NORWALK, Conn. — Donald Mastronardi describes it as a moment of lenience: his staff allowed a patron of his restaurant, Dry Dock Bar & Grille, to drink a beer at the bar. But what would have been regarded as a gesture of kindness in the pre-COVID-19 days embroiled Mastronardi in conflict this week.
Mastronardi, a New Canaan resident, was charged with violation of a public health emergency order, a misdemeanor, on April 24. Under State Statute, he could be fined up to $1,000 or imprisoned for up to a year, or both.
Mastronardi told NancyOnNorwalk last week that he allowed a regular to pop open a beer while waiting an unusually long time for takeout food. This violated Gov. Ned Lamont’s March 19 order that restaurants and bars be allowed to sell alcohol in sealed containers only to customers buying takeout food. Alcohol must be consumed off-premises.
“I have nothing but respect for the police, I don’t blame them for this incident,” Mastronardi said Thursday. “If anything, it’s my action that caused that, for them to have to waste their time. But it was a misunderstanding and for one person at the bar.”
On Sunday, Mayor Harry Rilling said Mastronardi is “truly sorry,” and characterized similar violations as not widespread.
Nonetheless, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) took to social media to blast Mastronardi, posting a link to a story about the arrest on his Facebook page Wednesday. “Everyone needs to play by the rules,” Duff wrote. “It’s a tough time for many businesses, especially restaurants, but no one is above the law.”
“Well that’s one place I will NEVER go again!!” the first reply said. Eventually, some criticized Duff.
One person posted a screen capture of Mastronardi responding to the charge, on Facebook.
“I would like to ask the mayor how businesses are supposed to pay their property taxes when we aren’t allowed to open????????” Mastronardi wrote.
“It doesn’t surprise me a right wing man from New Canaan thinks nothing of spreading disease in Norwalk,” one commenter replied.
“It made me sad to scroll through his personal Facebook page. It looks like he was donating a lot of food to local front line workers. It’s a damn shame that this idiocy will overshadow all of the good he was trying to do,” one said.
Mastornardi’s post to Rilling has been deleted. In another post, dated April 17, he said the restaurant was on day four of pizza donations to the hospital.
Another person on the Duff chain asked who is policing Norwalk businesses.
“The city I live in is pretty much lawless and from block to block, business to business the rules are so different I can see patrons do not know what they can and can’t do? I visit 3 of the same chain supermarkets. The policies and procedures are so different it is odd. I don’t know what I can and can’t do. Some staff wear protective wear and will say something to you if you go down the wrong aisle. Next store, same chain staff wear no gloves or mask and no one could care less what aisle you go down. So again who is supposed to be policing this?” he wrote.
Local health departments and police are enforcing Lamont’s orders, Duff replied. A Norwalk Democrat pointed out that some people have health conditions that exempt them from wearing masks.
A citizen took Duff to task.
“Way to go Senator. Stir it up. Get everyone angry.😡 Right wingers and left wingers at each other’s throats,” the poster said. “What leadership! Nerves are frayed, people are at wits end , people’s bank accounts are empty, the Constitution trampled… and you decide to demonize a local business person. Bravo!”
“Thank you Bob Duff for calling this owner out. How the hell are we ever going to flatten the curve with crap like this? Thanks for bringing it to light,” another replied.
NancyOnNorwalk asked Rilling if he thinks there’s widespread violations of Lamont’s orders, and if he had anything else to say about Mastronardi. He replied:
“I frequently drive around the city during the day and during the evening. It is my practice to stop look into the different establishments to verify compliance with our restrictions. I have seen no instances of anyone violating the regulations. Therefore, I do not believe this is widespread.
“Anyone observing violations should notify the police department so corrective action can be taken. Medical professionals continue to say physical distancing is the most effective way to stop this pandemic. People reporting violations will be helping us to enforce social distancing regulations.
“Mr. Mastronardi reached out to me to apologize for the situation at Dry Dock the other evening. He also reached out to the police department and apologized to them for making them respond. I believe he was sincere and was truly sorry what had occurred.”