Niskayuna — Town Comptroller Paul C. Sebesta — suspended on Tuesday over allegations he wore blackface with a Halloween costume in 2014 — retired on Thursday.
Sebesta addressed the controversy in a letter written to members of the Town Board, a letter that also included his intention to leave his position.
“The Halloween costume I wore in 2014, purchased in St. Kitts during a very special Caribbean cruise, was hurtful to the people I have given my heart and soul to for the past 32 years,” wrote Sebesta, a Niskayuna native who also served as the town’s director of human resources. “That is why I removed the photo from my social media account years ago when it was brought to my attention.
“However, rather than continue to cause harm to the community I love, I have decided to step aside,” Sebesta also wrote.
“My continued employment is no longer in the best interest of either the town of Niskayuna or myself,” he added. “Therefore, effective immediately, please accept this notice of my retirement from the town.”
A group calling itself “Progressive Schenectady” expressed their concerns about the photo — some screenshots had survived — to Town Board members earlier this week. The blackface allegations were discussed during a Town Board executive session on Wednesday.
“Wearing blackface has long been seen as a demeaning reinforcement of stereotypes, and this behavior by, not just a town official, but by the director of human resources is unconscionable and needs to be addressed,” Progressive Schenectady wrote in a notification to town officials.
Town Board members spoke against the use of blackface in any context, with one member describing facial coloring as “an ignorant and degrading practice” and another saying the town must have a “zero tolerance for racism.”
In suspending Sebesta, the board launched an independent investigation into the matter. Supervisor Yasmine Syed could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
Sebesta, who served under six supervisors, had been planning to retire, he said. In his letter, he reminded the board he started a recruitment campaign in mid-March — before COVID-19 closures were ordered — to find a successor as comptroller.
“I had informed the Town Board of my intention to retire the end of April and have only remained on due to the continued closure and to eventually assist with the selection and training of my successor when we were able to resume semi-normal operations,” Sebesta wrote.
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]