A St. Petersburg, FL, mayoral candidate, who is admittedly “not politically correct,” told a room full of black activists advocating for slavery reparations to “go back to Africa” during a forum on Tuesday.
Paul Congemi, a white, 60-year-old Republican, was already considered a long-shot before his vile diatribe stunned the room. Congemi’s comments were directed at Jesse Nevel, another white man, who has prioritized reparations as a key platform in his mayoral campaign.
“The reparations that you talk about, Mr. Nevel, your people already got your reparations,” Congemi said to Nevel through a chorus of boos in the audience. “Your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama.”
But Congemi’s berating only got worse. “My advice to you, if you don’t like it here in America, planes leave every hour from Tampa airport,” Congemi shouted. “Go back to Africa. Go back to Africa. Go back!”
Speaking to The Washington Post, Congemi tried to clarify that he had “nothing against African Americans who are doing their best here in America.” But Congemi’s non-apology was further negated by his characterization of his opponent.
“I had never met Jesse Nevel until last night,” Congemi told The Post. “It’s obvious he is a self-hating white man.”
Nevel is not, by any measure, a “self-hating white man.” In fact, he appears to be a pretty socially conscious, well-intended candidate for mayor. Nevel’s campaign slogan is “Unity Through Reparations.” And he is backed by a group called the Uhuru Solidarity Movement which advocates for reparations as a path towards alleviating social inequality.
Congemi, on the other hand, seems like the total opposite. According to The Post, Congemi was a Democrat who switched parties after President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage; he believes being gay is immoral. Congemi voted for Trump.
He also has a history of verbal and physical abuse. During a 2009, bid for mayor Congemi verbally assaulted a KFC employee after his food took too long. In January, Congemi was charged with felony elder abuse after his mother was rushed to the intensive care unit with bedsores so gaping, her bones were visible.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the charges were ultimately dropped and Congemi also refused to drop out of the race.
For what it’s worth, the other mayoral candidates attending the forum were appalled. And although the rules of the forum dictate that candidates are not supposed to respond to each other, Rick Barker, a former mayor of the city, did.
“I know we’re not supposed to respond to other things,” Barker said. “But I first have to specifically reject the comments Mr. Congemi just made. I just think in 2017, in St. Petersburg, Florida, I never would have dreamed we would hear comments like that in a mayoral debate.”
Nevel also condemned Congemi’s remark and told The Post it was all the more reason for him to support reparations. “I’ve met plenty of other people who feel that way,” Nevel said. “That’s why I feel that it’s important for those of us in the white community to take a public stand with reparations.”