East Haven Mayor under fire for “taco” comment

Tensions rise in the New Haven community after Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr.’s insensitive comments about “eating tacos” to help the Latino community.
Tensions rise in the New Haven community after Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr.’s insensitive comments about “eating tacos” to help the Latino community. Photo by James Lu.

East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. is facing an onslaught of criticism for a comment he made to a reporter in the wake of four East Haven police officers’ arrests Tuesday morning.

After giving more than a dozen interviews to the media Tuesday, the day that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested four of his officers for systematic mistreatment of Latino residents, Maturo was asked by a WPIX TV reporter about what he would be doing for the local Latino community that night. His response — “I might have tacos when I go home, I’m not quite sure yet” — amplified the outrage of the local residents over the police department scandal and sparked calls for Maturo’s resignation.

“My sincerest apologies go out to the East Haven community and, in particular, the Latino community for the insensitive and off-color comment that I made to WPIX … regarding the recent events affecting our community and our police department,” he said in a Wednesday press release. “Unfortunately, I let the stress of the situation get the best of me and inflamed what is already a serious and unfortunate situation.”

Maturo did not return several calls for comment Thursday, and the media frenzy ignited by his comments had not subsided by Thursday.

The Campaign to Reform Immigration for America, a national immigration policy advocacy organization, delivered 400 beef tacos to Maturo’s office Thursday afternoon, calling the move “a visual of all those across the country who are outraged by his careless remarks.” Shortly afterwards, the mayor’s office released an announcement saying that the tacos would be donated to soup kitchens around the city, as well as the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen in New Haven.

A Facebook group called “East Haven Taxpayers Calling For Mayor Maturo to Resign” was created Wednesday afternoon, and by Thursday evening had attracted over 880 “likes.” Connecticut’s largest newspaper, the Hartford Courant, published a Wednesday afternoon editorial titled “The Mayor Is An Idiot,” in which the paper’s editorial board called for Maturo’s resignation.

East Haven Democratic Town Committee Chairman Gene Ruocco joined the ranks of those calling for Maturo to resign.

“Maturo’s comment goes to the root of the racial profiling allegations here in East Haven,” Ruocco said in a Wednesday press release. “Everyone knows the seriousness of this matter and for him, as the leader of our community, to say something so utterly insensitive is a complete disgrace. He should be ashamed of himself.”

While Gov. Dannel Malloy stopped short of calling for Maturo to step down, the governor called the mayor’s comments “repugnant” in a Wednesday morning press release. Malloy said Maturo’s comment represented either a “horrible lack of judgment” or an “underlying insensitivity to our Latino community that is unacceptable.”

The flap over the comment, the video of which has since gone viral on the Internet, took place in the shadow of Tuesday morning’s arrests, in which the four EHPD officers — including one sergeant — were indicted on three counts of excessive force, three counts of false arrest, three counts of obstruction of justice and four counts of conspiracy against rights.

In his apology, Maturo said his administration has “already taken steps begin [the] healing process” in the aftermath of his comment and the EHPD’s Latino mistreatment scandal.

He said he had commissioned a new advisory committee, the Law Enforcement Advisory Resource Network, to recommend policy and procedural updates to the East Haven Board of Police Commissioners. To ensure that the Latino community has a voice on this board, he said he appointed Jose Velasquez, a community leader from Puerto Rico, as a board member.

Maturo served as East Haven’s mayor from 1997 to 2007, and was re-elected in 2011. He was sworn in for his most recent term on Nov. 21.

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