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Dozens attend Fairmont Council meeting to praise Delegate Walker, demand censure of Councilman Bledsoe over ‘satanic’ remark

FAIRMONT — Several dozen people came to Fairmont City Council chambers Tuesday evening to support Monongalia County Delegate Danielle Walker and condemn the words of Councilman Barry Bledsoe, who called Walker “satanic” on Facebook.

Some called for his resignation, others for censure. Four spoke in support of Bledsoe and his word choice.

Only four of nine council members were physically present – others attended by conference call – and council took no action on the requests. A censure resolution, if any, would come at a later meeting.

Mayor Brad Merrifield told the audience, “It’s certainly OK to disagree. We need to do it in a proper manner. We can’t resort to name calling.”

Access to the chamber was limited because of COVID-19 restrictions, so The Dominion Post spoke to several area delegates outside and monitored some of the comments from the council chamber foyer.

Walker’s Mon County colleagues Delegate Evan Hansen and John Williams were among the attendees.

A pair of protesters speak with meeting attendees outside City HAll.

Hansen said outside, “I’m here to say loud and clear that what the councilman said is unacceptable. It’s up to us elected officials to model good behavior. When you disagree with people you don’t call them names. He should follow Walker’s model to listen to people and empathize with them.”

Bledsoe’s comment was part of a string of comments regarding his Facebook post about an article in The Dominion Post about a planned Black Lives Matter in crosswalk in Greenmont. Bledsoe said, “If you don’t get rid of that satanic Danielle Walker you might as well give up!”

Bledsoe told the Dominion Post on Monday that his comment was not about her race, but about her support for Drag Queen Story Hour at the Morgantown Public Library and her actions in the Legislature.

Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, also attended. She did not speak to council but told The Dominion Post that she wouldn’t say Bledsoe’s remark was racist but it was defamation of character. We want people to come to West Virginia but instead, we make negative news like this.

“We have to take a stand and hopefully we can bring people together,” she said. “We need people to have kindness in their hearts and start working together or I don’t know where we’re going to end up.

Elected officials agree to be held accountable for what they and say, she said. Freedom of speech can be misused.

Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia, said, “I think it’s incredibly dehumanizing in any political discourse to call someone satanic.”

A view into the council chamber.

Delegate Mike Caputo addressed council on behalf of his Marion County colleagues and the House Democratic Caucus. He praised Walker’s compassion and kindness. “She has a heart bigger than this building.”

Caputo wished Bledsoe good health as he recovers from COVId-19and could not be present, but condemned his actions. “It just appalls me those words came out of his mouth.”

Many speakers said Walker goes out of her way to feed the hungry, help the needy, seek help for those unemployed during the pandemic.

A pastor, a representative of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia and another private citizen all supported Bledsoe, along with former Delegate Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia. They qualified that the term “satanic” referred not to race but to Walker’s support of the Drag Queen Story Hour and her vote against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which passed the House 93-5 last session. They called her vote support of infanticide.

Hansen, who was also one of the five, defended the vote, saying infanticide is already illegal and the vote was just a political gesture.

The meeting did not go without some confrontation. The woman speaking for the Family Policy Council disrupted the meeting to call time – there was a five-minute limit per person – on an African –American woman addressing council. That led to an angry exchange in the foyer and police intervention.

Someone then called time on her when she spoke, which led to more disturbance and loud chanting of “Black Lives Matter.”

Walker talked with the Dominion Post before the meeting and was the last to speak to council. She said beforehand, “I stand with the citizens of Fairmont and their actions and their wants, to ask for the resignation of the city councilman who decided to call me satanic.”

She told council that she feels concern and disappointment as an elected official. Bledsoe’s remarks were disrespectful and hurtful. “Who am I not to love my neighbor? Who am I not to pass judgment?”

She continued, “I am hurt I am scared. This one Facebook comment was a direct threat on my being.”

And she several times repeated the refrain, “I am a child of God.”

Tweet David Beard @dbeardtdp Email