If Everett citizens who are outraged by racist comments by City Councilor Stephen Simonelli think they will get satisfaction at Monday’s council meeting, they are in for a big disappointment. City Council President Peter Napolitano says the council’s action will be, by the body’s rules, limited to whether Simonelli violated ethics rules. Napolitano did not rule out changing the council’s rules.
On the bigger issue of the public outcry over Simonelli’s applauding a racist rant on Facebook, Napolitano blamed council colleague Michael McLaughlin for stirring up trouble. “It’s a problem when one of our own members stirs up trouble in search of press and sound bites.” When asked if he was referring to Councilor Michael McLaughlin, Napolitano said, “That’s not for me to say.” But McLaughlin was the only councilor to speak up about Simonelli’s comments immediately, saying he found them “disgusting.”
Napolitano said the council member to whom he was referring had the least amount of experience on the council (“…[H]e has served four years, three months and two weeks”) and who “doesn’t want to listen.” The council president said the situation “should have been handled internally.”
McLaughlin tells The Everett Simulus. that he will not back down. “I actually have no political gain or desire to try to gain on this matter. I merely used my first amendment rights in standing up for the Haitian residents and business owners in our community,” McLaughlin said. “I am tired of the establishment of Everett trying to turn the focus of this matter and put it on to me as if I did something wrong. I have not been nor going to participate in any protest or outreach on this matter. I again made my voice heard on my Facebook page about the matter and have done nothing beyond that,” he said.
Infuriated citizens from immigration advocacy groups, community groups and the general public will be back at city hall for a protest prior to Monday’s council meeting. They will be demonstrating against racism and bigotry by Simonelli and the perceived lack of the council holding him accountable.
There are other issues that have roiled the community protesting Simonelli’s racist social media activity:
• Councilor Rosa DiFlorio has astoundingly tried to downplay Simonelli’s comments. An immigrant herself, DiFlorio has said he “probably” shouldn’t responded, “Hallelujah” to another person’s anti-Haitian, racist rant.
• DiFlorio also tried to blame Simonelli’s 2017 challenger Stephanie Martins for fanning the flames. But Martins didn’t even have a reaction to Simonelli’s comments until after others did. She is a well-known community activist and immigration advocate. (Full disclosure: I supported Martins’ campaign and helped on some communications efforts).
• This is not Simonelli’s first racist rant. In January, he wrote on his Facebook page that “our new neighbors, should stop crying at our Council meetings…learn English and laws & ways of city take the test easy enough said [sic].” He was referring to people covered by Deferred Access for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protective Status (TPS) who are not eligible to “take the test.”
• Simonelli’s apology for his latest racist activity was a lame, non-apology apology. “First of all, I want to apologize if I offended anyone with my comment on social media.” (If?) “It’s not in my character to hurt, harm or upset anyone. I was expressing an opinion on a Facebook post; something I now regret. However, I never said, nor would I ever say anything racist, bigoted or hateful. I was simply commenting on a post. Any insinuation that my comments were racist are an attack on me and the work I’ve done for our community,” (emphasis added).
So, he is apologizing if people took offense to something he wrote which was in no way racist. And if you call him out on it, you’re attacking on him. Wonderful.