An event to unify Nassau County after the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, has devolved into allegations of racial insensitivity by a county legislator.
Angel Cepeda, a Republican candidate for Nassau County Legislature, charged last week that his Democratic opponent, county Legislator Arnold Drucker, made an insulting remark last Wednesday at the vigil, hosted by Nassau County’s Commission on Human Rights.
Drucker (D-Plainview) strongly denied the allegation.
Cepeda, of Plainview, contacted Blank Slate Media the morning after the vigil to say Drucker had approached him at the vigil and said “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here,” and told Cepeda to “go back home.”
As a Hispanic man, Cepeda said, he interpreted the conversation to be racially insensitive.
“I was very surprised by [Drucker’s] attitude and what he did, and at the moment I didn’t know what to think, but as I reflected on it as someone who comes from a Hispanic background, I felt insulted,” Cepeda said. “[I was] really insulted that either he’s totally insensitive or maybe these are his true feelings.”
Drucker said he spoke to Cepeda during the event but did not tell him to “go back home.”
“I simply inquired whether he would be speaking since all of the people by the podium were invited to speak. So I asked, ‘Angel, are you speaking?’ and he kind of shrugged. Angel, like any other community member, is welcome at any open community event,” Drucker said.
“Despite our political differences, I appreciate his drive to denounce hatred and intolerance. The message is simple: Hate has no place in Nassau County, that’s why we were there.”
Cepeda is running for a second time for the District 16 seat, which covers Plainview, Old Bethpage, Jericho, Syosset, Woodbury, Hicksville, Old Westbury and Roslyn Heights. He also ran against county Legislator Judy Jacobs in the last election before her death in 2016.
Bobby Kumar Kalotee, chairman of the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights, who helped organize the vigil, said he was angry that an event meant to unite the community against racism turned into a dispute involving race.
“There was no politics. The cause was to condemn the violence. Period,” Kalotee said. “This is very distasteful if someone is making it into a political problem.”
Kalotee said Cepeda, who can be seen in many photos from the vigil, was welcome at the event as a civic leader and citizen but was not invited to speak or stand behind the podium.
“Mr. Cepeda stood behind the podium, I have the photos, and that was a photo-bombing and he should not be there,” Kalotee said. “That was a disrespect to the commission as well as to me because he was not invited to speak there. It wasn’t about politics, it was about condemning the violence.”
Cepeda held a news conference Tuesday morning at the Nassau County Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola about the allegations. Asked if he had any witnesses to corroborate the claims Drucker has denied, Cepeda said, “He can say whatever he wants to say, and I don’t know what was in his heart or in his mind when he said it, but it was insulting not only to myself, but to our community because as it has been stated by others, for far too long we’ve been marginalized.”
During the news conference, Cepeda said Drucker also tried to have him removed from the event entirely.
“It’s come to my knowledge that unbeknownst to me, he was trying to have me removed by the host of the event,” Cepeda said.
Kalotee and Drucker both denied this allegation.
Cepeda and his supporters called for the Democratic leadership to censure Drucker and for Drucker to apologize to Cepeda and the Hispanic community.
“The Hispanic community demands to be treated fairly and equally in the political arena,” Cepeda said. “Although the largest and fastest growing demographic on Long Island, we are considerably politically under-represented. As skilled and qualified individuals of Hispanic descent rise to serve our residents on Long Island we demand that they be treated respectfully and fairly.”
A Nassau County Democratic Committee spokesman, Michael Fricchione, said Cepeda is using the events in Charlottesville to promote his own campaign and agenda.
“Angel Cepeda is shamelessly using a national tragedy where innocent people were senselessly murdered and hurt as an opportunity to make up complete lies that advance his political campaign and his agenda of hate,” Friccione said.
“If Angel Cepeda cared at all about anyone except for himself, or had any shred of dignity left, he would immediately apologize to the victims, the victims’ families, and everyone who attended last week’s rally with the actual goal of condemning racism. Nassau County voters are too smart for Mr. Cepeda’s attempts to exploit, flame and piggyback off of national tragedies and they will totally reject him, as well as his disgusting campaign of division, come November.”
Drucker did not respond to questions about Cepeda’s requests.
Before Drucker can face Cepeda at the polls, he must vie with former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Lew Yevoli for the Democratic nomination in the primary election Sept. 12.