Mermell backer from Foxboro apologizes for comments on rivals

SE Mass

SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) — Democrat Jesse Mermell on Thursday distanced herself from one of her supporters due to dismissive comments he made regarding some of her opponents, after her rivals pounced on the remarks in the closing days of the primary campaign.

Mermell — whose campaign has picked up momentum in recent weeks thanks to a series of endorsements — said in a statement the comments made by Foxboro Democratic Town Committee Chairman Dennis Naughton “don’t reflect my values or the views of my campaign.”

In comments posted online, Naughton suggested Brookline attorney Ben Sigel “does not identify as a Latinx unless it is convenient” and downplayed Newton City Councilor Becky Grossman’s rationale for running as being a “mommy.” He also suggested Dr. Natalia Linos was running as “a scientist” rather than on all the issues.

It quickly triggered the sort of media pile-on that has become a hallmark of the 4th District primary — except in the past the target has usually been Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss, another frontrunner, rather than Mermell.

“It’s no secret that way too many politicians in Washington think ‘mommies’ have nothing to offer, but it’s particularly disturbing to hear this same sentiment coming from a leader within our own state Democratic Party,” Grossman said in a statement.

Sigel — who is current president of the Hispanic National Bar Association for New England — described himself as was “extremely disturbed” by the suggesting he was insincere in highlighting his ethnicity. And Linos wrote, “Maybe if we didn’t dismiss mommies, scientists, and people of color, we’d be doing a better job with this COVID-19 response.”

Reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, Naughton declined to be interviewed but pointed to an apology he had just posted on Facebook for one of the comments, though he did not specify which.

“I want to be clear that I have the greatest respect for all of the Democratic candidates and the contributions that they have made in this race,” he wrote. “The time and effort that they and their families must devote to such a campaign is daunting. While my comment was not intended to be offensive, I can now see that it was. For that I want to express regret and offer sincere apology.”

In her statement, Mermell also suggested that her supporters were not the only ones who should be watching what they say.

“As emotions run high at the end of a long campaign, we have seen an increase in negative comments directed at all of the candidates and we have made it clear to our supporters that we want them to remain positive and we hope other campaigns will do the same,” she said.

Earlier this week Mermell’s campaign manager, Katie Prisco-Buxbaum, sent an email to their supporters urging them to keep the peace on social media. “While it can be tempting to respond to other team’s bad faith actions online, we know that the way we respond and rise above speaks volumes,” she write.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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