Arnold mayor won't resign, but council asks Gov. Wolf to remove her
Activists, residents and elected officials agree that embattled Arnold Mayor Karen Peconi should resign after posting a social media comment that critics say was racist and insensitive, and even presented her with a petition asking her to do so. But Peconi she said she has no intention of doing that.
“I want to apologize again. It was never my intention to offend anyone. And for those who have been offended, I am sincerely sorry,” Peconi told the crowd of more than 100 who attended a council meeting Tuesday night.
“I love this community, and I have worked very hard to strengthen the city’s efforts on code enforcement, public safety, enhanced police protection, drug enforcement and police visibility throughout the city,” Peconi read from a prepared statement.
“Additionally, with the cooperation of my colleagues on council, my promise to relieve the ratepayers of the burdensome fees and costs on the collection of garbage and sewage bills will come to an end.
“Therefore, I am not planning to resign from the office of mayor of the City of Arnold and I will continue to serve as mayor. I also ask the residents, taxpayers and voters of the City of Arnold and any others that may have been offended by the Facebook post to accept my apology and rest assured that I will continue to work hard to improve the City of Arnold.”
Before the meeting ended, council members — to a roaring crowd — voted 4-0 to individually sign a letter from the city to Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Senate, asking that they remove Peconi from office. Council members Philip McKinley, Joseph Bia, Deborah Vernon and Anthony “Butch” Sgalio voted in favor of the measure. Peconi abstained.
“I’m hoping we get a response,” McKinley said after the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.
Peconi has been under fire since posting a video to her Facebook account that showed protesters being knocked down by powerful water cannons and commenting that the same approach should be used on people protesting the fatal June 19 police shooting of Antwon Rose in East Pittsburgh.
Peconi also said on Facebook that protesters must be unemployed because they were able to demonstrate at 7 a.m. on a weekday.
Peconi apologized for her remarks by email and deleted her personal Facebook page. She has not responded to repeated requests for comment, and declined to comment directly to a Tribune-Review reporter before the meeting. She said she would be reading from the statement, which would be made available to the reporter afterward.
The crowd implored Peconi not to read from the statement and speak from the heart.
“Stop reading it from the paper!” one woman yelled as Peconi addressed the crowd.
The meeting began at 7 p.m., but protesters were rallying and chanting outside the Arnold Social and Training Center at 6 p.m. The meeting was moved there to accommodate the larger-than-normal crowd. Council meetings are normally held at the public safety building.
The crowd toted handwritten and homemade signs that called for the mayor’s resignation and joined together in chants. They also brought materials to create their own signs and passed around a petition they presented to Peconi at the meeting.
Several people addressed Peconi directly during the public comment portion of the meeting, including Aaron Moore, an Arnold resident and founding member of the Concerned People of Color of Arnold and New Kensington (CAN).
Moore said residents and activists collected more than 600 signatures calling for Peconi’s resignation, and he’s tired of hearing “I’m sorry.”
“We’re not going away,” he said. “We’ll be here next month. We’ll be here the month after that. We’re not going away until Mayor Peconi is gone … Arnold can’t run as long as you’re in office. At all.”
City council members have called on Peconi to resign, saying that her written apology wasn’t enough.
Vernon, who lived in South Carolina and Georgia in the 1960s, told the crowd her experiences growing up there have greatly shaped her life, and it is time for Peconi to resign.
“I have based my life on what I saw in the 1960s in the south,” she said. “It broke my heart then, it breaks my heart now to remember that anybody could ever be so cruel to other people.”
Karsten Smith, 43, of New Kensington asked Peconi about other posts she allegedly shared on her Facebook page, which presented anti-Muslim ideals and attacks on former President Barack Obama’s nationality and religion.
Peconi acknowledged that she shared such posts.
“And you expect us to have faith in you as the mayor of Arnold?” Smith asked. “Isn’t the internet a beautiful thing?”
Peconi spoke with those who addressed her, and remained adamant at the end of the meeting in her stance to not resign. She said she read from a statement so she could remember what she wanted to say. She also said her post was “not meant to be racist.”
“We’re all human — we all make mistakes,” she told one man. “I made a mistake.”
One little girl asked Peconi why she said what she said if she didn’t mean it, and why she felt the need to apologize after the fact.
“Sometimes when people do things they just don’t think, and at that point I did not think and I apologized to you,” Peconi said. “Did you ever do anything that you were sorry for?”
“No, ‘cause I am a good child,” the girl said. “I don’t got nothing else to say to you.”
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.