NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk is working with the Anti-Defamation League to address anti-Semitism in the community, Mayor Harry Rilling said Wednesday.
Rilling’s comments came one day after Norwalk Fire Chief Gino Gatto informed NancyOnNorwalk that one of his lieutenants, Pat. St. Onge, had been suspended for a week after telling a Jewish underling that Jewish people are “dirty.”
“Hatred, prejudice, and antisemitism have no place in Norwalk or anywhere else. The comments made by Lt. St. Onge do not reflect the values and beliefs of our community or of the Norwalk Fire Department. His comments were ignorant and hurtful and unacceptable. I was disgusted by them,” Rilling said in a statement.
St. Onge has apologized for his remarks. He was hired by the department in July 2002; his promotion to lieutenant was announced by the Fire Commission in June 2016.
Gatto imposed the one-week suspension, Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King said Wednesday. “Lt. St. Onge accepted the sanction and agreed not to contest it.”
“The Chief is required to follow progressive disciplinary actions pursuant to the union contract,” Rilling said. “Lt. St. Onge had no previous disciplinary history, and the one-week suspension represents a significant financial loss. If an incident of this nature occurs again, he could face termination. It’s my hope he will use this time to reflect on this incident to better understand the seriousness and impact of his words.”
St. Onge is eligible for a promotion to captain because he has been a lieutenant for more than three years, the union contract indicates. He can take the test next month, sources say.
Gatto did not reply to an email asking about that.
“This is a rare and isolated incident. Any complaint is investigated fully and will not be tolerated in the Norwalk Fire Department,” Gatto said Tuesday.
The Fire Commission held an executive session on July 21 to discuss a personnel matter. Fire Commissioner Oscar Destruge did not reply to an email asking for comment.
Rilling said his staff is “working with ADL (Anti-Defamation League) to pull together meetings with local Rabbis and the community to discuss next steps we can take together.”
“I am angry and disturbed by Lt. St. Onge’s anti-Semitic comments to his fellow firefighter, Alex Horelick,” Common Council President Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said in a statement. “These comments are hateful, offensive, and unacceptable. The fact that there has been more than one incident of hate speech directed at Mr. Horelick is evidence that Lt. St. Onge harbors deeply held prejudice against Jews and brings into question what is merely a slap on the wrist for his behavior. As a teacher, I have spent years educating my students about the horrors of the Holocaust and the subversiveness of prejudice. I hope Chief Gatto will investigate these incidents further and explore additional consequences for Lt. St. Onge.”