By Brendan Clogston
Ward 2 Councillor Stephen Simonelli apologized Monday night for a Facebook comment that outraged many in the city’s Haitian and wider immigrant community; some hope to see the councillor go further and resign or face some consequences for comments they feel have broken his trust with the community.
The firestorm began last Friday when someone with the Facebook name Noonan John posted an inflammatory message, one which was subsequently lauded by Simonelli. “You know when your [back] in Everett when..A nasty Haitian woman cuts you off doesn’t use her directional light and you pull over to tell her what she did wrong, and she yells at you and tells you to shut-up #TEMPTEDTO GETOUTOFMYCARANDKILLSOMEONE!” Noonan posted.
Simonelli responded: “Hallelujah we say learn how to drive the rules of the road learn language stop complaining should be grateful for just beung [sic] here we Know [sic] you nothing but you want everything.”
In a subsequent post in the thread, Noonan John posted: “imagine a filthy peasant from another country telling one of us to shut up on Russell Street or at Glendale Park 20 years ago? They would have gotten a beaten [sic] and pissed on.”
Simonelli, who lost the ability to speak after a battle with cancer, delivered a prepared statement through a spokesperson before a City Council Chamber packed with members of the city’s immigrant community and their supporters. “I want to apologize if I offended anyone with my comment on social media. It’s not in my character to hurt, harm or upset anyone,” read Simonelli’s statement. “I was expressing an opinion on a Facebook post; something I now regret. … It is my intent to only serve my community, a city I serve with pride. For generations my family, who immigrated here, has been apart of this community, helping neighbors and citizens. That is something I still strive daily to do. I am proud of the immigrant roots of our city, and I will continue to support them in any way that I can.”
Simonelli went on to deny that his comments were racist, saying that he “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.”
This last sentiment was one that was not shared by the residents in the room, including the mayor, who called the posts “very disgusting” and something that doesn’t “resemble what we are as residents of the city of Everett.”
“I was disgusted and saddened to read prejudiced and hurtful comments on a social media platform made by certain individuals within our city,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “I condemn these statements in the strongest of terms. The city of Everett is truly a diverse community, and has been for generations. We are one of the fastest growing immigrant cities in Massachusetts and are proud of that. Many new Americans call the city home. That is our strength. By embracing and assisting all Americans, we flourish together. We simply cannot turn our backs and remain silent when we hear hurtful comments.”
A number of residents stepped forward during the council meeting’s public participation section to criticize the councillor’s comments and participation in the thread, with several urging Simonelli to step down. “We don’t expect that in the community where our kids go to school, our churches are – we’re paying taxes and we’re paying the councillor, too,” said local pastor Guival Mercedat. “We expect him not only to apologize, we want to see him resign his seat because we have no confidence in him serving us.”
Edwin Argeta called Simonelli’s comments “intolerable.” “We shouldn’t be having this kind of conversation, and this isn’t the first time that this has happened,” said Argeta. “We, on behalf of 40 percent of this community, to at the very least sanction those that promote that kind of behavior and that kind of language. We make a lot of contributions to this city, and we’re not going to stand for any of that.”
David Lindsey called on the councillors to recognize that “as elected officials, it’s your duty to ensure that this city is not just a model city for just Everett but a model city for the state, because the state is watching.”
“A lot of people are scared of the word ‘diversity,’ but the truth of the matter is, it’s coming. It’s here,” said Lindsey. “When the initial immigrants came, being from European countries, they [experienced] disparaging and hateful things … as well. It’s amazing to me how we have amnesia when that history is not that far away. We need to ensure that we all, as active citizens, we treat each with dignity and respect, like we’re human beings. We need to start having integrity. We have a responsibility to each other, to uphold not only this country but this city, and you all should be the pacesetters. … There shouldn’t be any situations like this again. You have a duty and responsibility not only to yourselves, but your constituents. … If there’s no accountability moving forward, we have more problems than we can see than we can address tonight.”
It’s unclear what, if any sanctions Simonelli could face. No agenda items pertained to the issue Monday night, and Council President/Councillor-at-Large Peter Napolitano stated that while the council was investigating its authority in the matter, it was not clear that Simonelli has violated any council rules or bylaws.