NAACP wants censure, resident seeks resignation of Easthampton City Councilor Donald Cykowski for ‘Puerto Rican’ remark

Published: Thursday, December 22, 2011
By Conor Berry, The Republican

Easthampton City Councilor Donald Cykowski, shown here at a candidates forum this year, apologized at Wednesday's council meeting for a remark he made about Puerto Ricans at a Dec. 7 meeting.

The head of the regional branch of the NAACP has called on Easthampton officials to censure City Councilor Donald L. Cykowski for appearing to disparage Puerto Ricans in a remark he made at a Dec. 7 council meeting.

The Rev. Talbert W. Swan II, president of the Springfield chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is also suggesting Cykowski “should consider resigning from public office, as he would be unfit to effectively serve his constituents.”

Also Thursday, Easthampton resident Lauren Marcous started an Internet petition asking the council and Mayor Michael A. Tautznik to force Cykowski to apologize and resign. She said Cykowski’s apology wasn’t sincere.

“Essentially, (Cykowski) apologized for other people ‘misunderstanding’ him – not for the racist statement he made,” Marcous’ petition letter states.

Cykowski said he has no intentions of resigning after issuing an apology at a council meeting Wednesday night.

“I thought my apology was enough,” he said Thursday.

The comment for which Cykowski apologized to his fellow council members was: “Where’s a Puerto Rican when we need one?” It was made after colleague and fellow councilor-at-large Ronald D. Chateauneuf left a meeting room and was unable to return when the door locked behind him. Cykowski hasn’t explained what he meant by the remark.

At the Wednesday night council meeting, Cykowski said, “I made a statement. If I offended anyone, I apologize.”

The apology came at the request of council President Joseph P. McCoy.

Swan said the apology isn’t enough.

“We challenge the Easthampton City Council to demonstrate the courage of conviction by strongly rebuking Cykowski’s actions in a unified voice, and truly validating the claim of council president that it does not condone such actions,” he said.

Rev. Talbert W. Swan II

Swan characterized the remark as being “racist” and said his organization does not feel such comments should be tolerated by the city of Easthampton. He said neither McCoy nor Cykowski has “identified the remark for what it was – racist.”

Swan said McCoy was correct in asking for the public apology, but he believes Easthampton city officials still need to do more to condemn the councilor’s comment.

On Thursday, Cykowski again said he didn’t mean to offend anyone.

“l quipped something out without thinking. I’m sorry I did it,” he said.

He said he was not intending to play on any stereotypes and said he has nothing against Puerto Ricans. “I worked with Puerto Ricans, Columbians, Cambodians, you name it, black guys. We always got along. I just made a quip; it seems like a slow news day.”

And he said “I’m Polish, I’ve been a butt of Polish jokes. I’ve been called a dumb Polack.” He said he just rolled with the jokes.

“I’m sorry I did this,” he said.

Cykowski has been a city councilor since 2004, replacing Bruce A. Gordon, who resigned.

McCoy said that a new council will be forming Jan. 3 and he wants to let that council respond to Swan. He said there will likely be a new president elected.

Two new members are joining the council that day. Chester A. Ogulewicz Jr. and Nathaniel P. Ziegler were elected in November, taking the seats of at-large Councilors Andrea H. Burns and Chateauneuf, who did not seek re-election.

Swan, in letter to McCoy, said, “Massachusetts has one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Ricans in the country. Elected officials in Massachusetts should take pride in the fact that Puerto Ricans have contributed to the development, defense and prosperity of the United States since 1898, when the island was ceded to the (U.S.) at the end of the Spanish-American War.”

Marcous’ petition had 34 “signatures” as of 9:30 p.m. on Thursday. Some were from Easthampton, while others listed hometowns including Athol, Chicopee, Springfield, New York City, Leadville, Colo., and East Norriton Township, Pa.

“We cannot accept a city councilor who publicly (or privately) makes racist statements and potentially harbors racist sentiments toward Puerto Ricans and other people of color in our community,” Marcous’ petition states. “… Cykowski’s statement and feigned apology are beyond offensive. Such egregious behavior cannot, should not, and will not be tolerated from our local government officials.”

Staff reporter Diane Lederman contributed to this report

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