In the end, Mount Rainier City Councilor Scott Cecil was allowed to deliver remarks during the city’s LGBTQ Pride celebration this past Saturday.
His brief speech brought something akin to a resolution to an acrimonious controversy that became public the day before over Cecil’s participation in the city-planned event.
Cecil, Mount Rainier’s only LGBTQ City Council member, ignited a heated debate on a local Facebook group after he accused the city recreation committee of banning him from speaking during the event. In particular, Cecil singled out Danielle Carter, a 10-year city resident, local activist, and chair of the city’s recreation committee.
In a post to the resident-moderated Mount Rainier, Maryland, Facebook group, Cecil shared emails between himself and a group email address managed by the Recreation Committee. The messages detailed days of negotiations over how or if he would be permitted to participate in the event.
Initially, committee officials said there was no room on the schedule for him to speak, according to the transcripts. After some back-and-forth, he was offered to be a grand Marshall of the city’s pride parade. He replied, insisting on being allowed to speak, reiterating he was the only LGBTQ member of Council. His request was rebuffed again. In a later email from the recreation committee, the group said it was disappointed Cecil was not more-involved in the planning of the event, and that the plans had been finalized.
“We have invited him to come out to be a part of the parade and event we truly hope he does, but the deadline for speakers has passed,” read the email. “We considered everyone who submitted, set the program, and voted on it back in May.”
“The idea that helping to plan the event is a criteria to speak at it doesn’t make sense to me,” said Scott. “That’s never been a criteria for any event I’ve ever attended since being elected two years ago.”
More negotiations ensued by email, but the two sides could not come to an agreement. With less than 24 hours before the event, Cecil brought the dispute public.
Cecil’s post went viral, at least on a Mount Rainier scale, leading to a comment thread with nearly 300 replies. Cecil was accused of grandstanding a minor dispute. Carter and the recreation committee were accused of being insensitive and inflexible. But for many onlookers familiar with Mount Rainier’s recent local politics, the dispute was just the latest development in a simmering feud between Cecil and Carter.
In interviews, both agreed the dispute was at least partially influenced by bad blood between Cecil and Carter. Both agree they have gotten into arguments with each other Carter has accused Cecil of calling her a bitch during one such argument. Cecil said he has had “heated” conversations with Carter.
“It’s pretty clear there is some unresolved acrimony between the two of us,” said Cecil. “I hope you’ll write we did have a brief conversation that I think was very productive and I think we have a path forward.”
“But candidly, I have found her to be somewhat of a bully,” Cecil added. “I have found her to be someone that’s exceptionally hard to work with.”
Carter confirmed she and Cecil had a conversation to try to put their differences aside.
“I’ve never had a problem with Scott other than the one incident where he spoke ill of me and said some pretty nasty things,” said Carter. “That has been resolved and hopefully we can move forward and work together.”
But Carter also said Scott’s activist political style can come-off as “abrasive.”
“That’s how you get people to pay attention. That’s how you get things noticed,” said Carter. “All of us can tweak how we approach things.”
The dispute also served to underscore Cecil’s activist approach to local politics and his willingness to air grievances in ways most hyperlocal politicians tend to avoid. It’s an approach that has left him isolated from other City Council members at times, particularly on issues central to his focus on social and racial justice issues. Cecil noted no other City Council members offered to intervene in the dispute over his participation in the city’s Pride celebration.
When he did speak during the event, he acknowledged that he had been at the center of acrimony, and offered an apology to those turned off by that.
“Mayor, next year, let’s work together on the resolution for Pride,” said Cecil. “I’m your vice mayor, and I’m the only gay member on our City Council. I’d like to be included in the process. Let’s work together and prove people wrong, that we actually can work together.”
Mayor Celina Benitez declined to be interviewed by Route 1 Reporter for this story.
In an interview after the event, Cecil acknowledged his relationships with fellow City Council members, particularly Benitez and Ward One Councilor Luke Chesek, could be improved, especially when it comes to getting support for his policy proposals around policing and other progressive causes.
“There’s definitely a lot of separation there, and I haven’t been able to make any headway there,” said Cecil. “But we have a new Council now, so I’m encouraged that maybe that landscape has changed a little bit.”
Returning City Councilor Jimmy Tarlau, in an interview, said it would be a mistake to assume Benitez is not on board with progressive reforms in the city. On most policy issues, there’s little disagreement between City Council members. But Tarlau said differences in political approaches between Benitez and Cecil are apparent.
“I think its a matter of style and how we work together,” said Tarlau. “There’s almost no disagreement on policy issues. This is a question of how do we figure out how do we communicate and work together.”
Tarlau, himself an old-school left-of-center progressive labor organizer, said Cecil’s outspoken activism reminded him of his first time on City Council butting heads with former Mayor Malinda Miles.
“I thought Mayor Miles was always wrong and I also never got anything done,” said Tarlau. “At some point I had to figure out how do I work with them so I can actually get my program together and get it accomplished.”