By Seth Daniel
A front-page Boston Globe story profiling District 2 Candidate Stephanie Martins in the June 21 edition – with a quote at the very top of the piece claiming that Everett City Hall is like a “secret society” – has roiled local politics and drawn condemnation from sitting elected officials – as well as the subject of the article, Candidate Martins.
While a good deal of the article focused on Martins’s personal and heartwarming story of overcoming family struggles, another equal part of the article focused on how Everett political circles were seemingly closed to some people, such as immigrants like Martins – who is from Brazil originally. It details that traditional Everett political family dynasties typically do battle over Council seats, but few others are let into the fight.
For most, the quote by Martins on the front page, reading, “It’s like City Hall is a Secret Society,” was a dagger to the heart of the system – which they say was unfairly criticized and without the proper research.
“I applaud Mrs. Martins for taking the initiative to run; it’s not an easy thing,” said Council President Anthony DiPierro. “That said, I’m very disappointed in the Boston Globe story. It paints the City Council as a Good ol’ Boys club and that’s just not the case. I take offense especially to the ‘secret society’ remark. I think we have a City Council now more accessible than ever. Everyone is welcome to attend and offer input.
“It boggles my mind why it is we are expected to vote for a candidate based only on race, gender or ethnicity,” he continued. “What happened to voting for the best person for the job?”
Meanwhile, Martins told the Independent she wasn’t characterized by the Globe in the way she had asked to be. She said she doesn’t want to rely upon her ethnicity, immigrant status or gender to win elections. She said she felt the Globe might have used her to push its own agenda.
“I really don’t want to be about labels,” she said. “I’m always just Stephanie Martins. I’m 29, married, sell real estate here and want to do something for the city.”
Martins also submitted a letter to the editor for the Independent this week, saying she admired Everett’s public officials and hoped to join them. (See full letter on page 4.)
“I admire the current City leadership that has worked hard to serve constituents; I want to join them to offer my unique experiences, background, and abilities.”
But not everyone is ready to forgive so easily after seeing the front-page story that mentioned six Everett city councilors by name – noting their ethnicity as being “traditional” Italian or Irish. Many of the councilors mentioned by name in the Globe – and by inference being part of the “Secret Society” – were not contacted by the Globe, they said.
“I happen to be an immigrant, too and no one kept me from running for office,” said Councilor Rosa DiFlorio, who was mentioned by name in the article and wasn’t contacted. “Last time I checked, I believe I am a woman, too. I had five kids, so I would think so. I want her to realize that. I was very insulted. When you run you have to run for the right reasons. You don’t run because you’re Latino or because of your country. You run because you’re in America and you want to do something for the City of Everett.”
Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who was named, said he works with all residents and all business – and said he believes cooperation in the City is at an all-time high.
“I can tell you I was very disappointed in seeing my name on the front page of the Boston Globe in such a negative way,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in my job as a city councilor and have always worked for the public’s best interest only. I work with all residents and business owners across the city. They are my bosses no one else.”
Councilor Rich Dell Isola said he felt insulted, and even though some things might have been out of Martins’s control, he felt she is responsible for the story in total.
“I was insulted how she put in the comment on the Council being a ‘Secret Society,’” he said. “I was offended my colleagues were put out in the Boston Globe like that and pretty much tainted the reputation of my colleagues, while also attacking Councilor (Steve) Simonelli on his handicap…It’s your article and you’re responsible. They called her up. She didn’t have to accept. Steve is important to all of us. He is a cancer survivor and we didn’t know if we would get him back. He might not have a voice, but his voice is heard.”
Simonelli, who is the incumbent in Martins’s council race, was featured in the Globe piece, but many say the descriptions weren’t very flattering and many councilors saw the portrayal as an attack on his handicap, that he cannot speak any longer due to throat cancer.
He said this week the comments saying he should step aside are an affront to all of those with disabilities.
“We feel it was very partial toward her,” he wrote. “There was very little about the Simonelli family and our accomplishments in the city through the years (three generations) and for her and her group to say that I should step aside because of my disability is an insult to me, my family and all of the people with disabilities. We are cancer survivors and proud of it, proud to go on in life the same as everybody else. My commitment to the city of Everett is and always will be my first priority. God bless the City of Everett and God Bless America.”
Council President DiPierro said he and his colleagues were particularly upset at the portrayal of Councilor Simonelli, feeling that the article suggested he couldn’t perform his Council duties.
“I was just very disappointed that the article implied that Councilor Simonelli is unable to perform his job due to his disability,” he said. “Just because he has difficulty speaking doesn’t mean he’s lost his voice. He has, and continues to, fight for the residents of Everett on a daily basis and is one of the most active councillors when it comes to putting agenda items and ideas forward.”
The author of the Boston Globe article, Stephanie Ebbert, did not return an e-mail seeking comment.