FAIRMONT — Numerous residents, including a Fairmont City council member, called for Fairmont City Council member David Kennedy to resign at Tuesday’s council meeting in the wake of offensive comments he made on social media.
But Kennedy, dressed in a U.S. Marine Corps jacket, resisted calls to step down.
After nearly 40 minutes of scathing rebukes directed toward Kennedy, council member Tom Mainella turned to Kennedy and told him to step down.
“I’d like to say one thing. If this much honor or dignity is left in your body, you should resign,” said Mainella, whose remarks were met with applause.
In two separate Facebook posts, Fairmont City Council Member David Kennedy used the word “gooks” and “towel-heads” in a running conversation about the U.S. bombing attack that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Since members of the community spoke out against Kennedy’s posts, he removed the posts and made his Facebook page private.
At the meeting Tuesday night, Kennedy said it was the voters who voted him in, and they would have to vote him out.
“And that’s a long time out, and there’s a lot of work to do here,” he said. “You can choose the evil or you can choose the good, and it’s on your back. Choose the evil or choose the good.”
At that comment, council member Donna Blood asked Kennedy a question.
“May I ask, David, what is good about calling people names, such as gook,” she said.
“You had to be there, honey,” Kennedy said, which drew a spirited reaction from the audience.
Blood said she didn’t appreciate Kennedy calling her “honey.”
The audience again applauded.
“Training is in order,” someone in the audience could be heard saying.
In another emotionally-charged moment, community activist Samantha Chadwell, told Kennedy that “the way you’re sitting there daring to take umbrage and playing the victim is almost as disgusting as your words.”
“I don’t need to tell everyone the words that you wrote, I think most of Fairmont has seen them by now at this point,” she said. “I would really urge the council in seeking his resignation.”
Walking from the podium, Chadwell approached Kennedy at his council seat.
“That’s close enough,” he said.
Chadwell then told Kennedy, “what I really would like you to do is to hold my hand and look me in the eye and call me a (gay slur) like you did online.”
Kennedy denied calling Chadwell the slur, but Mainella said, “I have a copy of it right there.”
He produced a copy of what appeared to be Kennedy’s Facebook post in which he used the gay slur.
Though it didn’t specifically mention Chadwell by name, Mainella said he believed Kennedy’s use of the word applied to all gay people.
“He called everybody who is gay (the gay slur) when he said that,” Mainella said.
After being rejected by Kennedy, Chadwell then moved on to the other council members and City Manager Valerie Means. They all accepted Chadwell’s gesture. Blood gave Chadwell a hug as the audience applauded.
Earlier in the meeting, Mainella also said that he sincerely hoped that “this council is not judged or this city is not judged by the inflammatory, vehement remarks councilman Kennedy has been putting on social media.”
“And I really hope that nobody associates the eight of us good (council) people with this guy right here,” he said, referring to Kennedy.
Kennedy read from a prepared statement during the council member statements time.
“When I won this office 16 months ago, I never dreamed this position would have so many twists and turns,” Kennedy said. “In this very room, I made a pledge to uphold the Constitution of our country, state and the charter of our city. So far, I have done that to the best of my ability. To you, of my District, District 3, I give my heartfelt condolences that I did not work harder for you.
“I have seen the corruption we still have in Fairmont and the workings of hate groups who continuously work their evil under the guise of bettering mankind. They are well funded, talented and work their evil work to take away our freedom and sell our God-given birthright of liberty for a mess of pottage.”
“Whether we like it or not, we are all engaged in this battle. Personal attacks have come to me. My words have been taken out of context, lied about and destroyed completely. In time, if you stay the course, those same attacks will come to you. There will be no place to hide. In January of 1966, I lifted my hand as a U.S. Marine and swore my sacred oath to Almighty God to uphold the Constitution of the United States and protect her from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. At one time, those enemies were outside our borders. Now, they are beside us and their aim is to destroy liberty and freedom wherever they find it. Resigning this council seat would be giving up that fight for truth, justice and the American way. We cannot do that. Thank you.”
One of the residents addressing council, Anthony Horton, told Kennedy that he “really, really hurt a lot of people” with his social media remarks. “Words hurt,” he said.
Jarryd Powell, a candidate for House of Delegates District 50, said, “the city that I’ve grown and lived in is about to make national news” because of the controversy.
He said the New York Times called him about the racially-charged comments.
“They wanted to know what I thought about this hate manifesting itself in Fairmont, West Virginia,” he said. “They said, ‘oh yeah, aren’t you the state that just one month ago had the problem of a Nazi salute?” Followed by this now.”
He said he hoped that council listened to the people of Fairmont, and “do their best to attempt to get the resignation of council member David Kennedy.”
Another speaker, Zachary Fancher, said he was “deeply disturbed” by Kennedy’s remarks, especially with Fairmont State University just up the road with diversity and a large international student population.
He questioned the message that was sent to children if no one stands up and says nothing or does nothing “about hate in our city.”
But one speaker, Dixie Sorenson, said she went online and saw “hate being spewed back, names called for Mr. Kennedy, who serves.”
She said everybody makes mistakes, but “the hate’s going too far. It’s going both ways. Now, if you say anything, people want your job, they want you removed from office, where other people voted for them. You’re not allowed to say, ‘I made a mistake.’”