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Duff calls on Barbis to ‘do the right thing’

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis chats with a voter, Tuesday outside Rowayton Elementary School.

The election is over. Repercussions are unfolding.

NORWALK, Conn. – State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) has released a statement calling on Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis to not take the oath of office following his reelection.

“Unfortunately, the people of Norwalk did not have a chance to reject Board of Education member Mike Barbis and his hateful comments at the polls this Tuesday,” Duff said. “However, Mr. Barbis has the chance to do the right thing and not take the oath of office. It’s long past time for the city to move on from the constant divisiveness on the Board of Education and focus on the future of our children. I hope Mr. Barbis will do what’s best for Norwalk and not serve another term.”

Barbis is under fire due to an email he sent in June. A copy of the email was sent anonymously to Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams on Saturday, three days before the election. In it, Barbis calls South Norwalk Democrats a**** and defines opposition to a school construction plan as blacks versus Latinos.

Some say the email was sent to help Mayor Harry Rilling defeat Republican-endorsed challenger Lisa Brinton. Barbis had been openly campaigning for Brinton in the days before the election.

Barbis did not immediately reply to an email from NancyOnNorwalk asking for a reply to Duff’s statement. The state does not provide a legal mechanism for the Board of Education to remove Barbis from his post.

In 2015, then-BoE Chairman Jack Chiaramonte resigned from the Board of Education after racial comments he made on his private Facebook page became public via NancyOnNorwalk.

Barbis has refused previous NAACP calls for him to resign. The Norwalk Hour quotes him as saying this week that he will “absolutely not” resign, that District E voters endorsed him for reelection.

Barbis ran unopposed for reelection and received more than 2,300 votes. Mayor Harry Rilling has said that District E Democrats tried to find someone to oppose Barbis but failed. On Thursday, he said that Barbis has a stronghold in Rowayton and is thought unbeatable in a primary.

Norwalk Republicans did not endorse a candidate to oppose Barbis. Republican Town Committee Chairman Mark Suda denies that the RTC had a “deal” with Barbis.

18 comments

John ONeill November 8, 2019 at 3:15 pm

I would have to agree with Bob Duff that maybe another election in Rowayton maybe needed. I would also say the Norwalk NAACP chapter should put partisan politics aside and hold Duff’s feet to the fire on inadequate support from Hartford for Norwalk School funding. For goodness sakes, our ELL population has doubled in 10 years. How much add’l funding have we gotten from Hartford of Feds during this period. ZERO..TALK IS CHEAP. Grabbing headlines accomplishes Nothing. If I was an African American parent, I’d be ticked off that our mostly Democratic Reps have done zilch for us where it counts. The classroom. It still baffles me that groups that should be know, or care are oblivious to the fact that their kids are being short changed. The Barbis situation is about the present, the lack of support for ELL programs is about the future. There’s an old saying: People who don’t look forward will eventually walk into street pole. Maybe, I’m wrong and there’s lots going on behind the scenes. If that’s true there’s another old saying: “Show me the money”..

Nora King November 8, 2019 at 4:00 pm

Bob needs to give it up. He has been trying to mess with the BOE for the past four years. Barbis had more votes than Harry, Lisa, or Tom in District E. District E – which Barbis represents – wants Barbis. Duff and the rest of the team can’t handle Mike because his ideas are usually spot on and go against what Duff wants. I think Duff should focus on getting our ELS funding fixed in Hartford and spend less time worrying about Mike Barbis.

Harry Rilling was wrong in his comment. No one wanted to run against Mike because they feel he is doing a good job. He is looking out for the interest of the District E area of Norwalk. District E is much bigger than just Rowayton. The urban core and South Norwalk have been controlling Norwalk politics for way to long. Bruce Morris and Brenda Penn Williams have been two of the most toxic people controlling this area for way too long.

Perhaps it is time for Bob Duff to step down since Norwalk hasn’t gotten its fair share of sales tax back, ELS funding and so many other things. The one thing I have learned about Bob is that he fights dirty and manipulates things behind the scenes. I would much rather deal with someone who tells you how it is then one who calls the Press and announces programs like Fix It First behind everyone’s back. Bob is delusional if he things the BOE isn’t in a better place today because of Mike B, Mike Lyons, Heidi, Byran M. and others that supported putting kids and schools first. Brenda Penn Williams and her crew for years suppressed growth and progress in academics and our school system. The only sad part to the election on Tuesday is having an entirely Democratic Board. The Board of Education has no place in politics and it should not be about political party.

Except for the inappropriate language – everything in that email was spot on with many of our elected officials feeling the exact same way. They just didn’t put it down on paper. From the Mayor down to the Council they have expressed many of the views that were in that email.

Steve Mann November 8, 2019 at 5:40 pm

With all due respect, Bob, this is way off base. It’s become all too common to ask someone to resign over something as heinous as offensive after shave. I don’t know Mike Barbis, I think we exchanged hello’s once, but all I saw in his emails were frustration. Not racism, not hatred, not partisanship. The party that claims that “our democracy is being shredded” certainly has no tolerance for democracy.

TRS November 8, 2019 at 5:50 pm

Did Duff apologize to Lisa yet for calling her a racist, simply because she has an “R” attached to her name as didn’t denounce Trump?
Bob, we are waiting on YOU to “do the right thing.”

Victor Cavallo November 8, 2019 at 7:15 pm

Mike: Resist. If you capitulate you will allow these politically motivated bullies to destroy Norwalk education and turn this city into a place that conscientious parents would avoid living in-more than it is now. Help us hold back the forces that want to reverse the progress of the last decade and turn Norwalk into another Bridgeport. At least you can help slow its decline.

Mimi November 8, 2019 at 9:49 pm

Senator Bob Duff should do the right thing and step down for abusing his power. Term limits, please. Enough already. I’m still reeling from the antics he has displayed this past campaign season. There are a large number of residents who are furious over the dirty politics employed by Duff and the good ol’ boys during this mayoral election. The public is finally starting to awaken to how he rolls. Half of Norwalk’s voters should call upon Bob Duff to apologize to them for character slandering a mayoral candidate whom they supported with baseless allegations of xenophobia and racism, and, by extension, for offending, dismissing and marginalizing them as immigrant hating Trump disciples (I love immigrants and I detest Trump, Bob Duff!) who harbor racist ideas. Shame.

Bob Duff should apologize to his constituents for playing them as political pawns for vote solicitation, using divisive smear tactics to mislead less informed residents. Someone needs to remind him that he is a public servant, not an overlord. He is by no means above the law. His role is to represent and serve all of us equitably, not wield his power to pit one half of us against the other half and/or dish out retribution to certain targets for his own political agenda.

Did Bob Duff read the article/see the video of the NAACP meeting where it was mentioned that the fish rots from the head down, and where Rilling was told that perhaps he should be let go for perpetuating this unfortunate situation? Does Duff realize he and Rilling are perceived by many as the fish head, or is he too trapped in his warm and fuzzy Facebook echo chamber to figure this out? Did he read that Mr. Esdaile is going to make some noise with higher ups in Hartford? I hope Mr. Esdaile calls out Duff along with Rilling as the crux of the matter when he does.

Ironically, it seems Democrat Senator Duff has taken a page out of the Trump playbook, incorporating Trump’s signature strategy of distracting to deflect from his own failures and shortcomings (not bringing home the $bacon$ from Hartford, shortchanging Norwalk’s children of education funding, not addressing the ELS formula, particularly hurting Norwalk’s children most in need). Senator Duff either needs to be held accountable to get his act together, or he needs to step down or be voted out, whichever comes first. There. I said it. I said it for all the people who feel the same way I do, but fear retribution if they speak up.

TRS November 8, 2019 at 10:36 pm

Aren’t the democrats supposed to be the party of “tolerance?” For the last three years (at least!) they have been anything but….
If they disagree with something they will now CRUCIFY that person.

Sue Haynie November 9, 2019 at 6:18 am

Mike Barbis, ignore Duff and Rilling, this is about power more than anything else. You are a great and effective BOE member who gives tirelessly of his time.

Those trying to muzzle you are doing so because they know you speak your mind and they fear that. They don’t want the truth, they want a choir member.

“The state does not provide a legal mechanism for the Board of Education to remove Barbis from his post.”

M Murray November 9, 2019 at 8:47 am

This isn’t a decision for Bob Duff, the Mayor, or anyone else but the people of District E. They nominated him, they saw the email which was suspiciously released just a few days fore the election, and they gave him more than 2,200 votes. It is up to them to demand his resignation, not outsiders. He is one man on the board, and if others on the board disagree with his positions, they can outvote him. I have yet to hear any of these Democratic politicians call on Governor Lamont to “do the right thing” and reject tolls on passenger vehicles like he said during his campaign. Not one has demanded Joe Gabon do the right thing as a convicted crooked politician and step away from politics. Seems a little partisan in my opinion for them to pontificate on this one, yet ignore the same things within their own party.

John ONeill November 9, 2019 at 9:16 am

The Racist word is used much too often. Maybe it’s justified. One might argue a racist is one who reallocates resources from one group and directs it to another group. Negatively effecting one group..If you agree with that logic, the old adage people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones comes to mind. If I was that negatively effected group I’d be raising hell..All I hear are crickets. I can’t understand why.

DrewT November 9, 2019 at 9:39 am

Really Bob!?’ I’m still waiting for you to resign for threatening me when you did during the July 4th Fireworks from a few years ago! You have ZERO to do with this. Maybe you should let us know where the $5 Million you wasted with POKO is!? Maybe you should actually go back to Hartford and actually fight for Norwalk.

John Miller November 9, 2019 at 11:03 am

The election os over folks. Enough with the partisan sniping already. The record of the last BOE speaks for itself; Norwalk has one of the best if not the best urban school districts in the State. It would be nice, however, if our Senate Majority Leader would help the old home town out with more ELL and ECS funding. It would also be nice if the citizens of our wonderful City took the time to be well informed and actually participated in the local electoral process – a 30% voter participation rate is an absolute disgrace. Don’t complain about what you get when you don’t get your lazy tails to the polls. And please stop conflating local politics with national politics. Doing so just proves that you are ill informed.and simply don’t care.

Joanna Cooper November 9, 2019 at 12:36 pm

Mike Barbis is the last guy standing with an independent opinion on the BoE that can’t be controlled. Meek is gone. The Democratic Party controlled by Duff, Camacho and Rilling need total control. They need it as they are about be exposed for the crisis they created. Barbis is being targeted because he is a threat to the Democratic Parties ability to snooker tax payers with a false narrative.

This ELL situation is a real crisis. The BoE is sixty percent of the city’s budget. We don’t have the money to fund this crisis. We will see that the grand list didn’t grow despite all the development. When the hundreds of disputes over taxes are resolved we won’t have the funds then either. If you think this is about Barbis and an email your not paying attention to what’s going on in this city. Our taxes will be increasing and our property values will continue to fall. Camacho leads the Board of Tax and Estimate and he won’t have a good solution. Duff has already proven he won’t come up with the funds as he traded away our needs for political favors in Hartford. Duff’s crying racism is an act of desperation.

Claire schoen November 9, 2019 at 1:20 pm

NancyOnNorwalk is hosting its second annual “friendraiser” – a post-election get-together at Fat Cat Pizza, Monday, November 18 (a week from Monday) at 630 pm.

Please join us to meet fellow readers, commenters and civic-minded Norwalkers. Let’s all sit down and mend some fences, have some pizza and look forward to working together – with civility!

See you then ~

carol November 9, 2019 at 2:39 pm

duff.YOU DO THE RIGHT THING STEP DOWN. we do not need you,you do nothing for norwalk. Barbis,tells the truth and the dems can’t take it
Mike stay strong,we are with you.

mom on the move November 12, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Our family has been looking to buy a house in a solid school district. I’ve been closely following everything in Norwalk (and surrounding) for about a year, and all the bickering, infighting and nastiness have resulted in our choosing to move to another town. I love Norwalk. I identify closest to it in terms of culture and community, moreso than any other neighboring city or town. But the hurling of accusations and name calling; the finger-pointing and then, finally, this anonymous email designed to undermine… who or what, remains to be seen, I suppose. But I read the email. I do not know Barbis, and he may well be a horrible person or a bully or any other number of things; but not one word did I read as racist in THAT specific email. These public stories and articles are all I (most of us) have to go by. And for me – a woman of color – I walked away feeling that the race card was being used as a tool to obliterate a hated opponent rather than an actual racist act having been committed. And that offends me. When actual racism occurs, it needs to matter, be recognized and dealt with. False accusations undermine progress. This situation seems – from a pure spectator perspective – like next-level infighting designed to fuel fires, undermine progress and satisfy egos. It’s not a good look.

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