A petition calling for embattled Arnold Mayor Karen Peconi’s resignation in the wake of a social media comment that critics say was racist and insensitive is expected to be presented to city council at its meeting Tuesday.
Aaron Moore, a founding member of the Concerned People of Color of Arnold and New Kensington (CAN), said residents and activists collected 200 signatures Saturday and hope to get more than 500 before the meeting.
”I’ve had a lot of people get in touch with me saying they (want) to sign,” Moore said Monday. “We weren’t able to go to every house in Arnold. I have to write down all the addresses and go to their houses after work today.”
Discussion of the controversial comment was not listed on Arnold’s preliminary agenda Monday morning, but council members decided to move the meeting to a bigger venue — the Arnold Social and Training Center — to accommodate a larger-than-normal crowd. Council meetings are normally held at the public safety building.
Protesters plan to rally outside the building at 6 p.m., an hour before the meeting is scheduled to start. Moore said the group will then go inside and present the petition. A few people will speak.
“We’ll rally outside before and have the citizens come in to the meeting,” Moore said. “I’ll say something briefly … and ask for the mayor’s resignation. If she doesn’t agree to resign, we’re hoping that we can get her to at least promise the community that she will not seek re-election.”
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, including attempts made Monday. She was not in when a reporter stopped by city hall Monday morning, and repeated knocks on the front door at her home went unanswered.
Arnold still is receiving blowback from the comment, which has been featured on national news outlets such as Fox News and CNN. A rally calling for Peconi’s resignation was held June 28 outside city hall. City council members, too, have called on Peconi to resign, saying that her written apology wasn’t enough.
“This has gone way too far — we have a city to think of,” Councilwoman Deborah Vernon said Monday. “I believe I can speak for all of council when I say that we appreciate every one of our citizens, and we would just like to move on from this unpleasantness and ugliness and get back on a positive track.”
The social hall belongs to the Arnold No. 2 volunteer fire company. City firefighters have said they “do not support or condone” the comments attributed to Peconi.
Arnold No. 2 Chief Chris O’Leath said firefighters allowed council to hold the meeting there to accommodate more people. He said firefighters will not interfere with the protest or stop people from attending the meeting, but they ask that protesters not bring signs inside the building or protest during the meeting.
O’Leath said the fire department as a whole does not get involved in politics.
“We respectfully request that they keep those protests out of the building, whatever signs or banners or anything else, please don’t bring them into the building,” he said.
People will have the opportunity to make comments during two portions of the meeting. One section is for agenda items only. The other is for anything people wish to address.
Councilman Joseph Bia said he expects the meeting to run long, but it’s something that needs to be done.
“People need to be able to say what they feel or get things out that they haven’t been able to because she’s made herself unavailable,” he said.
Councilman Philip McKinley hopes there will be a big crowd at the meeting “because it’s the people that live here that need to voice their opinion.”
“They elected us; they put us there,” he said. “They should be able to voice their opinions if they don’t want us there.”
Councilman Anthony “Butch” Sgalio said he is unsure about what will happen at the upcoming meeting, and the situation is an all-around bad one.
“We’re struggling in Arnold to begin with and this just puts a black eye on it,” he said.