FRAMINGHAM – A local Democrat promised to attend a city council meeting to apologize for complaining about the cost of special education for children with disabilities who are not aborted, but he skipped out after irate parents and disability advocates announced a protest.
Michael Hugo, the chair of the Framingham Democratic Committee said during a Feb. 7, Framingham, Massachusetts, city council meeting that special needs children who aren’t aborted are a financial drain to the school system. In a letter to the council the same night, he promised to attend the next meeting to apologize in person, then issued a written apology to the public after 10 days of backlash
“I thought he would be here this evening because he said he would be here this evening and would apologize publicly,” city council chair Philip Ottaviani said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I know he mentioned the other night he’d be in D.C., and tonight he texted me that he was in D.C. and unable to attend.”
Hugo told Fox News he hadn’t planned to attend the meeting. He said he was at a dinner reception with senators and members of Congress and that he was in Washington, D.C. to request additional funding for various local programs.
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Hugo, added that he was confused about when the Framingham City council met.
Hugo declined to make himself available for an interview.
Ottaviani said during Tuesday’s meeting that if he made remarks like Hugo’s, “there would be people calling for me to leave the room and not come back.”
“My wife would be telling me the same thing,” he added
‘Supplying lots and lots of special services to the children who were born with the defect’
Hugo’s initial comments concerned a potential city council proclamation about access to abortion and crisis pregnancy centers in Framingham. He expressed concern over unborn babies having misdiagnosed defects that may lead to a disabled child being born and causing strain on a school budget.
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“That becomes a very local issue because our school budget will have to absorb the cost of a child in special education, supplying lots and lots of special services to the children who were born with the defect,” Hugo said at the Feb. 7 meeting.
Immediately afterward, Hugo sent a letter to the council stating that he would attend the next meeting.
“I intend to appear before the City Council in your next meeting to personally apologize for the way my statement sounded, and to offer a more detailed explanation,” he wrote in the Feb. 7 letter.
On Feb. 17, Hugo apologized to the Framingham Democratic Committee and to members of the Massachusetts city’s disability family community, calling his comments “offensive and hurtful.” Hugo said the committee did not review his planned remarks, although he sent them out the night before the city council meeting.
The Framingham Democratic Committee rejected a motion on Sunday to include a discussion about potentially removing Hugo at a future meeting, though the members voted unanimously to condemn his remarks. Ottaviani, the city council chair who’s also a member of the committee, voted in favor of the effort.
“If Mr. Hugo had stepped down and we had leadership on the Framingham Dems, this would have gone away,” Ottaviani said during Tuesday’s city council meeting. “All I wanted was a discussion to move forward but its loud and clear that no one is resigning.”
Shortly before Tuesday’s city council meeting — the one Hugo initially said he’d attend — community members, parents and local officials protested outside city hall in to show support for the disability community.
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Mike Cannon, a Democratic city councilman who attended the protest, told Fox News that the Framingham Democratic Committee’s failure to pass a motion just discussing dismissing Huge “send a strong message to a lot of people in our community that maybe those comments haven’t been as strongly dismissed as they should’ve been.”
“I think that group needs a change of chair and a change of executive committee,” Cannon added.
‘Not going to belabor the issue further’
Hugo, who was in Washington D.C. during the meeting, also declined to Zoom into the meeting.
In a text message provided to Fox News, Ottaviani asked Hugo during the meeting if he would be calling in.
“I am in DC and I am unable to join you. I issued my apology the night of your meeting and am not going to belabor the issue further. I am at a dinner reception for a couple of Congress members and 3 senators,” Hugo replied.
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Cannon told Fox News that it is very common for guests and members to Zoom into meetings.
“I expected him to come or at the very least dial in, anyone can connect via Zoom,” Cannon told Fox News. “Based on what I hear from the community, this issue does not appear to be going away.”
Hugo’s absence meant that he missed opinions from angry parents during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
“A well-educated attorney should never think that a woman that gives birth to a child with a disability has just produced a burden,” said Cheryl Caira, whose daughter went through the Framingham public school system with down syndrome.
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Parents protest outside city hall
Susie Santone a disabled woman from Framingham at the protest, said she was upset about critics making the situation a partisan issue.
“It’s not about Democrat, it’s not about Republican, it’s about the children,” she said. “People are so entrenched in the political side of it that they are forgetting about the children.”
“You can apologize as much as you want but you have to back it up,” Santone added. “If you’re going to make an apology there has to be an action behind the apology otherwise they’re just blank words and there has been no action.”
She added that Hugo should step down to show “he understands the impact that his comment made.”
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And Jannett Leombruno, the city council’s vice chair who also attended the protest, said many community members didn’t feel Hugo’s apology was enough. She said he should resign.
“These kids have a right to be born,” she added, getting emotional. “We need to stand up for them.”
Jon Fetherston, who organized the demonstration, told Fox News he was disappointed Hugo did not show up.
“His insincere apology and ability to not even come and face the city council tonight shows you the true character of Michael Hugo. His character is flawed and I’m extremely disappointed,” Fetherston said. “It just proved once again that his apology is extremely disingenuous.”
“He didn’t even have the dignity to pick up the phone and call and apologize to the city council, so I think his actions speak so much louder than his pathetic words,” Fetherston added.
Hugo’s term expires in April 2024.
Fox News reached out to Hugo for comment about why he didn’t attend the meeting. He responded with a photo of a Congressional House Office Building pass dated March 1.
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“I am here to ask for increased local funding for housing, nutrition, mental healthcare and educational mental health and nutritional services,” Hugo said in a followup email. “I am here to do the work and as much as I wanted to be able to be at the council meeting last night, I have responsibilities to people who I can advocate for and who are unable to advocate for themselves.”
He did not explain why he didn’t Zoom into the meeting or if he will attend a future meeting.
To learn more about the backlash to Hugo, click here.