Pennsylvania Town's First Black Treasurer Sworn In After Lawsuit Alleging Local Leaders Conspired To Prevent Her From Taking Office
City Council member Martin Gatti allegedly said "this colored girl shouldn't sit as the treasurer for the city of Uniontown."
Update (January 20, 2020): Antoinette Hodge has finally been cleared to take office as the first Black treasurer of Uniontown, Pittsburgh, according to WPXI.
Her swearing in comes days after she hit the city with a lawsuit alleging local leaders conspired to prevent her from taking office due to racial discrimination. Hodge won 97% of the votes in November's election. But her lawyer, Joel Sansone, said in a lawsuit that Councilman Martin Gatti and his sister-in-law City Clerk Kimberly Marshall led a coordinated campaign to thwart the election and deny Hodge the right to be sworn in.
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City officials were reportedly upset that Hodge defeated longtime incumbent treasurer Joseph Giachetti. After Hodge won, Gatti made concentrated attempts to ensure that Hodge would not receive the bond required to take office. Hodge was told that she needed to apply to be bonded which was a duty usually handled by Marshall. A bond protects entities, and the represented town/city, from fraud and losses caused by neglect.
It was to be business as usual until the city's bond company denied Hodge's application because of her credit problems on December 28. As was her duty to take office, Hodge went to another company in an effort to complete the bond application process and was approved.
But the city officials started telling Hodge that in order to be sworn in, she needed to fulfill all manner loopholes, including taking a test and providing an affidavit of residence. They were things she was not told about until after she won the election.
Still, Hodge made her best good-faith effort to complete all of the impromptu requirements. Despite those efforts, Hodge was informed on January 3 that her bond application was canceled, despite her prior approval. Her lawyer claims that Gatti was able to cancel her bond.
When she called the company to try and get more information about why her application had been canceled after just being approved, they asked her what her race was. When Hodge said she was Black, the bond company official allegedly said, "that sums it up."
According to Hodge’s lawsuit, Gatti received authorization to deny Hodge's bond because of a background check. Further, the manager at the bond company initially agreed to testify, telling here that Gatti said, "this colored girl shouldn't sit as the treasurer for the city of Uniontown."
But now, things seemed to have changed. Counsel for the bonding agency has denied claims that any employees said or heard racist remarks, saying Hodge’s allegations “do not align with the recollection of our employees.”
In the lawsuit, Sansone states Marshall violently told Hodge “We’ll get you” while other city officials were being sworn in on January 6. Hodge now seeks a jury trial, saying she was discriminated against and retaliated against.
“This case is about racism and the actions of persons who believe racism is the way to go,” Sansone told reporters at a recent news conference. “I’m not sure how deep this conspiracy goes.”
Even with the lawsuit, she is committed to serving her community.
“I want to do what Uniontown city residents elected me to do,” she said. “I’m ready to take the oath.”
Original story (January 10, 2020): The first Black person elected as treasurer of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, has been forced to sue the city and other officials for attempting to prevent her from taking office.
Antoinette Hodge's lawyer, Joel Sansone, said in a lawsuit that Councilman Martin Gatti, his sister-in-law City Clerk Kimberly Marshall and other officials led a coordinated effort to circumvent the election and deny her the right to be sworn in. Hodge won 97% of the votes in November's election.
City officials were reportedly upset that Hodge managed to defeat long-time incumbent treasurer Joseph Giachetti.
Antoinette Hodge, duly elected Treasurer of Uniontown, was denied swearing-in because she's black, she alleges in a federal lawsuit filed today by attorney @joelsansonelaw. More tonight on @KDKA pic.twitter.com/LPRKXvIaGc— Jon Delano KDKA (@JonDelano) January 8, 2020
The lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court on Tuesday, includes charges of retaliation, racial discrimination, conspiracy and violations of the First and 14th Amendments.
After winning the election in November, Hodge was told that she needed to apply to be bonded which is typically handled by Marshall. A bond protects entities from fraud and losses caused by neglect.
Things began to go awry on December 28, when the city's bond company denied Hodge's application because of her credit problems. After being denied, Hodge went to another company in an effort to complete the bond application process and was approved.
Marshall and other city officials then told Hodge that to be sworn in, she needed to take a test and provide an affidavit of residency, which she had not been told until after she won the election.
Despite her efforts to complete all requirements, Hodge was informed on January 3 that her bond application had been canceled. She alleges Gatti had somehow been able to cancel her bond. When she called the company to receive more information about the status update, they asked her what her race was. When Hodge said she was Black, the bond company official allegedly said, "that sums it up."
According to her lawsuit, Gatti received authorization to deny Hodge's bond because of a "background check."
The manager at the bond company, who allegedly agreed to testify, told Hodge that Gatti said, "this colored girl shouldn't sit as the treasurer for the city of Uniontown."
In the lawsuit, Sansone says Marshall violently told her “We’ll get you” as other city officials were being sworn in on January 6.
Hodge was not sworn in on Monday, despite city rules that state "any office that needs to be bonded has two weeks after being installed to get a bond,” according to the Uniontown Post-Gazette.
The Uniontown Herald-Standard reported that the Third-Class City Code states that "if a person elected or appointed to fill an office for which a bond is required fails to post a bond within 14 days of the date they are scheduled to take their oath of office, the office will be deemed vacant. Council would have to appoint a qualified individual to fill the office."
During a contentious city council meeting on Monday, Sansone told Hodge's story to a stunned audience, adding that Gatti believed Hodge was "not honest enough" to hold the position of treasurer.
"To have her kept out because she is Black is a throwback to the days of slavery, which we are just not going to accept. What I’ve got to ask you, sir, is 'Do you have any idea what century you’re living in?'” Sansone asked Gatti directly.
“Do you understand that calling a Black woman a ‘colored girl’ is racist?” he asked.
Gatti tried to defend himself on Monday by saying he heard from others that Hodge had multiple bond denials and that he "was only interested in protecting the city financially."
“There’s a financial issue there. So that’s a follow-up. It has nothing to do in any way with anybody’s color of skin. It’s research, follow-up, due diligence,” Gatti claimed. "I have never ever been accused of anything racial in my life. Finances are finances. I don't know how race got in this."
When asked by the city council audience why he thought it was appropriate for him to call the bond company to discuss Hodge's application, Gatti claimed he made the call "at the behest of [the] council.”
“Why not stay out of the process and let her go forward to secure the bond without you making a call? You didn’t need to make a call,” Reverend Rubin Bailey asked, according to the Uniontown Herald-Standard.
Sansone said Gatti should be forced to resign because of his actions.
Hodge said her identity was stolen in 2000 and that situation may have affected her credit rating, but it still was not enough to prevent her from securing her a bond.