St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Paul Congemi let loose a racially charged diatribe at a candidate forum Tuesday night.
Congemi’s spiel came shortly after Uhuru-backed Jesse Nevel responded to a question about recreational development and youth opportunities by saying he was committed to “reparations” for St. Pete’s black community, which he said had suffered under the current administration.
“Mr. Nevel you and your people talk about reparations. The reparations that you talk about, Mr. Nevel, your people already got your reparations,” Congemi said to Nevel. “Your reparations, your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama. 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!”
Nevel’s campaign is backed by the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, which believes reparations can begin to mend racial inequality. Nevel has also highlighted other racially tinged issues, including gentrification and police violence against minorities. His campaign slogan: “Unity Through Reparations.”
Congemi told The Washington Post that Nevel and the group that backs him lack real solutions and are “unhappy about the whole system in America.”
Conversely, he said, he has “nothing against African-Americans who are doing their best here in America.”
Congemi’s comments didn’t play well with the crowd or the other candidates. In a video of the episode, you can hear one woman telling Congemi to “get out of here,” which caused him to pause. Another attendee yelled out that he was a “non-factor” in the race.
The second statement is likely true of the third-time mayoral candidate, who goes by the nickname “The Truth.” He garnered less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote in both his 2009 and 2013 runs for mayor.
Congemi told The Post he was a lifelong Democrat who switched allegiances after then-President Barack Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage.
Now, he’s a Republican and a Trump supporter.
Congemi, a perennial mayoral candidate, has a colorful background in the St. Petersburg area.
In 2009, he was banned from a St. Petersburg KFC, during one of his frequent bids for mayor, after police were called when he got into a shouting match with employees over delays with his food.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Congemi told officers at the scene: “Don’t touch me. I am running for mayor, and once I get elected you will be fired.”
Later, Congemi said at a forum that firing the officers would not have been an abuse of power, but “justice.”
In early 2017, Congemi was in trouble again — this time arrested for felony elder abuse when his 87-year-old mother was admitted to intensive care for bed sores so bad that doctors could see bone, according to a police report obtained by the Times. Charges were ultimately dropped.
Describing that arrest, Congemi defended his actions, saying his mother with switching providers and had only been without home health care for a day and a half. He had posted $10,000 bail.
“I want the people of St. Petersburg to know that I’m not dropping out,” Congemi told reporters at the time.
In addition to Congemi and Nevel, current Mayor Rick Kriseman, former Mayor Rick Baker, Anthony Cates and Theresa Lassiter participated in the forum.
Baker was the next candidate to speak after Congemi and he quickly condemned his racially-tinged remarks.
The primary is set for Aug. 29, and if no candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters will be held in November.