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A Rochester couple denied allegations of racism. Then came a confession

Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia and her husband Nicholas Nicosia, pictured at their press conference in Rochester, NY, on Tuesday. The two deny allegations of racism and now blame "cancel culture" for the backlash they have faced after throwing an allegedly bigoted party.
Screenshot by NPR/T Davis
Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia and her husband Nicholas Nicosia, pictured at their press conference in Rochester, NY, on Tuesday. The two deny allegations of racism and now blame "cancel culture" for the backlash they have faced after throwing an allegedly bigoted party.

Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia and her husband, Nicholas Nicosia, wanted to clear their names after being accused of throwing a racist party. So, they made a plan and held a press conference this week.

Step one: The wealthy, white couple from Rochester, N.Y., adamantly defended themselves against what Znidarsic-Nicosia called "false claims of racism."

Step two: Znidarsic-Nicosia confessed to a room full of reporters that she also happens to run a racist, anonymous Twitter account.

"In full disclosure, 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," she admitted.

"The culture of Twitter operates that way. It gives you an opportunity to be someone you're not," she explained.

The couple came under fire after being named in a notice to sue filed by Jerrod Jones, a Rochester firefighter, against the city and the fire department. Jones, who is Black, said his former captain, Jeffrey Krywy, ordered him and other firefighters to attend the party thrown by the Nicosias on July 7, while they were all on duty.

Jones is seeking $3 million for emotional distress and at least $1 million in compensatory damages. Meanwhile, Krywy took an early retirement before the city could begin termination procedures.

Legal filing details alleged racist tropes on display at the July party

When the group arrived at the party, the filing states, "Jones felt immediately uneasy, and his uneasiness intensified as he walked up the driveway and noticed a large cut out of former President Donald Trump. Turning the corner at the end of the driveway and viewing the backyard he became completely shocked."

The large backyard was decorated with Juneteenth flags and cups that were placed near buckets of KFC and bottles of Hennessy cognac, according to the document.

The Nicosias' lawyer, Corey Hogan, told NPR that theme of the party was anti-liberal – the invitation called it the "1st annual Liberal Smashin Splish Splash Pool Party."" – but that it was being misconstrued by Jones as racist.

Lawyer argues there is no evidence that his clients are racist

Hogan has repeatedly challenged reporters — including this reporter — to find any evidence supporting the claims that either of his clients are bigots, arguing that Znidarsic-Nicosia's Twitter account does not count.

While the real estate agent did not disclose her anonymous Twitter handle, the now-defunct @HoHoHomeboyROC account used the image of a bust of a Black mammy that she admitted she owns. Screengrabs of previous posts include other anti-Black imagery, reposts of other accounts trolling Black people – often in an offensive interpretation of Black vernacular – and several fake ads for KFC.

Hogan also indicated that Znidarsic-Nicosia runs additional Twitter accounts. "I think she has a number of different handles," he said.

During the press conference, the pair broke down into tears. Znidarsic-Nicosia cried, saying, "The allegations of this narrative have caused my family almost unbearable pain." Her husband, a dentist, wept as he said, "Cancel culture can be cruel."

He then added that he has lost patients at his dental practice because of Jones' allegations. "The only thing I hate more than racism, is allegations of racism," he said.

On Friday, their lawyer suggested that neither holds a single racist belief. He remarked several times that Rochester Mayor Malik Evans attended a function at the Nicosia residence about a year and a half ago, and that the couple also has a Black Jamaican woman living in a guest house on the property.

"She was not invited to the party," he later clarified, adding that of the dozen or so guests in attendance, Jones was the only African American.

Hogan also said that Znidarsic-Nicosia's apology at the press conference was sincere and heartfelt. Additionally, he said, "some members of the Black community, have reached out to see whether we can now use this as an excuse to do some healing."

Jones' lawyer told NPR that his client "is in talks with the city and the fire department," and that it is too soon to decide whether to move forward with a lawsuit.

Meantime, Znidarsic-Nicosia has since been removed as a member of the Landmark Society of Western New York, and Nicosia announced his resignation from the Highland Hospital board of directors.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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