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Norwalk NAACP leader condemns Barbis anew; Barbis apologizes, accuses Rilling camp

From left are Norwalk Board of Education member Bruce Kimmel, Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams and Norwalk BoE Chairman Mike Barbis. Kimmel said Saturday that he’s going to run for Board Chairman this term.

The election is Nov. 5.

Editor’s note: this story includes the content of an offensive email and references to offensive language.

NORWALK, Conn. – An email sent by Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis in June spurred outrage Saturday after it was sent anonymously to Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams.

“He is a horrible and racist person,” Penn-Williams wrote, after blasting the expletive-laced email to at least 17 people and at least three reporters.

Barbis confirmed that he sent the email.

“I do regret sending this email and apologize for doing so.  I wish it had never come to this,” he wrote, early Sunday.

 

 

‘I am SICK OF THIS’

Penn-Williams said she was enjoying a community event in Bridgeport when the forwarded email landed and became very upset. She had no idea who sent it, three days before an election, or why, she said.

The June 5 email centered on the Columbus School renovate-or-demolish controversy. It said:

“Screw building schools in South Norwalk – if those {a*******} don’t want them, let’s build them where they do

“We’ve spent over 3 years and we have just been {F*****} at every turn – Morris, Simms, Young, Dumas, Mushak, Westmoreland and now Livingston.

“These are the people that gave us Mosby, Rivas, Murray – who did NOTHING for 20 years

“I am SICK OF THIS

“I lost another friend in his 50s yesterday

“Life is too short

“Please stand by for a revised plan – the Board is DISGUSTED with these {a******} DEMOCRATS from south Norwalk

“They don’t even represent their residents – don’t forget 15% of our students are black.  50% are Latino.  Where is the Latino voice.  Who is fighting for those children????

“Not one representative from South Norwalk, not one

“They are all SCUM and I am going to tell the press – Nancy won’t care but the Hour just might

“Blacks {f***} Latinos

“That’s the headline.”

NancyOnNorwalk got no replies to emails sent to former State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140), State Rep. Travis Simms (D-140), Common Council member Darlene Young (D-District B), Council member Ernie Dumas (D-District B), Planning Commissioner Mike Mushak, and Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E).

Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Commissioner David Westmoreland said he saw nothing in the email that is worth commenting on.

“I sent this out of complete frustration,” Barbis wrote, continuing:

“There are over 1,000 students in South Norwalk who have been and continue to be bussed all over the city.  These students are almost exclusively African American and Latino.  They cannot go to a neighborhood school like the rest of the students in Norwalk.

“Sadly this situation has been going on for over 40 years.

“NPS been trying to build 2 schools in South Norwalk so that these students can go to a neighborhood school – they could walk to school, they could partake in after school activities and their parents would be able to engage in the school community

“Unfortunately, after 3+ years, neither one of these schools is under construction

“How is trying to provide a neighborhood school and fighting for these students racist?”

 

He continued, “NPS could drop the SoNo plans and go back to the St. Phillips School proposal to add critically-needed capacity to our school system.  But doing so would condemn more generations of South Norwalk children to hours sitting in busses each week and less educational opportunities.  My frustration with these efforts to undercut minority kids’ educational opportunities spilled over in my confidential email to the Mayor and his close political team.”

 

 

 

Electoral implications

Penn-Williams and Barbis have been publicly at odds for more than a year, after a NancyOnNorwalk Freedom of Information request revealed that Barbis had urged other Board members not to attend the annual NAACP Freedom Fund banquet.

Before that tensions were already high, as Penn-Williams was outspoken regarding education issues affecting her community and some Board members took open offense.

NancyOnNorwalk recently asked Democratic incumbent Mayor Harry Rilling and his Republican-endorsed challenger, Lisa Brinton, about the situation.

Rilling said he thought the situation had cooled, and that he’d thought months ago that he had a meeting scheduled for Barbis and Penn-Williams to talk it out, but Barbis had taken offense and cancelled.

Brinton said she “absolutely” would be able to get Barbis and Penn-Williams to talk. “Brenda and I know Mike have reconciled at various times, and there’s been kisses on the cheeks.”

Penn-Williams said Saturday, “I will NOT. I will never say another word to that racist again. How do you call people a*******?”

NancyOnNorwalk asked if she might have been willing before the alleged email landed. She said no.

“I think he’s behind a lot of stuff. There’s no chance of me being friends with Mike Barbis,” she said.

As for “kisses on the cheek,” Penn-Williams said that on June 5, the same day the alleged email was sent, she attended an event at the South Norwalk Library. Barbis walked up to her and kissed her on the cheek. She kept walking and someone congratulated her afterwards on her restraint, she said.

Rilling declined to comment Saturday.

Brinton has called Barbis a “dear friend.” NancyOnNorwalk emailed her Saturday and asked if she’s ever heard Barbis talk like that, if she agreed with his opinion of South Norwalk Democrats, if she is still confident that she could mend the rift, and if the email changed her opinion of Barbis. She did not reply.

Barbis is running unopposed for reelection. District E Democrats sought an alternative candidate but couldn’t find anyone willing to serve in the time-consuming volunteer role, Rilling said in the recent interview.

Penn-Williams said she’s heard that the Board could vote Barbis off. It would take a two-thirds vote, a source said.

Penn-Williams, in forwarding the alleged email to others, wrote, “This is the person behind all the negativity. Check out this email and you can come to your own conclusions about what’s going on.”

“WOW,” was one reply. Another person said, “It should go public make it go viral and let the taxpayers decide.”

 

‘Why didn’t they release it in June?’

Barbis called the timing of the leak “peculiar.”

“This email was sent to only four people on June 5, 2019 (five full months ago) – Mayor Rilling, Assistant Laoise King, DTC Chair Ed Camacho, and DTC Vice Chair Eloisa Melendez.  They’ve known about the email for five months, yet apparently decided to keep it confidential and only arrange its leak it three days before the election – and one day after Travis Simms and Ernie Dumas endorsed Lisa Brinton for Mayor,” he wrote. “If they had felt the email was ‘newsworthy’ why didn’t they release it in June?  Obviously one or more of them think they can undercut the Simms and Dumas endorsements and generate some votes by leaking it just before the election.”

“That’s the problem with emails. You would think Mike would have learned this lesson by now,” King wrote early Sunday. “The email was forwarded to other people at the time it was received. I have no idea who those people forwarded it to or who those people might have forwarded it to. The bottom line is this is what Mike sent out, and once an email is sent you lose control over who might see it in the future.”

She pointed out that Barbis wrote the email on his public email address, so someone could have obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“What I do know is that no one on the original email chain released this,” King asserted. “We have been focused on trying to mend the racial tensions between certain members of the BOE and the black community – not inflame them.  Which as you can see from the tenor of Mike’s email has been next to impossible.

I’m sure someone else who had seen this email back in June thought Ernie and Travis might be interested to know what Lisa’s best friend and biggest supporter thinks of them and their colleagues in South Norwalk.”

 

BoE members react

The Barbis incendiary email was atop other commentary, including references to an email from Board of Education member Bruce Kimmel.

Kimmel said he hadn’t seen the Barbis email before Saturday. He plans to run for Board chairman, a post available after the election, he said. He wrote:

“The language on that email is offensive and unacceptable.

“The board is working hard to build a new school in South Norwalk. The goal is to provide every student in South Norwalk the education they deserve.

“We will engage all stakeholders as we continue to improve education throughout the district.”

 

Board member Barbara Meyer Mitchell said she hadn’t seen the email. She wrote, “I don’t have any idea who did this, and continue to wonder who leaked the Lyons email this Winter.”

She wouldn’t vote for Barbis for Chairman and didn’t vote for him last year, she said.

Board member Sarah LeMieux also said she hadn’t seen the email. “As far as I have heard, Mr. Barbis is not going to run for chair next term,” she wrote. “Other board members have expressed an interest, but I don’t feel like it’s my place to announce that on anyone’s behalf. We’re going to have several new board members after Tuesday, and I plan to work with everyone to continue to try to improve communication and build relationships across the district.”

She later wrote, after Kimmel announced his plan, that, “ I would support his bid to seek the chairmanship this term.”

27 comments

The Norwalker November 3, 2019 at 6:50 am

Should Mike Barbis be allow to get away with this? Should Mike Barbis recuse himself from Board Activity?

I am also sadden by Lisa Brinton’s lighthearted view on this Letter. Anyone who didn’t have access to that email probably would have had a different reaction to Mike Barbis in prior months if they would have seen the email.

Nancy McGuire November 3, 2019 at 7:32 am

Preachy comment, but true.

Is anyone involved in this argument by any chance a Christian? I know there are few left in our society these days. But if so, consider how much freedom might be gained from the concept of forgiveness.

A House divided cannot stand.

Instead of throwing a punch for the children, why not toss out a little forgiveness? Really. Both Penn-Williams and Barbis want the same success for the children of South Norwalk.

Not Surprised November 3, 2019 at 7:46 am

Ms Penn-Williams

It is a dodge to call someone a racist when they don’t seem to be. To wit, I don’t see any reference in Mr Barbis’s comments that are racist. Clearly he is very angry – and from the gist of the coverage and e-mail his frustration is focused on things not happening that maybe should.

His “unacceptable” language, as Mr Kimmel states, seemed to be directed at Democrat’s, both black and white in this case.

Very sad to have to prove you are not racist, after being accused as such, before you can then tackle the problem at hand.

While Mr Barbis may be “pissed off” he is no racist. It’s very clear he is arguing on behalf of the unrepresented minority/ majority population.

Bobby Lamb November 3, 2019 at 8:03 am

The company Lisa keeps is disturbing. Is she going to publicly condemn Barbis? What about the horrible and crazy videos Donna Smirniotopolous (spelling) is sending around ranting about “sanctuary” policies ruining our city? And we still haven’t heard her condemn the president’s racist remarks. For someone who is claiming over and over not to be a racist she doesn’t seem to mind when her friends and supporters say disgusting things about minorities. Just check out her personal Facebook page. She’s at almost every event with Barbis or Donna. Is she ok with what they’re saying or not?

DrewT November 3, 2019 at 8:50 am

WOW The timing of the email and other nonsense by the Rilling Campaign and rest of the Democrats should send a LOUD message to the people of Norwalk..They are Afraid this Tuesday!! And they have every right to be! LISA FOR NORWALK !!! Vote Row B!!!

Bryan Meek November 3, 2019 at 11:00 am

Education professionals with experience across the country have remarked to me that they’ve never ever seen anything like Norwalk CT. Typically communities would rally around the idea of new schools in their urban cores. Only in Norwalk do we have elected and appointed leaders who actively fight against them. What is hard to take is constant badgering that we aren’t doing enough for the kids by the very same people who are working hard to deny them modern neighborhood schools where they can learn, play, and grow instead of sitting on busses for 10 hours a week. The plan for Ely actually creates more park space than what is currently there, so the excuse that we are taking park space doesn’t fly. What is the reason for such resistance?

Mike Mushak November 3, 2019 at 12:15 pm

For the record, neither David Westmoreland nor myself were ever opposed to the new Ely School plan nor the Columbus School renovation-as-new plan.

What we were strongly against, along with many others in our community, was demolishing the solidly-built neo-colonial Columbus School built in 1939 in the heart of the SoNo Historic District and replacing it with an ugly suburban school that would be highly inappropriate in this location . We supported its renovation and expansion however.

It was worth noting that the Columbus School is the same age and style as the former Norwalk High repurposed into City Hall in 1988, and the as well as the 1939 “sister building” to Columbus which is the 1939 Ben Franklin School repurposed into NEON and now an attractive and vital community center on Flax Hill with the awesome Crystal Theatre. These historic buildings add character to the new uses they support and help preserve our architectural history we are so proud of.

Mike Barbis is well-known to fly off the handle and call names, and I’m glad he apologized. Ms. Williams is justified in her reaction to the email, and it just supports what she has been saying all along.

What’s so disturbing was Mike Barbis’s eagerness along with Brian Meek to decide they knew what was best for SoNo and decided to demolish a beloved historic landmark in our community without consulting P and Z or the Historic Commission (which voted unanimously to condemn the demolition plan), and made a decision to fully demolish Columbus without enough facts and which would cost taxpayers millions more.

Lisa Brinton also supported this approach, which contradicts her claims she supports preserving our communities and saving taxpayers money. This flawed and flimsy plan did neither!

. In this case, Lisa supported wasting millions of taxpayer dollars to destroy a solid brick building, only months after Norwalk hosted a national conference at the Wall Street Theater by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, on the many envrironmental and social benefits of saving and repurposing historic buildings. It was embarrassing to witness this in our great city to be honest.

This is why we support the steady and professional Harry Rilling and all the diverse Democrats on Row A on Tuesday, notwithstanding the continuing pettiness of unopposed Barbis and his old friend Lisa Brinton, and her completely incompetent treasurer and like-minded flamethrower and Trump supporter Brian Meek.

The Norwalker November 3, 2019 at 3:22 pm

Lisa Brinton sells herself as a Independent and Unaffiliated, but she still is the endorsed candidate of the Republican Party.

Ron Morris November 3, 2019 at 3:34 pm

Bobby Lamb
I would not hold my breath waiting for Lisa to condemn Barbis. I have asked her several times if she condemns the policies of Trump like splitting families for example.She has never once replied, so I take that as she does not condemn it.
It seems much like Trump that she does not want to upset her base.

ANYONE BUT LISA

Ron Morris November 3, 2019 at 3:42 pm

So Kimmel plans to run for Board chairman. This is the same Kimmel that pushed for cops to sit in thiers city owned running cars at dirt jobs at $65.00 plus per hour. We could have had the alternative of fragment for $25.00 per hour actually directing traffic at these sites. However Kimmel sided with the unions instead of the taxpayer.

Tysen Canevari November 3, 2019 at 4:25 pm

I love the Democratic fear factor. The same old stupid comments from a select few. Lisa has run a solid professional campaign and yet people attack her over and over for doing so. Do you attack Harry for giving his assistant a $36,000 raise. laughable

Gordon Tully November 3, 2019 at 6:36 pm

Watching this soap opera from Charlottesville (where Jefferson lived, not Charlotte NC) I am deeply envious of Norwalk to have Nancy revealing what’s going on. Where else could you find reporting at this level of accuracy and depth? You are fantastically lucky and should support her, as I continue to do. Cville has plenty of race relation problems, but seems to be dealing with them more creatively than you guys are.

TRS November 3, 2019 at 6:47 pm

Mike Barbis is not a racist. Since when does the a-word make someone racist? Only in today’s pitchfork society.Sad.

Also, Mike Barbis is right…it is CRIMINAL that South Norwalk children have to be bused OUT to other schools all over the city. It’s 2019, for crying out loud! Let these kids and families have their OWN school, rather than bus them out to Cranbury, Rowayton, etc. The current system makes ZERO sense.

Lisa Brinton November 3, 2019 at 7:37 pm

Sorry to disappoint, but I did tell Mr. Barbis to apologize. However, if the only take away from the email exchange with the mayor and company was the use of expletives, then the public has learned NOTHING about NPSs growing student enrollment problem.

At issue with the new school was/is open space. On several occasions, I pointed out the unfairness of the land swap, where South Norwalk residents were expected to give up open space for the new school and in exchange suddenly found it ‘replaced’ on the other side of town in West Norwalk. How ridiculous!

I was informed by Mr. Barbis it was the mayor’s office, who instructed no purchase of ‘new land’ would be allowed. It had to come from existing space. The net result on both sides was anger, frustration and a delay in new school construction until suitable open space was identified.

Meanwhile the clock continues to tick regarding overcrowded classrooms and our ability to fund them.

Call me crazy, but the sudden release of this private email to the mayor and his closest confidants is a little suspect with an election 24 hours away. That is not to condone Mr. Barbis’ tone. However, its release seems intent on 1) embarrassing Mr. Barbis and 2) sowing more division in a community already shortchanged and increasingly gentrified. It’s self serving and misguided.

SoNo children need a local school and the SoNo community deserves open space. I’m committed to both. I’m also committed to impressing upon the state the need for more funding assistance. We desperately need it.

Bryan Meek November 3, 2019 at 7:50 pm

The Planning commissioner is steadfast on his need to preserve the historic nature of the SoNo neighborhood……when it comes to giving kids a modern facility with safety measures not capable in the old building……but was ok with the container ship looking mall becoming the gateway for SoNo. Got it.

MarjorieM November 3, 2019 at 10:20 pm

If the local people now believe that the Barbis comments are not racist, then the spin doctors in Norwalk have done their job. There is no way to interpret these comments other than racist. Come on,folks! Think for yourselves. Also, BRINTON and BARBIS are a team. Think about what that means.

C cast November 4, 2019 at 7:48 am

I don’t see racism I see frustration .. if he ignored the needs of South Norwalk he would have been condemned…do not use that term loosely for political gain

MarjorieM November 4, 2019 at 10:08 am

I do not use the term racist loosely. The expletives (a**h*l**, f****d, , used by Barbis, the word SCUM, the quote- ‘These are the people that gave us Mosby, Rivas, Murray – who did NOTHING for 20 years.’ Those are racist terms to most people.
Why is Barbis and BRINTON fighting so hard for a school in South Norwalk? Barbis says it is because he wants them to have a neighborhood school. Of course a neighborhood school keeps the 15% Black population segregated.
“Busing as a political term … was a failure, because the narrative that came out of it from the media and politicians was almost only negative,” said Matt Delmont, a Dartmouth historian who wrote a book titled “Why Busing Failed.” “It only emphasized the inconvenience to white families and white students.”

A political failure does not necessarily mean an educational failure, though, as Delmont and others have pointed out. Indeed, research has consistently shown that integrated schools offered, and still offer, tangible benefits to students of color.

Since public schools in many places today remain intensely segregated by race and socioeconomic status, this issue is not just a historical one.

“School integration didn’t fail,” Berkeley economist Rucker Johnson, who has conducted some of the most far-reaching research on school integration, recently argued. “The only failure is that we stopped pursuing it and allowed the reign of segregation to return.”

Babar November 4, 2019 at 10:50 am

Grow up people. Doesn’t sound racist at all and there is nothing wrong with using colorful language. I’m a big fan of bad words but not racist language. His past behavior is what makes this seem worse than it is. I’m not a big fan of Barbis or Meek but things are getting a little carried away now. Everyone wants to be pissed off all the time it seems like. People who want to preserve old buildings need to find better causes to care about.

Bobby Lamb November 4, 2019 at 12:12 pm

C Cast and Lisa Brinton – how this can be seen as anything other than racist is beyond me. Lisa – this isn’t about an apology for using foul language. The email is condescending, demeaning and disrespectful to the black community. It is fine to disagree with positions taken by others and it’s fine to get frustrated. But there is no excuse for this vitriolic diatribe. He should not hold public office if this is the way he thinks about the black community. And neither should you if you can’t see what a problem this is.

Bobby Lamb November 4, 2019 at 12:14 pm

I will also point out Lisa and Barbis’s responses have to do with the Ely school site. The email at hand was not about open space or busing or neighborhood vs magnet school. It was about whether to renovate an historic building or knock it down and build a new building. The rage in this email is completely disproportionate to the topic.

Claire schoen November 4, 2019 at 12:24 pm

@Gordon Tully – thanks as always for the kind words. Nancy works incredibly hard to bring us the stories that keep us informed.

To all NoN readers, please remember NewsMatch – donate to NoN between now and the end of the year and your dollars will be matched. We cannot survive without your support!

Please donate – today –
https://www.newsmatch.org/organizations/nancy-on-norwalk

Ron Morris November 4, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Once again Lisa refuses to outright condemn racism in much the same way that she refuses to condemn Trumps racism. . Lisa is not good for Norwalk as she seems to be sowing more division in the community.

David McCarthy November 4, 2019 at 7:44 pm

How many fake accounts will there be making faux-shocked comments trying in vain to make a point? Harry go away…we can only pray Norwalkers have enough sense to end this

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