Rep. Morelle responds to ethics probe: ‘I did not threaten anyone’s job and I did not threaten funding’

Local Politics

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A local Congressman wants to clear the air after the filing of an ethics complaint this week.

“I want to be clear,” said Rep. Joe Morelle Thursday.  “I did not threaten anyone’s job and I did not threaten funding for RIT, which is an institution I’ve worked with for many years. I released the entire communication I had with RIT so that gives people the opportunity to review it they can make their own assessment.”

MORE | Rep. Morelle releases screenshots of text messages in connection to ethics complaint filed Monday

Congressman Joe Morelle responded to Monroe County Legislator Sabrina LaMar’s call for a congressional ethics investigation, claiming Morelle tried to have her fired from her job at the Rochester Institute of Technology, after she appeared on his political opponent’s web show.

“It’s clear that Ms. LaMar believes that my intent, despite the fact that I didn’t intend and did not threaten anyone’s job or to hurt RIT in any way, that she feels threatened, and for that I am deeply sorry. I apologize to her. I would never want that to happen and I’m sorry my actions caused her pain.”

MORE | Mayor Warren tearful in support of Monroe County legislator’s ethics complaint against Rep. Morelle

LaMar responded to his apology by saying:

“Today, Congressman Morelle apologized for supposedly doing nothing. However, his actions led to me being disciplined despite having the approval of my boss. For too long, Black women, like me, have had to accept phony apologies instead of justice. Those days must end.”

Screenshots of text messages

According to the screenshots, the text message conversation between Rep. Morelle and RIT Director of Government and Community Affairs Deborah Stendardi was as follows:

Rep. Morelle (April 28 at 12:33 p.m.): Debbie, I try not to overreact to annoyances, but wanted to share the link below with you. Sabrina LaMar did a recent video for Robin Wilt’s congressional campaign. When she was questioned about it, she said it was not about her role as a County Legislator, but she needed to do these appearances as part of her work at RIT. Given that the event was a campaign event and not a government event, I doubt that’s true. Can you take a look at this and give me your thoughts on it? Thanks! Hope you’re staying safe! [Link attached to Robin Wilt’s congressional campaign video with Sabrina LaMar].

Stendardi (April 28 at 12:35 p.m.): Joe. I will absolutely look into this. First I’ve heard of it. I will get back to you.

Stendardi (April 29 at 11:07 a.m.): Just sent a note to the dean and her Dept head asking that they address this with her and confirm that she understands this is counter to RIT policy. Will get back to you when I hear back from them. BY THE WAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Stendardi (April 29 at 2:34 p.m.): Joe. I heard back from our folks. They will speak with her about this. We felt if we asked her to have it taken down it would escalate. The Dept head who told her it was ok to do so was apologetic and he did say it was not required of her work. I told him there are any questions along these lines in the future he should check with me.

Rep. Morelle (April 29 at 4:10 p.m.): Sounds like a good resolution. Thank you for everything!

At a brief press availability Monday afternoon, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren was emotional in showing her support for LaMay’s claims, saying in part:

“The people of my community have suffered for too long, and I am tired. I am tired of people like Joe Morelle abusing their position to silence women, to silence a black woman they disagree with. I won’t allow this to occur without speaking up. Ms. LaMar, and black and brown women have a right to speak truth to power without being silenced. To say what needs to be said, without being threatened by men who can’t accept that our voices matter.”

A spokesperson from RIT released the following statement Monday evening:

“While RIT does not comment on personnel matters, we want to point out that the university has a clear and widely disseminated policy regarding permitted political and legislative activities for all employees.”

You can read the full policy on their website.

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