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On Hilton Head, voters say 'Nein!' to Holocaust revisionist who ran for mayor

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Yelling Santomauro

Michael Santomauro's remarks become heated during a panel discussion held for the seven Hilton Head mayoral candidates at Indigo Run Plantation in August. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

If you're running for mayor of Hilton Head Island, it looks to be a losing strategy to be known as a Holocaust revisionist who denies facts about the mass extermination of Jews and others during World War II.

Michael Santomauro was such a candidate, receiving only 314 votes, less than 2 percent of those cast Tuesday, according to unofficial results.

Instead, current Town Council members John McCann and Kim Likins will head toward a Nov. 20 runoff.

Santomauro, a New York City native, described himself as a free speech advocate running on a platform of traffic management and curbing new building projects. But he also was a self-described “Holocaust revisionist” who made headlines for his controversial views.

“I think this political correctness has gotten out of hand," he said in an earlier interview, adding he thought with “Trump being in the air that maybe this is my moment.”

He wasn't the only one in the race to stir the pot regarding Adolf Hitler and World War II. Native islander Rochelle Williams, who made her second run for mayor, said she thought Hitler was successful in some respects. 

“He got that many people to follow him. He must have been doing something right,” she told The Post and Courier in August.

She later apologized for the remark and told the Hilton Head Island Packet, “What I was really trying to say is I like the power and the control (that Hitler had politically).”

Williams got 5 percent of the vote, finishing in fifth place, ahead of only Santomauro.

Santomauro's presence raised the profile of what otherwise would have been a low-key local race, particularly coming on the heels of a woman's death after white supremacists held a rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Tobin Spirer, who has lived on the island for 35 years, said Santomouro’s candidacy led to the formation of a new group, The Lowcountry Coalition Against Hate, that attracted about 200 members in the two months before the election.

“You can galvanize against hate speech. It’s enough of a problem now,” Spirer said. “People came out of the woodwork saying, ‘We’re tired of this.’ ”

On Wednesday, Santamouro blamed his poor showing on the media’s portrayal of him as a Holocaust revisionist rather than as an advocate for free speech.

“They just distorted everything I was about,” he said. “They tried to show me in the most hateful way possible.”

In 2003, The New York Times reported that users of a roommate-matching service founded by Santomauro had started getting emails with Holocaust denial literature. A decade later, he recommended a book debating the Holocaust to an email chain of parents at his son’s school.

Santomauro has said his views are about taking a critical look at established history, but he also said he thinks an outsized number of Jewish people control the banking and entertainment industries.

He hinted he might seek office again at some point.

"If I were to run, I would try to run more in a federal election," he said. "I had to psyche myself up to get interested in local issues.”

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.

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