GENEVA — Mayor Steve Valentino opened the new City Council’s first meeting of 2020 Wednesday by asking City Manager Sage Gerling to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
She obliged. And, virtually everyone in the room rose to recite it with her.
Except new Ward 5 Councilor Laura Salamendra.
The councilor, who is one of Geneva’s most prominent and vocal advocates for what she believes are the city’s forgotten, stayed in her seat.
Her decision to sit during the pledge has caused some rumblings on social media, including a Facebook site called Geneva True Media, which posted the following:
“It seems that Councilor for Ward 5, Laura Salamendra, took a play from Colin Kaepernick’s book. At the first Geneva City Council of 2020, Councilor Salamendra was seen sitting for the Pledge at the beginning.
“How do you feel about any elected official not standing for and “taking a seat against” the same flag and constitution they swore oath to?
“Remember, at least Kaepernick wasn’t an elected official … ”
When asked Thursday about her decision to sit during the pledge, Salamendra provided the following statement in a Facebook message:
“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and my allegiance is with the people of Geneva and the world, not the flag. I have felt this way since I was in the fourth grade and have exercised my constitutional right to do so ever since.”
Mayor Steve Valentino said Thursday he “did not even notice” that Salamendra, who sits at his left, did not stand. The flag in the courtroom at the Geneva Public Safety Building where Council meets is at his right.
“I didn’t see it,” he said.
Valentino said he is not concerned if Salamendra chooses to sit during the pledge.
“She has her own beliefs, and we have to respect them,” he said.
Asked if it is an issue for Council, Valentino responded: “Not at all.”
The Finger Lakes Times emailed all of the councilors. Only Ward 5 Councilor Ken Camera responded, saying he, like Valentino, did not see Salamendra sit during the pledge. Otherwise, he said, he had no comment to offer.
One of Salamendra’s friends and community allies, Jim Meaney, defended the new councilor.
“The city of Geneva faces a poverty rate of around 20 percent and climbing, a food desert impacting thousands, corrupt police officers abusing residents with seeming impunity, unaccountable slumlords exploiting the working class, and an acute lack of accessible and affordable childcare, among other urgent issues,” he wrote in an email. “Councilor Salamendra silently exercising the First Amendment right she has sworn to uphold is a non-story, except for those who oppose her people-first politics.”
Dana Hollenbeck, who served as interim Ward 6 councilor for the latter part of 2019, defended Salamendra on the Geneva True Media site.
“Laura has always been very vocal about who she is, and she won the majority of the votes because of that,” Hollenbeck posted. “You don’t have to support her personally, but she was fairly elected. Also, standing and reciting the pledge is not compulsory in this country.”