PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — City Council President Sabina Matos is calling on Councilman Michael Correia to step down as president pro tempore of the council following a Target 12 report on secret recordings made of Correia in the council office.
“I’m calling for him to do the right thing and step down from the leadership position,” Matos said in a phone interview Thursday morning.
Both the council president and the president pro tempore are elected by the full council at the start of the term every four years per the city charter, which means Matos does not have the power to remove him herself. The pro tem’s main job is to take over presiding over the council in the president’s absence.
Correia and Matos were both elected to their positions in January of 2019 in separate votes of 10 to 4.
Correia did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on whether he will step down.
Matos had stopped short of calling on him to step down in a lengthy statement she issued Wednesday, condemning remarks he made on the audio recordings and promising to foster a safe workplace for colleagues.
Asked what prompted her to call for him to step down now, Matos said she had been “giving him the opportunity to do the right thing.”
In one of the four recordings obtained by Target 12, Correia and staffers discussed activist Justice Gaines, who is a transgender woman and former City Council candidate, referring to her with male pronouns and discussing her physical anatomy.
Listen to the recordings here. Story continues below.
Correia initially said he did not find his words to be offensive when interviewed by Target 12, but one day after the story aired he issued a public apology on his Facebook page.
“I know that LGBTQIA people struggle, face discrimination and abuse and to think that I may have somehow contributed to that sentiment is unacceptable and for that I truly apologize,” Correia said in the statement. “I would like to personally apologize to Justice Gaines for any hurt that I may have inflicted on her. My words were flippant and inappropriate as a leader and as a person.”
He also suggested that some of the comments were made in jest, and asked Matos for sensitivity training.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I may from time to time try to joke around but I would do anything to help someone who needed it regardless of who they are or their station in life,” Correia continued.
Gaines said Thursday Correia has not contacted her directly to apologize, but his attorney Artin Coloian called her to potentially initiate a conversation between the two in the coming days.
“What was recorded cannot be taken out of context simply as a joke,” Gaines said of Correia’s apology statement. “It was actually very harmful and very hurtful.”
Multiple members of the all-Democratic council condemned the remarks, and councilman David Salvatore was the first to call for Correia to step down from leadership on Wednesday.
“Moving forward, Councilor Correia will have to reflect on his actions and the language that he used and think strongly about whether he is fit for a leadership position on the Providence City Council, and if he can continue to serve the very diverse constituency in the city of Providence,” Salvatore said.
Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves, who holds the seat Gaines once ran for, was among those condemning the remarks.
The audio recordings also contained a tape where Correia appeared to compare Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune to TV character Steve Urkel, another where he spoke about breaking someone’s fingers, and a third where he discussed wanting to throw hot coffee in a woman’s face.
The recordings were all made in the council office and are the subject of a human resources investigation.
While there may not be a mechanism for the councilors to remove Correia from leadership if he doesn’t step down, Matos could exclude him from leadership conversations and negotiations on important matters including the city budget. Correia has previously been included in those matters as a member of her team.
Correia is also the chairman of the council’s Public Works Committee and has several other committee assignments.
If he does not step down, Correia will be president pro tem until January of 2023, when his current term ends. He is not eligible to run for re-election to the council in 2022 because of term limits.