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

34 Comments

  1. Shows the guy is doof and has no common sense. Who voted for this stooge. Lets see how many people will come to his aid. If one of the city cops had done this I bet Cordell and LICCARDO be asking for him/her to resign. It was not a cut and paste issue he admits he saw it and still sent it out… Stupid.

  2. My wife’s great grandmother escaped the Holocaust to Russia, then to the US. You’re a dirtbag Russo, how dare you. Her family was well off, but like many others saw the writing on the wall and had to leave everything behind and start again. You have no idea what these folks went through, and to even joke about it is just so lowly I find myself holding back in my comments.

    Please quit. Thanks.

    • Stupid only in not more fully appreciating the extent of the inevitable stupid reactions like yours.

  3. A bad, inappropriate joke is no reason to fire the aide. That said, rule number one–don’t put anything in writing that you don’t want to see on the front page of the paper when you are a staffer. The headline says it all–it is the Mayor who takes the heat for your bad humor. Really, in this day and age someone has to educate these policy aides that everything they do is not about them–it reflects on the Mayor.

    When I was working in government for an individual, I did not post blogs, FB, write emails or send texts my boss would not have been proud to see in the newspaper. Because nobody cares what Rich Robinson has to say, they do care if it is a reflection of Senator Cranston’s beliefs.

    That said, everyone makes mistakes. Accept his apology and move on. . .

    • People who make these type of totally inappropriate “mistakes” then shrug them off like this are usually the types who are responsible for very toxic work environments that end up costing Business and Government employers (taxpayers) lots of money.

      This guy needs to go.

    • You did not blog, Facebook or text when you worked for the Senator, because none of these were even invented yet! Or can’t you remember that far back? That’s back when your “progressive” ideas appear to perhaps work. Now decades later we see the mess they have left CA in.

      Nice try at creating the illusion that RR is perfect….

      • Peter,

        Far from perfect. . .but I did learn early that a staffer should stay in the background–utilizing whatever tools are available in the era he or she serves.

    • I agree that all people make mistakes. If he does it again, then get rid of him. As long as he is sincere, let’s forgive him, move on and start transforming our City.

  4. Is Russo behind the fall of Saigon event that was just cancelled? Guy sounds clueless regarding people’s feelings on historic tragedies.

  5. What is more nonsensical, wishing “Happy Birthday” to a dead person or getting upset over someone’s choice of dead recipients?

    Who are these people that don’t understand dead? Dead people don’t feel anything, so how are they supposed to feel happy on their birthday? And the fact that they can’t enjoy the great happiness that comes with receiving a birthday wish renders that wish meaningless.

    Suppose this young man had written that he hoped Hitler was having a happy birthday in hell? Would that make a difference? I imagine that if you’re hypersensitive and simpleminded it might actually make you happy to think that someone was giving it good to the Führer. Except you can’t give it good to a dead man!

    Unless you long to live under Big Brother’s thumb, meaningless thoughts, words, and actions need to be treated as such, no matter that someone — and there is always someone — takes offense.

    • You’re right finfan. There are consequences when we attach undue significance to what are in reality nothing but meaningless thoughts and words. We used to accept as a given that people will say stupid, yet ultimately inconsequential things. It was a fact of life and we instinctively recognized it as such. We heard them and we let them go. But that was before the stifling reign of progressivism was inflicted upon us. Lately, it’s come to be thought of as somehow our civic duty to take offense, express outrage, and demand that “something must be done” whenever such utterances are called to our attention. Yet what we fail to take into account is that every time we overreact in this way we invite yet more authority and control over our own thoughts and words. A little more than lip service to the notion of “freedom of speech” would seem to be in order.

      • Is there no end to the lust for taking offense nowadays? Someone makes a failed attempt at wit, on twitter, and someone else whose whole life undoubtedly revolves around being piqued and yearning for victimization takes exception. I have some Native American ancestry but if I go to the zoo and someone says, “Hey, look at the buffalo”, I don’t fly off the handle!

        What cause was furthered; what wrong was righted; what injustice was corrected by groping for ludicrous indignation over some dimwitted twitter remark that harmed no one? Of course if someone of the “oppressor class” of society (particularly the police) had made a comment even remotely close to the “tweet in question”, then of course the political jelly fish and the media would want someone’s head on a pole but does that make it right, in either case? I subscribe to this notion: I may not agree with you or with what you say but I will fight to the death for your right to make an ass of yourself.

  6. I don’t disagree. On the other hand these people need to be strictly held to the same unforgiving Politically Correct Standards they hold anyone who opposes them to. I can’t imagine how many times a bold Duy-Russo has compared anyone who disagrees with his point of view to “A.H.?”

  7. Chuck Reed called City Employees cancer and he got a 70% vote on Measure B. I guess stupidity and callousness are questions of taste.

  8. RICH–man up, be honest, and admit it–if that comment had been posted by an aide for a Republican officeholder at any level, you’d be demanding his resignation.

  9. Not true JMO, there are many times Republicans and their aides say stupid things and I do not call for their resignation. Of course, that would be a full-time job. lol :-)

  10. Somehow, RR, I just don’t believe you. That would make you the sole exception among political flacks, Democrat and Republican alike. No-one in your line of work is objective. If they were, they would be unemployed in that field. Every time I think that politicians and their flacks, on both sides of the aisle, can sink no lower, they surprise me yet again. Politicians at all levels are just whores to the big money contributors. I don’t use the term “special interests”, because everyone’s interest is special to them. And the political consultants, advisors, etc., who work night and day to get them re-elected are just their pimps. I say that without rancor, just a feeling of profound sadness and dismay at how far elected officials have sunk at all levels; but particularly in Congress, where House members spend more time working on getting re-elected than they do working at their jobs, which they leave to their staffs to perform. Most bills at the federal level and in California (I cannot speak to other states) are written by whatever group would most benefit from its passage. If enough money is spread around to enough politicians, it gets passed. But I digress. Have a nice day, Rich.

  11. I believe I opined online (FB) that the republican congressional aide who opined regarding President Obama’s daughters was wrong, but that it did not constitute a reason for her to lose her job. I’ve been very consistent on these–there are times when someone needs to be fired for views that go beyond the bounds; but bad jokes and stupid mistakes are common in politics and society–if we fired everyone who told a bad joke, we would have no one left.

    And, I might add, a few of us have even opined on things that in retrospect we may wish had never been published–though I can’t think of any for myself. lol :-)

  12. You “believe” you have one example. Spoken like a lawyer, Rich.
    “if we fired everyone who told a bad joke, we would have no one left” Agreed..

  13. This lack of disciplinary action proves that Liccardo is just as insensitive as Russo. Voters will remember this for years to come Sam.

  14. He’s not just a criminal Lawyer, he’s a self serving con artist. Ask him about the Federal Case Licking v. San Jose and his personal Base Ball Stadium property acquisition and his ability now to work with Reed to sacrifice $300,000,000.00 in San Jose Redevelopment (Now Bankrupt) Base ball parcels. They are just sitting there. Purchased from the original owners under a false guise of Eminent Domain and purchase by City halls friends. Then sold to the SJRA for tens times the price and flipped during the original transfer. Then sold back for half the price because THERE IS NEVER EVER GOING TO BE A STADIUM ON THAT LAND AND THE A’S ARN”T COMING when they can play in the 49er taxpayer $1,5 Billion Loan Stadium. Now quietly the SJRA land can be funneled back into the Reed Law Firm Reed Real Estate deals.

    Opps! I forgot they hid the deeds from Gov. Brown and he wants cash not worthless unsalable land so look for an indictment from Kamala the politician ATTY General.

  15. I’m not sure what’s more disappointing: that the author of this post would drum up a witch hunt in an apparent effort to substantiate a regrettable career (it took me fewer than 10 seconds of looking at his posts to see this: “Marketing is for terrible people, and art is for people who don’t realize they’re terrible.” Marketers and artists: rise up in self-righteous fury!!!!), or that many if not most of the comments to this tabloid piece seem to think this really is a big deal. Just checking to make sure that you all are equally offended by Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler,” the countless “Hitler Reacts to…” memes based on the pinnacle scene from “Downfall,” and the episode of “Seinfeld” when Mr. Pitt accidentally gives himself a square-shaped ink mustache. Nowhere in that Facebook post do I see Mr. Russo making a joke out of the terrible things done by the Nazis to anybody’s wife’s great-grandmother. You can make a joke about the man Adolf Hitler without implicitly endorsing or even minimizing the atrocious acts he committed. Let’s slow down on all the “this guy’s a dirtbag!” stuff. Yes, his position brings with it more strict responsibility for his words than you or I have, but the only thing I can see Mr. Russo is guilty of is not better appreciating how you, the disappointing public, would react to a joke. I’d say “get over yourselves” but we all know there is no chance of that. Carry on, you self-righteous hypocrites, for at least you are legion.

  16. Must we be outraged at every single thing some nobody tweets or posts or Instagrams.
    Does anyone with a brain really think that he was actually wishing Hitler happy birthday. Say it was a bad joke and move on.

  17. Remember Kathy Cole? She made one inappropriate remark and was hounded out of office. How is this different? What is Mr. Russo’s saving grace?

  18. I’m simply amazed at all this intolerance in left central California. What happened to all that SNL humor you people love? Would you be so outraged over the treatment of Sarah Palin? I think not.

    Not one of you would dare call Obama racist or anti-Semitic, or Joe Biden who can’t keep his racist foot out of his mouth. Perhaps everything would be OK if he had wished Fidel Castro, Joe Stalin, Mao Zedong, Happy May Day!

    Left-wing hypocrisy is deafening!

  19. “Left-wing hypocrisy is deafening! You’re right, Empty; but they can’t hear you!