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Peo removed as chair of a City Council committee in podcast fallout 

click to enlarge City Councilmember Jose Peo, left, taking the oath of office. City Councilmember Mary Lupien at a news conferene.

FILE PHOTOS

City Councilmember Jose Peo, left, taking the oath of office. City Councilmember Mary Lupien at a news conferene.

Rochester City Council President Miguel Meléndez has removed Councilmember Jose Peo from his post as chair of Council’s Parks and Public Works committee, though he'll remain on as a committee member.

Earlier this week, CITY reported on a June 15 segment of his podcast, “Politically Correcting With Jose Peo” in which a co-host, Lavelle Lewis, suggested that Council Vice President Mary Lupien would have sex with him and whether she’d wear a facemask while submitting to a sex act. While Peo did release an apology Wednesday, he previously refused to admit fault and in a Twitter post called on Lupien to “man up.”

In a strongly worded letter issued to councilmembers Wednesday evening, Meléndez said he would be “remiss to not act” in response to Peo’s behavior.

“While I know you personally did not make the offensive comments (as you have repeatedly, publicly stated), you also did nothing to stop them. You did nothing to say that kind of objectification of women was unacceptable,” Meléndez wrote. “Up until today, you have taken no positive steps to mitigate the harm from this podcast — that you are an integral part of — you have instead defended it and doubled down under a thinly-veiled ‘free speech’ argument.”

“Leadership is about more than what we say, it is also about standing up for what is right when others say or do something that is wrong,” Meléndez continued. “As a member of City Council you should conduct yourself at a higher standard than others and your behavior has been less than admirable.”

Peo issued a statement on Thursday in response, defending his work on the committee and claiming that he has been the target of incendiary remarks made by his City Council colleagues, although he did not cite specific examples.

"This would be the first time ever that an elected official is censured for NOT doing something, while allowing similar actions to continue against them," Peo wrote.

Peo was appointed to serve as chair of the parks and public works committee in January, a position which allowed him to lead discussion on legislation and exercise influence over which measures come to a vote, and in what form they come to a vote. Peo, like every other member of Council, will continue to serve as a member of the body’s Public Safety committee as well.

A conservative-leaning Democrat elected to represent the city’s northwest district in 2019, Peo has hosted his podcast since June 2021. During the program, Peo and company generally banter about politics, in particular lamenting progressive and so-called “woke” ideologies over drinks.

Peo has been under fire since the June 15 podcast came to light. He addressed the matter in a new episode that aired Wednesday around the time Melendez issued his memo.

“I must recognize, as a podcast host, I must take responsibility for righting the ship of the conversation in a more timely manner,” Peo said. “I believe our listeners would prefer to hear us engage in a lively, but respectful banter.”

Lewis, who has adamantly defended his comments on social media following CITY’s story, also used the episode to address the situation.

“I apologize for how this has gone on and how this has become the local story of the year, jeez Louise,” Lewis said.

Attached to the letter from Meléndez was guidance to councilmembers on proper conduct and a call for civility.

“I am asking you all to join me in recommitting ourselves to conduct business in an orderly manner that promotes decency and respect in our own house,” Meléndez wrote. “This goes beyond any one incident or councilmember. We all took an oath of office and we all said we’re here to serve; and service starts with supporting each other – because at the end of the day we are here to serve the people of Rochester and to conduct business on their behalf.”

In Melendez’s memo to Peo, he noted that there is a possibility Peo could be reinstated as a committee chair depending on his actions going forward.

“Whether or not you have an opportunity to serve as a committee chair in the future lies directly in your own hands and how you conduct yourself going forward,” Melendez wrote. “It is never too late to do the right thing, so I implore you to continue to make amends with our aggrieved colleagues and also to speak up and to speak out in the future in a way that brings unity to our body and community by fostering respect and dignity for all.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.
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