By Stephanie Ebbert
GLOBE STAFF, UPDATED MAY 13, 2022, 7:55 A.M. 217
For two months, outraged Everett residents have descended on public meetings to demand the resignation of a city councilor who acknowledged using racist language in messages with city officials.
Despite the backlash, Mayor Carlo DeMaria has stood by Anthony DiPierro, his cousin’s son, saying he made a mistake but deserved a second chance. But now it’s clear that DeMaria knew for most of that time that DiPierro, along with the mayor’s press secretary and other city officials, had also been caught on video making racially insensitive remarks.
A leaked recording of a private Zoom meeting among city officials shows Councilor Anthony DiPierro joking about recruiting Black people to public events to insulate themselves politically against charges of racism.
In the video, posted this week on a Facebook page critical of Everett politicians and obtained independently by the Globe, the mayor’s spokeswoman, Deanna Deveney, asks DiPierro to recruit “one of your dark friends” for a political event.
“I don’t have a lot of those friends, I’m just saying,” DiPierro responded.
“No problem, we’ll find one,” Deveney said. The video, which was taken in 2020 or 2021, shows a handful of city councilors and employees talking about ways to demonstrate they are not racist. Rosa DiFlorio, a former city councilor, tells Deveney she should “hire a Haitian boyfriend to come with you.”
The video has inflamed already tense relations in a city awash in scandals, where city leaders have faced mounting criticism for weeks. To many residents, it has also affirmed suspicions that nothing will be done to address a persistent undercurrent of casual racism.
“Anyone associated with the ongoing racist comments or statements need to go,” said Gerly Adrien, a former city councilor who in 2019 became the first Black woman elected to the board. “If this was any other city, they would have been gone by now.”
The Mystic Valley Area Branch of the NAACP called for DiPierro’s resignation last month, saying his “frequent and consistent use of the n-word in his communications is systemic.”
City officials said they received a copy of the video from a whistle-blower on March 28 and immediately launched an investigation. The person who sent it told the Globe it went directly to the mayor, as well as to City Solicitor Colleen Mejia and Cathy Draine, the city’s new director of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
But within two days, the investigation was halted and no disciplinary action was taken because the city’s outside law firm determined that the recording was made in violation of the state’s wiretap statute, city officials said. The video was apparently made by someone attending the Zoom meeting.
“The city, in the process of the investigation, was advised that the information in the video could not be relied upon because of the manner in which the information was obtained,” said Erin Deveney, the mayor’s chief of staff, who is not related to Deanna Deveney, DeMaria’s press secretary.
The whistle-blower, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution, told the Globe that the first response from the city came two days later; the solicitor warned in writing that disseminating the video would be a crime.
“You and your employer should be aware that merely the observation of the video, places people at risk for civil and criminal liability,” attorney Martin Kane wrote in an e-mail.
But Draine, the city’s diversity coordinator, thanked the whistle-blower and offered reassurance, in an e-mail obtained by the Globe that she later confirmed was authentic.
In it, she promised to “do my best to honor the risk you took and be in service to our shared cause of healing the city.”
On Wednesday, the mayor’s chief of staff said the city does not intend to take action over the release of the video. “We have no idea who the whistle-blower is and that is not the city’s concern,” Erin Deveney said.
Draine pointed to efforts the city is making to improve the city’s workplace culture, including selecting a consultant to provide workplace diversity training and bargaining with city unions on an antidiscrimination policy.
DiPierro did not respond to request for comment. He has been under fire since his private text messages became public in mid-March. He apologized and considered resigning, those close to him said, but he reversed course and has received no formal reprimand.
That has enraged residents who feel insulted by the language he used in the texts — namely, several references to the n-word — and who have repeatedly spoken out at public meetings, urging other city officials to denounce him.
“It’s not going to stop,” Guerline AlcyJabouin, a Black resident, said at an April 11 council meeting as her voice broke with emotion. “If you guys have your meeting in hell, we will follow you to hell.
Residents say the failure to rebuke DiPierro is emblematic of a broader culture of favoritism and racism in Everett, where the diverse immi- grant population is governed by an insular cadre of mostly white leaders.
DiPierro, 27, became council president when he was elected to his first term at 22. He was seen as a protégé and possible successor to DeMaria, who has held the office for 15 years.
The mayor condemned the use of the racial slur in March and wrote an op-ed in a local paper saying anyone who uses it “must be reproached for such behavior.” But in an interview with the Globe last month, weeks after he’d received the video but before it had been publicly shared, DeMaria said he did not want DiPierro to step down.
“What he did was wrong. It wasn’t like he put it on his public page and was public about it,” DeMaria said, adding that he believes in second chances.
“It wasn’t like he was a drug company that sold opiates to kids and killed families,” DeMaria said. “He made a mistake. He’s got to live up to his mistake.”
DeMaria has also noted that DiPierro’s messages were likely made public by someone who was part of the text exchange. Other text messages have come to light as evidence in a legal battle the mayor is waging with the Everett Leader Herald, a local newspaper, and City Clerk Sergio Cornelio. The mayor is suing both parties for defamation for publicizing Cornelio’s claims that he was extorted in what the mayor describes as a legitimate real estate deal.
DiFlorio, the former city councilor who was seen on the video, also questioned why the clip did not show the city clerk, who was also present for the exchange. She said the comments were made “out of fun and stupidity” after a city meeting, due to frustration with Adrien, who had needled city officials and often accused them of racism.
It was also not the first complaint made about the mayor’s press secretary, who was also among the recipients of the earlier messages from DiPierro using the n-word. (At that time, she told the Globe that she regretted “not expressing my disdain for the use of that word.”) She also had been the subject of a human resources complaint by Michelle Fenelon, a Haitian American who told the Globe she had raised issues about racial sensitivity with the city’s human resources department in 2020.
The only thing that changed after she complained, Fenelon said, was Deveney’s job status: The mayor promoted her to be his press secretary and Fenelon’s boss.
When asked in mid-March about the complaint against the press secretary, the mayor’s chief of staff said she could not speak to personnel issues, but said the city had “established policies and procedures for investigating and responding to any complaints.”
Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.