- PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA
- Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia and Dr. Nicholas Nicosia at a news conference on Aug. 23, 2022, that they said was intended to defend themselves against allegations of racism and to restore their reputations.
The wife of a prominent Rochester couple accused of hosting a racist Juneteenth parody party at their East Avenue home acknowledged Tuesday that she ran a Twitter account notorious for its racist posts.
Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia admitted that she was behind the social media account during a news conference that she and her husband, Dr. Nicholas Nicosia, and their lawyer staged at a Hilton Garden Inn in Pittsford. They said the event was intended to clear their names and restore their reputations.
While she did not refer to the account by name, even when pressed by reporters, she acknowledged that one of the profile photos used on the account was hers. The image was that of a bust of a “Smilin’ Sam from Alabam’ The Salted Peanut Man,” a Black caricature piggy bank that Znidarsic-Nicosia said was on display in her home.
The account, which went by the handle @HoHoHomeboyROC, and operated under a variety of usernames, including “Colonel Nathaniel Sanders,” had been active since November 2021 and routinely trolled Black people, elected officials, and journalists, often in a voice that mimicked Black Vernacular English.
Social media sleuths had begun attributing the account to Znidarsic-Nicosia about two weeks ago, after a Rochester firefighter announced his intention to sue the city and the Fire Department for being made to attend the gathering hosted by the Nicosias on July 7.
The firefighter, Jerrod Jones, who is Black, alleged that racist overtones permeated the party, which included a menu of Kentucky Fried Chicken, the presence of Hennessy cognac, and Juneteenth-themed signs and party favors. He said he was taken to the party by his captain while they were on duty. The captain, Jeffrey Krywy, has since resigned.
- PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
- Firefighter Jerrod Jones, right, and his lawyer, Nate McMurray, during a news conference on the steps of City Hall on Aug. 11, 2022. Jones intends to sue the city for being made to attend a party at the East Avenue home of Dr. Nicholas Nicosia and his wife, Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia.
In the ensuing days, Znidarsic-Nicosia denied being associated with the account in a brief interview with CITY last week. The account was deactivated later the same day.
But on Tuesday she revealed her online identity before a room full of reporters at the behest of her lawyer.
“I do have a Twitter parody account that operates under a veil of a persona and I have made blatantly racist comments under that persona,” Znidarsic-Nicosia said. “The culture of Twitter operates that way. It’s part of its charm. I don’t want to say charm, but it gives you an opportunity to be someone that you’re not in terms of a persona.
“And for these comments, I’d like to apologize to the African American community and other people in the community that I have hurt or offended by doing what I was doing on Twitter,” she said.
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Znidarsic-Nicosia went on to say that she has reflected on her actions and sought to distance herself from her racist online identity.
“The past 12 difficult days that I’ve been through, I’ve learned a lot. And I’ve learned that making a comment under a persona on Twitter is just as wrong and hurts just as much as saying it directly to someone in the room. And I think it’s a lesson learned certainly for me, and I think others can learn from the lesson,” she said.
“I’m not a racist person,” she went on. “I grew up in East Cleveland. Very diverse community. And I would challenge you that you would find anyone in the community that would tell you that I am. Nonetheless, I hold myself accountable. I’m ashamed. This wasn’t an easy thing to do, to get up here and tell you this. And I ask that you accept my apology, as it is sincere.”
'A LIBERAL-BASHING PARTY'
The Nicosias, through their lawyer and in their own words, took pains to cast the party as a small group of about a dozen friends who had gathered to poke fun at liberal politicians and causes and that there was nothing racist about their behavior.
“You will see that this event was a political event,” said the lawyer, Corey Hogan, a partner of the Buffalo law firm of HoganWillig. “There is absolutely no racism anywhere.”
His presentation included a slideshow of photos of the Nicosias’ backyard, their kitchen, and some of the paraphernalia at the party, most taken after the fact, that Hogan said refuted the notion that the fete was racist in theme. One image was of the invitation, which listed the gathering as the “1st Annual Liberal Smashin Splish Splash Pool Party.”
“There was no hint of racism,” Hogan said. “Kentucky Fried Chicken? There are 27,000 franchises of Kentucky Fried Chicken around the world. Four thousand in this country. Is everybody that pulls into a Kentucky Fried Chicken, like the Nicosias do probably every couple of weeks, are they a racist?”
“Hennessy cognac,” he added. “Millions, I think about 70 million bottles sold every year. It has a racial undertone to it. The Nicosias knew nothing about it. It was given away, a small bottle, as a prize. No racism.”
- PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA
- Corey Hogan, left, the lawyer for Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia and Dr. Nicholas Nicosia, points to a small Juneteenth lawn sign that he said was on display at the couple's party.
Running the slideshow from a computer at the side of the conference room was the conservative local radio personality Shannon Joy. She asked no questions during the news conference.
At one point, Hogan, who called Znidarsic-Nicosia's Twitter account “racist,” “wrong,” and “vile,” issued a challenge to the reporters in the room.
“I challenge you, the press, look into their backgrounds, find anything they’ve done in their lives, their 50-plus-year lives, that’s racist,” he said. “And before you then go after them, why don’t you take a look at what the facts are.”
A HISTORY OF RACIST TWEETS
On July 14, a week after the party, the Twitter account @HoHoHomeboyROC tweeted a doctored image of Black women scantily clad in tribal clothing toting buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
A couple of weeks later, on July 29, the account tweeted a racist Kentucky Fried Chicken parody ad marketing a “Black Lives Platter.” The tagline on the ad was “Get Digestin’ While Protestin’!” and promised the meal to be “So Good You Won’t Be Able to Breathe!”
Asked how tweets like those squared with her serving Kentucky Fried Chicken at a party alleged to have been racist, Znidarsic-Nicosia acknowledged the link but suggested it was coincidental.
“I’m aware of the perception of KFC. Was that the reason it is was in my home?” she said. “No. It was an easy meal.”
The couple also downplayed the presence of Juneteenth ephemera, including what they described as small lawn signs and plastic cups that they said were brought by one of their guests and purchased from a bargain bin at a discount store.
LAWYER BLAMES 'CANCEL CULTURE'
Their news conference carried on for 75 minutes, much of it devoted to the couple answering questions from reporters. The couple spoke of their pain at being outcast by their social circles and vilified on social media, and how their family’s safety had been threatened. Both of them were nearly moved to tears at different points during the event.
Nicosia at times appeared to distance himself from his wife and the party, while maintaining that he saw nothing racist about the gathering. He said that he invited no one and acted simply as a host to his wife’s guests, whom he called her “idiot friends.”
- PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA
- Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia and Dr. Nicholas Nicosia take questions from reporters about their party during a news conference on Aug. 23, 2022.
Nicosia also maintained that he had no knowledge of his wife's Twitter persona, and insisted her tweets were not representative of her. He characterized social media as a "cesspool."
"What I see, I think it gives people opportunities to be someone they're not," he said. "You know, that's why everyone seems to have aliases and it doesn't necessarily reflect the person."
But he dismissed the notion that his wife's alias could work the opposite way, allowing her to speak her mind under a shroud of anonymity.
"Since we've been married 35 years, I can tell you that's not true," he said.
The Nicosias had long held positions of prominence in greater Rochester, their stature bolstered by their involvement with charitable and political causes and high-profile organizations.
They raised money for cystic fibrosis and hosted fundraisers for candidates for elected office. Last year, for instance, the couple hosted a campaign event for Mayor Malik Evans, a Democrat. They were scheduled to host another for La’Ron Singletary, the former Rochester police chief who is running on the Republican ticket for Congress before he disassociated himself with the couple.
Nicosia was the vice chair of the board of directors at Highland Hospital and the team dentist for the Rochester Americans hockey team. Znidarsic-Nicosia was the vice president of development for the Landmark Society of Western New York.
All of those organizations quickly cut ties with the couple after the allegations about the party were made public, ousting them from their positions. Many of the politicians made public pronouncements that they would either return or donate the financial contributions the couple had made to their campaigns.
Nicosia lamented that two employees at his dental practice had quit, his patients had fled, and his business’s Google rating had fallen.
Hogan, the couple’s lawyer, attributed the severed relationships to “cancel culture” and “political correctness.” He hinted that his clients would be filing a defamation lawsuit against Jones, the firefighter who publicly cast the party as racist.
“They just all dumped them because of how powerful this cancel culture is,” Hogan said of the organizations that shunned the Nicosias. “Now they have to decide, do they live in Rochester anymore or do they move? Can they redeem their character? That’s maybe what the judicial system can do. We shall see.”
With reporting by Gino Fanelli.
David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at [email protected].