NYC Council staffer spews racial slur at black Staten Island constituent in email


A staffer for Staten Island Councilwoman Debi Rose spewed a racial slur at a black constituent who sought help to get a sidewalk paved in his neighborhood.

“Whaaat? Diane Savino is taking credit for resolving this problem. Oh I hate Staten Island and the handkerchief heads!,” Rose constituent affairs deputy Stephanie Shavuo said in an Aug. 3 email response to Port Richmond resident Everett Wattley.

The term “handkerchief head” is a slur meant to paint a black woman as subservient to whites, akin to the equally derogatory “Uncle Tom.”

Diane Savino is a state senator, who like Rose, represents Staten Island and was also asked to address Wattley’s request to get the city to pave a dirt sidewalk on Trantor Place.

A frustrated Wattley, a 63-year-old retired city social worker, had forwarded a Staten Island Advance article to Rose’s office about the sidewalk issue and expressed his displeasure that she and her staff were not helpful in fixing the problem.

“My guess is that dead weight politicians that I’ve reached out to over the years turned a deaf ear to the complaints from the community,” Wattley wrote, which apparently triggered Shavuo’s slur.

Shavuo hit the “reply all” button so her response went to Wattley, Rose, Assemblyman Charles Fall, the civic group Port Richmond Strong and other legislative staffers — not just to Wattley.

A staffer for Councilwoman Debi Rose spewed a racial slur at a black constituent.
Christopher Sadowski

Wattley, who is black, said Shavuo’s response was beyond the pale and violated the city’s code of conduct.

“This was intended as a slur and Shavuo sent it from her Council email address,” Wattley told The Post.

He said Shavuo “felt comfortable using that racial slur in front of her boss” and “she should not be sitting in on these community meetings representing Debi Rose.”

Wattley said he’s sensitive to racial discrimination: A Staten Island middle school is named after his great uncle, William A. Morris, founder of the borough’s chapter of the NAACP and he has descendants who were the island’s first free slaves.

Leaders of Port Richmond Strong circulated a letter in response that says, “We call for the termination or resignation of Stephanie Shavuo’s employment as constituent liaison.”

Shavuo, who has worked with Rose for 12 years, issued a terse four word follow up email on August 4 to the complainant that said, “Mr. Wattley, I apologize.” She also told The Post Thursday she was issued a “written reprimand,” adding, “I have not been suspended.” 

She declined further comment saying it was a “personnel matter” that’s been dealt with by Rose and Speaker Corey Johnson’s office and referred The Post to Rose’s spokesperson.

Rose, during an interview, said Shavuo also is required to undergo sensitivity training.

Rose said Shavuo’s slur was “inappropriate and unacceptable.”

“Our motto has been `constituents first.’ I’m really sorry that happened,” Rose said. “There’s no justification for it. We don’t tolerate it.”

Rose, in an Aug. 5 email to Wattley, said she and the Council acted on his complaint.

“Please note that discriminatory comments are inappropriate and unacceptable and I am taking appropriate disciplinary action with regard to my employee. I genuinely value both my staff and the community I serve,” Rose said.

“As such, it is, and has always been my goal to create an environment that embraces diversity and is free from discriminatory harassment of any kind.”

But Rose then turned on constituent Wattley, claiming he was a provacateur who also was at fault.

“Please also note that pursuant to the Council’s Policy I am also obligated to let you know that your response to my staff included comments and statements that were also offensive and discriminatory. It is unacceptable to make a discriminatory remark pertaining to an employee’s race and/or age and/or disability,” Rose told Wattley.

“As your matter with our office is now closed, we ask that moving forward you refrain from making said comments or similar comments and limit your interaction with my staff to business matters only. If you are unable to comply with my request my office will be unable to further engage with you.”

Wattley admitted he used offensive language, but only after Shavou smeared him with a slur.

Savino declined comment.

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