Paul Congemi, a Republican candidate running for mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, sent a clear message to black voters at a forum on Tuesday when he told mayoral opponent Jesse Nevel and members of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement to “Go back to Africa.”
Congemi claims to have been a life-long Democrat who switched to Republican after former President Barack Obama showed his support for gay marriage. Nevel, on the other hand, is white and has been running his campaign on the slogan “Unity through reparations,” and has also spoken out against gentrification and police brutality.
Then there is the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, a socialist organization of white people who believe that the key to ending racial inequality is through reparations, but Congemi sees things from different angle.
“Mr. Nevel you and your people talk about reparations. The reparations that you talk about, Mr. Nevel, your people already got your reparations. Your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama,” Congemi said at Tuesday’s forum. “My advice to you, if you don’t like it here in America, planes leave every hour from Tampa airport. Go back to Africa. Go back to Africa. Go back,” he continued, repeatedly pointing at the crowd and later making motions to exit.
His statement was met with a combination of shock and disgust, with one woman in the crowd shouting “Get out of here!” after Congemi’s comment about Barack Obama.
Rick Kriseman, the sitting mayor of St. Petersburg, was also critical of the candidate’s words, claiming on Wednesday that Congemi’s statement was hateful, bigoted, and unacceptable toward black and gay Floridians. Jesse Nevel also saw the move as tactless, saying that Congemi’s comment “reflects a segment of my community. I’ve met plenty of other people who feel that way. That’s why I feel that it’s important for those of us in the white community to take a public stand with reparations.”
In typical Republican fashion, Congemi tried to weasel his way out of the firestorm he had created, telling the Washington Post that he has “nothing against African Americans who are doing their best here in America,” and that his remarks were only aimed at those who are pushing for reparations. He even referred to Nevel as a “self-hating white man.”
The controversy doesn’t seem to have slowed Congemi down, and he claims that anyone who believes he is racist simply misunderstood his comments. Even if he loses this time, he’s not going to stop.
“I’ll run again in 2019 and, God willing, if I’m alive in 2021, I’ll run then, too,” Congemi said. “I intend to keep running and running and running.”
Featured image via video screen capture from YouTube