We should all understand one thing as it pertains to Everett City Councilor Stephen Simonelli: He has the absolute right (excepting yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater) to free speech. In this country, Simonelli has the right to be a racist, a bigot, a hater. And no one has questioned that right. Monday night, Council President Napolitano made the major miscalculation that Simonelli is someone free from the consequences of his free speech.
Napolitano undertook a laughable dog and pony show to wash the council’s hands of any action on Simonelli’s racist Facebook comments. The council president trotted out City Solicitor Colleen Mejia to answer questions to which everyone in the council chambers already knew the answers: Simonelli did not violate any ethics rules or regulations and the council has no power to take any official actions against Simonelli’s racism. The whole scene was pathetic.
Napolitano declared that the council was done with the issue. That may be. But the public is not done with the issue. First, Napolitano was wrong about a few things:
• The council certainly could have done something. It could have crafted and passed a resolution condemning Simonelli’s racist social media words.
• Individual councilors could have condemned Simonelli’s words. So far, only Councilor Michael McLaughlin has called out Simonelli’s comments, calling them “disgusting.” Councilor Rosa DiFlorio’s response was that Simonelli “maybe” should haven’t have said it.
• Councilors individually could have commented to the media, placing the blame for the public outcry where it belongs—on Simonelli.
In the time since the offending Facebook post, DiFlorio blamed community advocate Stephanie Martins, who ran against Simonelli in 2017—Martins didn’t comment on the issue until it was a fully blown controversy.
Napolitano blamed fellow councilor McLaughlin (not by name), saying he was media hungry.
• Instead of trying to intimidate members of the public who had the courage to speak out against racism, individual members could have backed the coming recall of Simonelli effort.
It seems at times members of the city council think they can act with impunity. Instead of going to great pains to say the council was powerless to address the Simonelli issue, it could have acted and put unofficial pressure on him to make a sincere apology and stop him from doing it again.