Lowell School Committee member Robert Hoey, a retired correctional officer facing calls for his resignation after using an anti-Jewish slur Wednesday on a live public access television program, said Thursday that he won’t step down and plans to seek a fifth term.
“I’ll never say that word again, ever,” Hoey, 66, said in a phone interview, while repeatedly referring to the slur as a “bad word.”
“To use that word, it’s no good, and obviously I know that,” Hoey said. “I made a mistake. I made a mistake. I said a bad word.”
He insisted he’s not anti-Semitic or bigoted in any way and said he was repeatedly chided as a correctional officer for being too cordial with the incarcerated population, with one supervisor frequently using an anti-Black slur to deride him as a “lover” of people of color.
“I have said some stupid things in my life, and I’m going to learn my lesson this time,” Hoey said, adding that he’s willing to attend diversity training.
He said he hopes to go on the air and apologize publicly. But the Lowell TeleMedia Center said Thursday night that it had suspended the membership of the community producer of the show Hoey appeared on, “City Life,” for 90 days, and he cannot produce new episodes during that period.
The producer, John McDonough, was also removed from the organization’s board of directors.
“The LTC leadership reaffirms our commitment to not allowing our platform to be used to spread anti-Semitism and discriminatory language of any sort,” the center said in a statement.
On Monday, the Lowell City Council, in a special joint meeting with the School Committee, will be voting on a motion to support the “Immediate Resignation Of School Committee Member, Robert Hoey, For Offensive Conduct That Shocks The Conscience,” according to a copy of the meeting agenda posted to the city’s website.
The elected officials will also vote on a related motion to pass a joint resolution “Condemning The Comments Of School Committee Member, Robert Hoey, And Reaffirming The City Council’s And School Committee’s Commitment To Equity, Equality And Inclusion,” the agenda says.
Mayor John J. Leahy, who chairs both municipal bodies and who called for Hoey’s resignation Wednesday, said Thursday in a phone interview that the officials legally can’t force him to step down, though they can strip him of his subcommittee titles.
“People are angry,” Leahy said. “We’re not this type of city. … We’ve worked very hard as a School Committee and school system to combat” bigotry in the schools, where students in the state’s fourth-largest city speak more than 60 languages.
Hoey, Leahy said, hasn’t returned his calls since the scandal erupted Wednesday.
“I wish it didn’t happen, but it did happen,” Leahy said. “And as mayor, I feel it is my obligation to take the lead on this with my [fellow] elected officials. We have to make a strong statement that this is not acceptable.”
Hoey made the comment in a question during a live episode of “City Life.’' He used the offensive term, then appeared to quickly try to rephrase his statement. A video clip of the statement was posted online Wednesday accompanying a report by The Jewish Journal.
“We lost the k—, oh, I mean the Jewish guy,” Hoey said. “I hate to say it, but that’s what people used to say behind his back. … He was the guy in charge of our budget.”
About eight minutes later, Hoey attempted to offer an explanation, saying, “I shouldn’t say those nasty names about people.”
“I’m an Archie Bunker, OK?” Hoey said, referencing the bigoted, working-class character in the 1970s sitcom “All in the Family.”
When he used the slur, Hoey was referring to Gary Frisch, a former top financial official in the Lowell Public Schools. Hoey said if Frisch called him and requested his resignation, he would do so “in a minute.” Hoey also said he has tried unsuccessfully to reach Frisch.
Frisch couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Leahy was not the only city official condemning the remark and calling for Hoey’s resignation.
“I am committed to having a city where all residents and visitors are valued with respect and civility,” said City Councilor Sokhary Chau in a statement Thursday. “Hate speech and degrading references to any of our citizens are totally unacceptable. I condemn his disrespectful references in the strongest terms and join the Mayor in calling for School Committee [member] Hoey to step down.”
One of Chau’s colleagues, Councilor John Drinkwater, had issued a similar call via Facebook on Wednesday night.
“I join Mayor Leahy in calling for School Committee Member Hoey’s immediate resignation,” Drinkwater wrote. “The hateful slur used by Mr. Hoey should not be tolerated from anyone — let alone a public official elected to serve one of the most diverse communities and school districts in the state.”