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‘Vile’ Barbis email inspires NAACP promise to march on Norwalk

Scot Esdaile, President of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Connecticut State Conference and a member of the National Board of Directors, right, reams Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling at the conclusion of Thursday’s “emergency” NAACP meeting in South Norwalk.

Updated 2:24 p.m: Duff statement added; 1:34 p.m.: Video of entire meeting added.

NORWALK, Conn. – Two days after shouting “Wow, wow, wow” in a victory ritual, Mayor Harry Rilling was reproached by a state NAACP leader stating, “Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you.”

Scot Esdaile, President of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Connecticut State Conference and a member of the National Board of Directors, blasted Rilling for not finding a way to dump Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis and promised to “call people from all over this country to come to Norwalk and get rid of that racist fool.”

Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story

More than 40 people attended the NAACP emergency meeting in the Smilow Life Center, where grievances were aired, like pus being let out of a wound, in response to the release right before the election of an email Barbis wrote in June, suggesting a news headline of “Blacks {f***} Latinos” and calling South Norwalk Democrats a******* and “SCUM.”

The email was vile, mean spirited and despicable, Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams said in a statement read by former Board of Education member Shirley Mosby, as Penn-Williams sat nearby, struggling with laryngitis.

“To my knowledge, Mayor Rilling or (Democratic Town Committee) Chairperson Camacho did not say anything about the email or did anything to the Chairman of the Norwalk Board of Education in connection with the disparaging email that he wrote and said, ‘It is good,’” her statement said. “…It is important that Mr. Barbis … own up to his racist tirade and spare Norwalk by resigning to the Norwalk Board of Education. If there is not a resignation then the NAACP with its friends and supporters will pursue all available means to remove or censor Mr. Barbis.”

State law does not allow the Board of Education to remove Barbis. Barbis, who ran for reelection unopposed, did not reply to a Wednesday email from NancyOnNorwalk but is quoted in The Hour as saying he will not resign.

Barbis on Sunday told NancyOnNorwalk that he apologized for the email. It had gone to four people, he said, naming Camacho, Rilling, Chief of Staff Laoise King and DTC Vice Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez.

“The fact that we have a Democratic chair here receiving an email like this, and not making the community aware that the (BoE) chairman is involved in this type of racist activity is very disturbing,” Esdaile said Thursday. “…That’s a concern that I would like to talk to the state Democratic Party and the National Democratic Party about because they shouldn’t be letting individuals in leadership positions, be involved or, or know about this type of information. And not let a community that has given a lot of support to the Democratic Party consistently for many, many years, and they should not take that type of support for granted.”

 

Audience discussion

“I was a victim. Sherelle (Harris) was a victim. Rosa Murray was a victim,” former Board of Education member Migdalia Rivas said, alleging that she’d been told that she should leave the Board because she’d become disabled.

In 2014, Rivas aired this accusation at a Board meeting. Then-Chairman Mike Lyons denied it.

Former Board of Education member Migdalia Rivas reacts to Scot Esdaile recognizing her as one of the people referred to in an email written by BoE Chairman Mike Barbis, Thursday in the Smilow Life Center.

Lyons also, at a separate point, denied excluding Rivas, Murray and Mosby from email discussions. Evidence produced in the lawsuit filed by former Special Education Director Christina Fensore later showed that “The Trio” had indeed been excluded.

Rivas on Thursday called Barbis’ behavior a “disgrace” and suggested that the State Department of Education needs to use its power to examine all his emails because “everyone in the community really should know exactly what’s going on.”

“I am so hurt that you someone would allow someone to speak so vulgar here… He’s a bully. He’s a racist person. A bigot,” she said.

“The realities of this type of language in emails is really talking about what is said behind closed doors, right?” Diane Revolous said. “…It trickles down to how these kids are traumatized right within the school themselves…. below I don’t even know where his education level is to be quite honest with you the way he acts…. That’s just in the way he acts. And in a world that we’re in, it’s really because we’re in a Trump world that that’s okay?”

“I always keep saying like the fish stinks from the head,” she said, going on to refer to the Mayor being “endorsed or backed.”

Rilling walked in right after those comments. The reaction was not friendly.

The black ministers have not stepped up, Marva Petrus said, accusing Rilling of “lying and lying” to senior citizens about their housing. “Everybody needs to be cleaned up and that Board of Ed is not being run properly. Terrible, they throw a few of our black kids out of the system, and then they have no money watching over them.”

 

Simms, through wife, and Morris speak

“I can tell you, Travis has been the subject of a lot of this what I call bullying,” said Sandra Stokes, wife of State Rep. Travis Simms (D-140) said. “Mike Barbis actually sent Travis an email after this.”

It’s “crazy” that the incendiary email is surfacing five months after it was sent, she said, calling it “a political ploy right before an election.”

“Like everyone has says, and most people know, this has been going on – if you’re in leadership, if you’re doing anything that is not status quo, you will be targeted, especially if you’re African American,” she said. “…I bet my life on it that there were several more emails. There’s more conversation that haven’t surfaced. This is nothing.”

Former State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140), left, and Mayor Harry Rilling, right, chat after the end of Thursday’s NAACP meeting in South Norwalk.

“People have alluded to other emails and there are many emails out there to let you know the blatant disregard that certain Board members have for people of color, and particularly leaders of color who stand up and voice an opinion different than theirs,” former State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) said.

Mosby, Rivas and Murray were targeted, he said. “There’s a litany of emails and these Board members are writing about them, isolating them, not giving them information. Racism is alive and well and has been on that board of education. This is a serious situation that has come to a head is not just in an email.”

He also recounted the history of the issue that sparked the latest Barbis email revelation, the effort to build new schools, reminding everyone that the Barbis-led BoE Facilities Committee didn’t meet publicly for months and then a plan was announced.

Barbis has said many issues needed to be worked through, as he investigated possibilities other than those recommended in the Facilities Feasibility Study presented by consultants.

“You know, we’re scum as leaders because we stand up to say this is wrong,” Morris said.

 

Republicans deny having a deal with Barbis

Esdaile asked the process by which a Norwalk Board of Education Chairman is selected, and how Barbis came to be endorsed by the DTC.

“You have to be nominated by your DTC, your district, your Town Committee people, to get on the slate,” Mosby said. “I know that already because I had to go through it as an incumbent. They decided they didn’t want me there. So they played around games, whatever to keep me off the slate.”

They ran Barbis unopposed, she said.

From left, Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams, Connecticut NAACP President Scot Esdaile and former Board of Education member Shirley Mosby.

Penn-Williams alleged that Barbis did not have a Republican opponent because Republicans made a deal.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Mark Suda and Republican District E Secretary Isabelle Hargrove deny that.

“We did not have a candidate interested in the position but we did not cross-endorse Mr. Barbis. That possibility did not even come to a discussion or a vote within the district,” Hargrove wrote in a Thursday evening email. “I am not sure what would qualify Ms. Penn-Williams to know about such things. Allegations such as these are certainly never helpful.”

“There was no deal made as there was no Republican candidate interested in the position,” Suda wrote. “Brenda should keep her nose out of our business and deal with the situation at hand with Barbis  within her own party. She obviously isn’t getting her way with them so she decides to stir the pot and make up allegations as she usually does! Barbis is a Democrat as you know, his party and the Board of Ed should handle this ongoing issue. We have nothing to do with it. This is why Brenda is not a credible source of information.”

 

 

‘No way he’ll resign’

“I’m going to be spending a lot more time in here in Norwalk to help with the Norwalk NAACP and support the President and the executive committee, because I think this is a reflection of what’s not only going on here in Norwalk, but is going all across this country,” Esdaile said. “We have to make a stand. And we have to fight.”

Morris said that while the initial call was for Morris to resign, “There’s no way in the world this man is going to resign.”

“If everyone in Norwalk, every quarter of Norwalk, raised enough issues, if they raised them with their party leaders or raised them with their Mayor, and say listen, he’s needs to go,  … That’s the only way that’s gonna happen. I don’t have great hope now I wish I could,” Morris said.

On Friday, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) released a statement saying, “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. 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.”

 

Rilling explains

Rilling stood at the end of the meeting to address the “burning issue… why that email did not surface just until just before the election.”

“I can’t tell you why it surfaced or who sent it,” but the email was written when he was trying to broker a meeting with Penn-Williams and Barbis, Rilling said. The email prompted a “big discussion” and “it was going to totally, totally interrupt the opportunity to bring Brenda and Mike Barbis back to the table.”

Mayor Harry Rilling speaks to Scot Esdaile, President of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Connecticut State Conference and a member of the National Board of Directors and others gathered in the Smilow Life Center.

He tried to get a Democrat to challenge Barbis but “he has a district E stronghold and in Rowayton he is going to get a lot of votes. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Rilling said. “Do I think Mike Barbis belongs on the Board of Education? Absolutely not, he has proven over and over and over again, that he does not have the temperament or the sensitivity to be on the Board.”

“You make a decision, you do the best you can with the information you had at the time,” Rilling said. “…Hindsight is 2020. If I had to do it over again, probably would have released it back then, knowing what was happening now. But you can’t undo something that was done. But still, we made the decision with the best information that we had. And I think this is a healthy discussion that we’re having here today.”

 

‘Shame on you’

“What you just said is totally inexcusable,” Esdaile replied. “It’s totally out of line in reference to, you received this particular information. You knew who you were dealing with. You knew he should have been challenged, you should have used your bully pulpit to make sure you removed him. You did not put the effort in and you didn’t embrace the appropriate people to make sure that that was done. You didn’t reach out to the top people in the Democratic Party.”

“You harbored him and you let him get away with a racist behavior. And I’m quite sure there’s a whole lot more that was done than this one email that we received,” Esdaile said. “…You may be powerless but we are not. We’ve always had our backs up against the wall. When we fight, the NAACP…. we’ll be back. And you’re going to see the NAACP in action, and you all are gonna get out in the streets and we’re gonna make this thing happen.”

16 comments

Bryan Meek November 8, 2019 at 5:22 am

What does it feel like to be a political pawn? What does it feel like to only count when your vote needs to be counted? Mr. Barbis apologized for his language and is fighting for schools in SoNo neighborhoods, while “neighborhood leaders” fight against them. Education professionals with experience across the country tell me they have never, ever seen anything like this. Why is there no outrage for the undercutting tactics being used to deny SoNo children neighborhood schools? Instead this organization gives awards to people who work to kill these plans. Their excuse is that neighborhood character is more important than our kids having an environmentally safe and secure building to learn in. They gave their full blessing to the spaceship looking mall that fronts the gateway to SoNo, but want us to believe they care about the historical look of the area. Most importantly, how does any of this help the children?

David McCarthy November 8, 2019 at 7:18 am

I’m happy to see this Rilling “dirty trick” blow back on him. The inevitable price to pay for one party rule is for that party to implode. Oh, that, and economic ruin. Enjoy and good luck!

John ONeill November 8, 2019 at 8:25 am

It is my hope that the NAACP is as laser focused and passionate regarding support for ELL programs. The reallocation of resources is hurting the children they claim to represent. While marching on Norwalk they may want to swing by houses of legislators who’ve buried their heads in the sand for last 10 years. We need help from Hartford. If we don’t get help, it won’t matter if Barbis is a board member or not.

Mimi November 8, 2019 at 10:23 am

“Rilling stood at the end of the meeting to address the ‘burning issue… why that email did not surface just until just before the election.’
‘I can’t tell you why it surfaced or who sent it,’ but the email was written when he was trying to broker a meeting with Penn-Williams and Barbis, Rilling said.”

Wow. Wow. Wow. A fish rots from the head down, alright. The Rilling camp shot themselves in the foot with that email release for the sake of political gain. Their desperate, win at all costs campaign stratagem backfired on them, exposing that this toxic situation was not dealt with properly from the top down. Complete and utter mismanagement.
Good for Mr. Esdaile for doing the right thing in holding Mayor Rilling accountable and calling his explanation inexcusable. Our elected officials should be called out on mismanagement which negatively impacts so many.

Upon digging deeper, the sender of that email could, and absolutely should, be determined. There is a very small circle of individuals at play here. One can deduce that the sender was an insider who felt a burning desperation to unleash that email in a timely manner to be used against a mayoral candidate who was getting too close for comfort.

Norwalk had an opportunity on Tuesday to vote exactly this manner of offensive, crony baloney, machine politics toxicity out. They were presented a reform platform by a formidable mayoral candidate who proposed to stop exactly this type of behavior in her initiatives under “Leadership and Political Culture Reform”. Apathy won again, with under 30% finding it important enough to go to the polls.

Two more years?!! Sad. Sad. Sad.

Niz November 8, 2019 at 11:15 am

Just awful, I hope the outcome of this is people start to treat each other with respect and do their jobs with care. Keep their personal opinions and pre-existing beliefs out of their work to the communities they are supposed to serve. Can Norwalks elected do that, from top to bottom?

David W. November 8, 2019 at 1:36 pm

In 2015, Republican Board of Education Member Jack Chiaramonte resigned after posting something on his personal facebook page that some thought was offensive.

This email incident is way beyond an offensive post on a facebook page.

His antics have become a huge distraction.

He has done some great work that should be commended but this controversy can only be resolved with his resignation.

It’s time for the Mayor and DTC to do the right thing here and force Mike Barbis to step down.

Educator November 8, 2019 at 2:45 pm

The only reason Barbis apologized is he got caught – again. His behavior follows a pattern for the last 4 years and everyone has given him a pass. Well, his time is now over. Resign!

Isabelle Hargrove November 8, 2019 at 4:03 pm

When will the people of South Norwalk and the black community finally see that they are just pawns in a sinister game of power and control?

The DTC and Rilling were all aware of the email in June. They don’t care. They waited to fake outrage in the last week of the election. This email would never have seen the light of day if Barbis and Brinton were not friends and Rilling could not use him against her. It’s gross.

Wake up, people.

Tysen Canevari November 8, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Well said Isabelle. This nonsense goes on all the time. Get ready for Al Sharpton to come to town. This time it is warranted!

Keeping it real November 8, 2019 at 6:13 pm

@Isabelle Hargrove yes I believe that people of color are being pawns. Yet please do not say that if Lisa was not friends with Barbis it would be okay. She never spoke to our community to say that Barbis and Meek’s comments were racist. When people asked her to speak up against them, she would not. I find it funny that she went to all the schools on election day, except Columbus. Why did she not come to speak to the people of color that were voting? Yes the timing of the email was fishy, but Lisa was not innocent either. People were scared to vote for her because they did not truly know what they would be getting. They hoped that with the help of NAACP they could work to help change things at City Hall. Just being endorsed by Simms and Dumas was not going to be enough.

Ron Morris November 9, 2019 at 1:05 am

Barbis needs to be gone. Also Harry should resign for covering it up for months.. Harry step down. Hopefully the NAACP will demand it.

Mitch Adis November 9, 2019 at 2:13 pm

If Mayor Rilling thought the Barbis email was racist the week before the election, why didn’t he think it was racist in June? As a leader if you know about an incident you are expected to take corrective action. If you don’t you could be as guilty as the offender. He commented after it was brought forward anonymously. Rilling ought to resign for his inaction.

Kathleen Montgomery November 9, 2019 at 2:50 pm

Barbis needs to step down. That email to me seemed written by a person who needs serious help and has for some time. It’s a tough job. It would do him good to resign and get some help.

Mimi November 10, 2019 at 3:07 pm

Well put, @Isabelle Hargrove. The black community has absolutely been used as pawns to serve the political agenda of Duff, Rilling, Camacho and Co. Half the voters in this mayoral election have been pawns in a sinister game of power and control, and they are not happy about it. Maybe we should form our own watchdog group and go make some noise up in Hartford too. The coordinated character slander attacks and divisive propaganda put out by Duff, Rilling, Camacho and their wingmen during this campaign season go hand in hand with what is happening here with Mr. Esdaile calling out Rilling. The timing of the outed email was yet one more coordinated hit piece to go with the previous ones before November 5th. The fish rots from the head down. I am stunned that many residents have not connected the dots here. Our elected officials need be held accountable for their morally indefensible behavior.

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