ELMHURST – Two DuPage County Board members are calling for the censure of board member Pete DiCianni, and a local organization supporting Black Lives Matter is demanding his resignation in response to "outrageous behavior" at a Blue Lives Matter pro-police rally Saturday in Elmhurst.
In a letter sent to Chairman Dan Cronin Monday, Elizabeth Chaplin said she was "deeply troubled and disturbed" by DiCianni's "aggressive actions, inappropriate language and complete lack of respect and safety of others."
"Without wearing a mask, he yelled in the faces of my constituents and boasted about being a county board member and mayor painting all of us with the same brush," wrote Chaplin, a Downers Grove Democrat. "This behavior is unbecoming to the office of a Member of the DuPage County Board, the Chairman of the DuPage County Health and Human Services Committee or any elected official."
Mary FitzGerald Ozog, a Democrat from Glen Ellyn representing District 4, also wrote to Cronin recommending censure over DiCianni's actions. A censure is a public record of disapproval that does not carry any additional penalties such as removal from office.
"I expressed my concern in particular with his not wearing a mask and being in the face of a counter protester. That was very disturbing to me," Ozog said. "I do not believe that behavior is a reflection of the board. We are never not public officials, 24 hours a day."
DiCianni, an Elmhurst Republican who represents District 2 with Chaplin and was Mayor of Elmhurst from 2009-2012, engaged in at times heated exchanges with counter-protesters in snippets of videos from Saturday's pro-police rally that made their way to social media.
In a video, protesters including DiCianni chant "Fund the blue" while walking in the street past counter-protesters on a sidewalk chanting "Breonna Taylor," the Black woman who was shot by police in March in Louisville.
Carrying a homemade sign that says "We back police," not wearing a mask, DiCianni can be seen approaching counter protesters to speak in support of the police.
"I was the mayor of this town, we have a great PD, we don't hurt people we protect them," DiCianni can be heard saying. "I was the mayor and we fund our cops, you better believe it. "
DiCianni later tells people to make sure they're recording the video.
"We welcome everybody, gay, lesbian, Black, Latino, we are very welcoming. I was proud to be the mayor, great community, love our cops," DiCianni is heard saying.
In another video, DiCianni is seen going up to a lady in a megaphone and yelling something close to her face. In another clip, DiCianni can be heard telling counter protesters "You leave our town then," in response to comments that cannot be heard.
Nina Marie Villasenor, an Elmhurst resident and counter protester Saturday, said she "did not expect the amount of hatred directed at us" from pro-police protesters. She described being screamed at, and protesters "literally started walking circles around us, like preys to a shark."
Villasenor, who said she had no idea who DiCianni was at the time, said she started videotaping him when "it felt like he was being aggressive."
"I did it as a safety guard for myself and fellow protesters. I didn't try to pick anybody out," Villasenor said. "For me personally, the way he was approaching people and getting in their face, not having a mask on, screaming 'if you don't like it, leave our town.' It was language like that, if you are a community leader you don't conduct yourself in that manner. I understand that everybody makes mistakes, but there are three different videos of him maintaining that aggressive approach."
DiCianni, in response to emailed questions on the matter, released a statement that said "our city allowed and my family personally supported Black Lives Matters to demonstrate without protest or confict."
"We gave them a permit and a safe venue," DiCianni said in the statement. "Unfortunately, that courtesy was not given to our police officers and their families. Instead, they were met with hatred from young kids with megaphones shouting at and taunting our police officers and their families.
"As a Member of the County’s Judicial Public Safety Committee and a proud former Mayor, I fully support and will continue to support DuPage County Law enforcement. We set the bar on training and policing for others to follow."
DiCianni's actions seen on video prompted an outcry of anger on social media, and an email from a constituent which led to a further controversy.
Elmhurst resident Lauren Sussman, living in New Orleans this summer where she goes to school at Tulane, emailed DiCianni Saturday saying that she was "extremely disappointed in his actions earlier that day."
"You made Black people in our community feel unwelcome," Sussman wrote. "At a critical time in our history, you chose to play the part of politician instead of a human. You showed that you have no ability to emphasize with oppressed community members, to be open to understanding their struggles, and you left them in the dust. You are a terrible representation of the place I call home."
Fifteen minutes later, DiCianni emailed back "Go stick you(r) vote in your ass! I stood up for my cops today."
The manner of the response, on the heels of DiCianni's actions at the protest, prompted the Hinsdale for Black Lives Matter organization to demand his resignation. The change.org petition has over 1,000 signatures as of Tuesday evening.
An email from the Hinsdale organization noted that DiCianni represents parts of Clarendon Hills and Hinsdale, and is a Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee for DuPage County.
"We believe that the behavior displayed by Mr. DiCianni shows a lack of respect for his constituents and his position as their representative on the DuPage County Board, and is an insult to the Black community," Hinsdale BLM wrote.
Cronin in an email said that "while I support his First Amendment rights to speak out in support of police, and to join a public protest, Member DiCianni's behavior and the remarks made on social media are troubling."
"We are trying to determine what the best course of action is at this point," Cronin wrote.
The board's next meeting is July 14.
Chaplin said she spoke to Cronin Monday about the matter and that Cronin "was offended not only by DiCianni's actions, but his words, and that his email to the young woman was vulgar with language that is not reflective of how our board conducts himself."
"I believe there is something we can do, whether a censure or something," Chaplin said. "This behavior cannot go unchecked."
Chaplin said that DiCianni's "aggressive, instigating, taunting" manner alone was bad, but what made it further disturbing was not wearing a mask. Public health officials recommend the wearing of masks in public if you cannot social distance.
"We have heard from our health department and the CDC that chanting, talking loudly, yelling spreads [the coronavirus] even more. Just the lack of respect of the safety of his people, and he is the health chair – he should know better," Chaplin said. "Nobody should behave that way but especially an elected official. You are an elected official, head of the Health and Human Services committee and you are out in public screaming at people. It is unacceptable that you are putting people at risk."
Ozog echoed those thoughts, and also said she wants the board to convene a workshop on race, public safety and social media use as soon as possible.
"There is very little excuse at this point to not wear a mask in public," Ozog said. "This was a really poor example. Public officials have to be held to a higher standard.
"Both groups had a right to be there, the people supporting the police and the counter protesters. If you get counter protesters you have to deal with it. This is how bad situations happen in the middle of protests. This is not how to increase dialogue, and you combine that with getting in people's face without a mask."