Monroe County Legislator Sabrina LaMar continued to call for the resignation of Rep. Joe Morelle after she said he contacted her employer, Rochester Institute of Technology, to “silence” her after she spoke about gun violence on a Facebook post in April.
She claimed he threatened her employment and implied funding for RIT could be at stake.
LaMar, a program coordinator for RIT’s Community Engagement to Reduce Victimization, appeared on a talk show on the Facebook page for the campaign of Robin Wilt, who was running against Morelle in the Democratic primary.
LaMar said that Morelle contacted administrators at RIT about her appearance.
LaMar, like Morelle, is a Democrat.
Morelle defeated Wilt in the primary.
The controversy came to light July 27 when LaMar made the allegations against Morelle in a news conference.
On July 28, Morelle released a statement that in April, he asked RIT about LaMar’s appearance in political campaign advertising while in her professional capacity as a university employee. He wrote that there was no attempt to threaten LaMar’s job or discuss funding for RIT.
LaMar countered the same day, saying that since Morelle said the contact came directly from him and not his campaign, as a previous news release stated, he should resign.
“Again, Congressman Morelle admitted today that he personally took direct action to silence me as a black woman for doing my job — simply appearing in a Facebook video to discuss my work to reduce gun violence. A video, by all media accounts, is not political in nature at all.”
LaMar received support from Mayor Lovely Warren, who in a tearful news conference July 27 said one of the most powerful men in the community “threatened” LaMar and her ability to provide for her family and that she was supporting a sister Black woman.
LaMar, who represents the 27th District and lives in the 19th Ward, also received support from members of the faith community, who held a news conference July 29.
In a statement, the Rev. James C. Simmons, pastor of Baber African Methodist Episcopal Church, wrote: “We’ve seen this movie before. Someone with position and power uses that position and power to put black people – black women – ‘in their place.’ What makes this even more problematic is that in the past few months the same person has stated Black Lives Matter and attended Black Lives Matter rallies but then does this to a black woman.”
In her news release, LaMar called upon RIT to release all communications between Stendardi and colleagues regarding the incident.
“Lastly, I call upon others I know have suffered from Congressman Morelle’s abuse of his power and privilege to step forward so we can finally end this unacceptable silencing of Black and Brown voices that dare disagree with him,” LaMar wrote.
In his news release, Morelle showed screen shots of two text messages on April 28 and one on April 29 between himself and Deborah Stendardi, vice president of Government and Community Relations at RIT.
The first included a link to the Facebook post with the question of whether LaMar needed to do such appearances in her role for RIT. Stendardi replied that she would look into it.
She replied that a note was sent to the dean of LaMar’s department and that the department head reported back that it was not required of her work. The texts say the administrator will speak with LaMar but they do not mention any sanctions against her.
As for the status of the complaint, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) replied that “a preliminary review commences upon the written authorization of two members of the OCE Board, one of whom must have been appointed by the Speaker of the House and one of whom must have been appointed by the Minority Leader. The Board shall authorize a preliminary review where there is a ‘reasonable basis’ to believe an allegation. However, this determination does not constitute a finding that a violation has actually occurred.”
The OCE also stated that investigations are confidential and the office is unable to provide further information about whether a review has been authorized. However, the OCE referrals to the Committee on Ethics are publicly released under all but one set of circumstances. Any referral made public will be posted on the OCE’s website, oce.house.gov.