City Councilor Stephen Simonelli faced a packed Council chamber on Monday night, April 9, as his apology for an inflammatory Facebook post was read by his Council interpreter. Following his prepared apology, the embattled Ward 2 Councilor listened as several Everett residents and people of color made their own statements to the Council and called for Simonelli to step down or be removed – or face some other discipline from the Council for the comments he made disparaging Haitian-Americans and those in the immigrant community.
Simonelli, who cannot speak due to a battle with cancer two years ago, said in his prepared statement that he regrets making the Facebook comments and only wants to serve the community.
“First of all, 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. 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,” he wrote.
Simonelli went on to explain that his family were also immigrants and that he is proud of his immigrant heritage.
However, Simonelli seemed to be expressing a different sentiment last week, when he commented on a post by someone named John Noonan on a popular Everett-based Facebook group.
Noonan posted a comment that read in part: “…you know your back in Everett when you are cut off by a nasty Haitian woman…” Noonan’s post went on a bit further from there, but it is Simonelli’s comment that has the Haitian community and others calling for him to step down.
Simonelli’s comment on Noonan’s post read, “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 you nothing but you want every thing.”
Aside from the obvious grammatical and spelling errors, members of the Haitian community and other residents of color in Everett feel that Simonelli’s post is indicative of his attitudes toward immigrants and people of color.
Local pastor, Reverend Guival Mercedat addressed the Council, telling them, “We live in a social media period…we don’t expect that in our community, we want to see him resign, because we don’t have confidence in him.”
Edwin Argueta told the Council that Simonelli’s comments “are intolerable and should not happen, but this is not the first time.”
Argueta reminded the Council that during demonstrations to support DACA late last year, Simonelli had publicly commented that “Everett should be kept Everett,” a comment that many took as exclusionary to immigrants and people of color. Argueta added, “I respectfully request that this body consider some actions (against Simonelli).”
Added Everett native Jean McAdam, “I stand by the Haitian community and anybody else that has disparaging remarks made against them.”
Residents were not the only ones to publicly assail Simonelli’s comment and the entire Facebook thread, as Mayor Carlo DeMaria offered both a prepared statement and direct comments to the Council on Monday night.
“I know none of you want to be here for this tonight, any more than I do, as a group we have worked very hard to make this an inclusive, diverse and accepting community, we all have,” DeMaria told the Council. “This Facebook post does not resemble who we are in the city of Everett.”
It was not clear after the meeting what, if any, action the Council could or would take against Simonelli for the comments.
Some Councilors noted that Simonelli made no specific comments regarding ethnicity or skin color and Council President Peter Napolitano told television news stations covering the episode that the Council is still investigating what authority it has to discipline one of its own members for private comments.