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Some new bigotry, some old bigotry

Four East Haven cops arrested by the FBI are accused of terrorizing the town’s Latinos by systematically discriminating against them, conducting illegal searches of businesses, stopping and detaining them for no reason and physically abusing them. More arrests are expected.

So when a reporter asked the mayor, Joseph Maturo, what he might do for this persecuted segment of his community, the mayor said he might go home and have tacos for dinner that night.

This was a response most people found less than satisfactory and then some. The New York Times said the mayor “has shown a stunning incapacity for understanding of the severity of the scandal in his government.”

The Hartford Courant said it more succinctly in an editorial headline: “The Mayor Is an Idiot.”

 Others, including the governor, saw him as boneheaded or repugnant, a bigot or a racist or the worst mayor ever. There were calls for his resignation from The Courant and The Times and various groups representing the cops’ victims.

But the chairman of the state Republican Party didn’t see it that way. Jerry Labriola described the mayor as “a dedicated public servant,” which appears to be a long way from a repugnant, boneheaded, bigoted, racist and idiotic public servant. But then, Maturo’s a Republican, who “works for all of the citizens of East Haven,” in the chairman’s view.

He even predicts a happy ending for all of this with the GOP and Latinos joining hands in a rendition of Kumbaya sometime soon: “Our party and the Latino community in Connecticut share many common interests, including core family values, fiscal responsibility and a strong work ethic. For this reason, I expect over time that Latinos will make up a growing portion of the base of the Republican Party.”

How the chairman sees this happening in the wake of this Republican mayor’s “let them eat tacos” policy will require further clarification.

The whole thing reminds me of another controversy involving an office holder who specialized in being offensive.

Remember the late Rep. Eugene Migliaro of Wolcott? He gained his initial moment of fame when he came up with his own, novel way of supporting gays in the military by suggesting, “Let’s just let them lollipops go fight the next war.”

Migliaro, a World War II Marine, later claimed the slur was “just the way an old Marine talks” and he was free of prejudice. On another occasion, when a gay legislator rose to ask him a question, the prejudice-free, old Marine said he hoped his colleague “doesn’t blow me a kiss.”

Migliaro made the lollipop remark 25 years ago and left the legislature a few years later to run successfully for mayor of Wolcott. He was in that job when an old buddy, Gov. John Rowland, named him commissioner of the state Veteran Affairs Department in 1995.

Rowland, the newly elected governor and, at 37, the youngest in Connecticut history, was quite full of himself in those days. He had a Republican majority in the Senate and saw the appointment as a way to annoy the Democrats.

And it was, after all, just the beginning of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era, when gays were told if they had to serve their country, they should keep quiet about it. Insulting gays was public policy.

What opposition there was came from Democratic legislators George Jepsen and Cameron Staples, who told Rowland, “By nominating someone whose record is clear on basic issues of tolerance, you sent a message … that homophobia will be tolerated.”

Rowland brushed off the criticism by claiming his nominee was merely colorful. “Maybe he’s not sophisticated and politically correct, but at the end of the day he’s still a champion of veterans,” Rowland said.

The opposition was fainthearted at best. When the veterans’ champion testified before the bipartisan Executive and Nominations Committee, no member asked about the lollipops remark and with only one house needed to vote on appointees, Migliaro was easily confirmed by the Republican Senate.

You’d like to think we’ve come a long way since Migliaro and his lollipops and in a way, we have. But then, East Haven comes along and we fear we’ve just traded in Migliaro’s lollipops for Maturo’s tacos.

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at dahles@hotmail.com.

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