QUINCY -- Members of the city's Humans Right Commission are calling for the removal of Alderman Mike Rein, R-5, from the 14-person City Council and encouraging all members to attend diversity and inclusion training. The group is also calling for Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore to publicly rebuke Rein for comments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a July 2 email to a constituent, Rein wrote that "people scared of the Chinese virus will find comfort in staying at home for the next year," before affirming his support for reopening businesses and for people who opted to live without fear of contracting the virus, which has sickened 164,000 and killed about 7,500 people in the state.
"Language is important, and it begs the question why a leader in our community would use such language," said Joel Logue, a member of the Human Rights Commission who addressed the council at Monday night's meeting.
Logue added that it was especially disheartening that the term, which has been widely denounced by Asian-Americans and human rights activists as racist and xenophobic, was used by "a member of the City Council and a former leader in mental health services in the community."
In a letter penned by the Human Rights Commission, the commission says the use of the term does not promote tolerance and "sheds light on a deeply problematic and racist thought process."
"First and foremost, it is racist," Logue said. "It is no different than calling the Ebola virus an African virus or a Black virus. COVID-19 is a virus. It is not coming from people. (Using the term) also caters to a narrative that separates people more and more."
Following Logue's presentation, Rein doubled down on his use of the term saying that President Donald Trump used the term first. Opponents of the president have also criticized him for the use of the term rather than referring to the virus by its scientific term.
Rein told The Herald-Whig after the meeting that he has previously attended diversity and inclusion training.
Logue said Rein citing Trump's use of the term was not adequate response to quell calls for his removal.
"Yes, the president said it. I also don't really care that he used it," Logue said. He added, "He had the moment to say that it was a mistake and say that he was sorry. To double down, to say that the President said it, then that shows you don't care. (It shows) that the thought process is already ingrained in you. He doesn't see anything wrong with it."
Coming to the defense of Rein, were Alderman Mike Farha, R-4, and Moore, who served on the council with Rein prior to be elected mayor.
"I find it disturbing that (the Human Rights Commission) would relay a private email of this nature," Farha said.
The email was sent from Rein's official email and is subject to the state's open records law. The Human Rights Commission obtained a copy of the email through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Moore said he disagreed with the commission's views on Rein, saying he has served "with honor and distinguishment for decades."
He said he is also worried that the commission is becoming politically charged.
"I certainly don't think it is their role to politicize things. I think it is their role to stand up for those who have been victims of discrimination in our community," said Moore, who added that he would encourage council members to attend the diversity training if their schedules allows.
Logue said it was not the commission that politicized the virus and pledged that the commission would continue to hold city officials accountable for what the group perceives to be troublesome language and actions.
"Disease, pandemics do not care what side you are on. People are sick and they are dying because of this virus," Logue said. "Obviously, the City Council has some things to work on. You can't say that you want the city to grow, to retain our youth, to have a strategy of diversity and inclusion, and then have archaic views like this."
In other business, Quincy's Director of Utilities and Engineering Jeffrey Conte reported about 45% of the first phase of the city's multi-million infrastructure overhaul, which includes street reconstruction, modernizing portions of the city's water and sewer system, adding and rehabbing city sidewalks, is completed. The first phase, which includes $11.4 million in projects, will be followed by a second phase that will go out for bid in mid-August or early September.