SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas is being criticized by some on social media for posts made recently about a handicapped woman who showed support for one of his opponents.
Thomas told us that the woman, JoAnn Sepela came to an event on Saturday sponsored by the Windsor Forest Neighborhood Association and disrupted the event.
Sepela spoke with us saying that is simply untrue. She told us she drove her scooter around the park where the event was being held and that she had placed two signs on the scooter to support one of Thomas’s opponents. She says at one point someone (she believes it was an associate of Alderman Thomas) approached and began taking pictures. “And she was taking pictures of me on my scooter and then she went to the back and took pictures of my scooter,” Sepela told us.
Later that day Sepela returned home. On Monday, a friend called telling her that there were pictures of her on Tony Thomas’s Instagram. In that post, Thomas wrote that she was “mumbling incoherently and flailing her arms and that it brought laughs to many.”
Sepela says she has traded barbs on social media with Thomas for a while now but thinks that post was a low blow even for him.
“It angers me terribly and harassing, I mean that is harassment. And he thinks he can get away with it and apparently, he can,” said Sepela. “And the reason why I’m speaking out is not just because I’m handicapped, it’s for every handicapped person.”
Sepela told me she was serious accident years ago and that her legs were crushed. She had a long and difficult recovery process at the time and says it’s still very difficult for her to walk which is why she uses the scooter. She says that makes Thomas’s comments even more hurtful and disturbing to her. “And the reason why I’m speaking out is not just because I’m handicapped, it’s for every handicapped person,” she told me.
Thomas told me that he and Sepela have indeed exchanged barbs for some time on social media. “There’s been an incredible amount of misinformation that’s been spread, there’s been such libel spread by this lady,” Thomas told us.
He also said that Sepela had been disruptive at the event drawing attention to herself and that is why someone took pictures.
Thomas has been under fire before for harassing constituents and a few years ago, two women even attempted to take complaints to the city’s Ethics Committee. Those particular complaints against him were dropped.
I asked Thomas if it was appropriate to insult a constituent. “I wasn’t making fun of her, I think she came there to promote her candidate and I didn’t say a word to her (at that time.)”, Thomas told us.
He also said that Sepela seemed to be incoherent and that she had almost run into a child and a police horse at the event, something which Sepela says never happened.
Thomas did acknowledge using the pictures for his post but did not indicate that he has thought better of it in the past few days.
“I am not sorry that this happened,” said Thomas. “What I am sorry about is that she has used this situation for political gain and she obviously is using her disability as a crutch here to get some kind of political message out.”
In terms of the Saturday event, Sepela says she isn’t the one who drew attention to anything on social media. “I didn’t post anything about what happened, he did,’ Sepela said.