The Fairfield County Weekly came out with their "Top Clowns of 2007" list and lets just say that the list was flooded with Danbury's finest...with the toothless local access bigot topping the list (woohoo!)
Tom “Big T” BennettBravo Fairfield Weekly, bravo!
If any clown in Danbury is worthy of having his portrait oil-painted on velvet this year, it would have to be Tom Bennett. As the former host of Big T’s Talk and Variety Show on Comcast cable-access channel 23, Bennett brought almost two decades on the air to an awkward and unceremonious end, owing to his race-baiting.
It’s easy to dismiss the cherubic, gap-toothed, and mohawked Bennett as a product of the Hat City’s recent incarnation as pressure cooker of anti-illegal immigrant sentiment.
This assumption would be a discredit to this clown’s ability to multitask his prejudices. Gays, Liberals, the ACLU—all were fair game for game for his retro-style hate speech. Big T even kicked it old school with African-American slurs and epithets.
Ironically, it wasn’t even his belief that Mexicans should be shot at the border or his suggestion that the local Spanish Community Center perhaps be fire-bombed that brought about the demise. It was a live on-air phone call with an underage girl about oral sex that ran afoul of Comcast’s standards-and-practices policy. Bennett didn’t even bother appearing on his final show; a guest race-baiter filled in.
If Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton was an actual clown, his specialty would be juggling. He balanced three scandals this year with very impressive obtuseness.
First, there were those 11 Ecuadorian day laborers that the federal ICE enticed into a work van from Kennedy Park last year and then hauled to jail. Boughton, who once tried to get Danbury police deputized to enforce immigration laws, said that his statements from then (“The city was not involved”) match what the FIOA request filed by a group of Yale law students found (Danbury police drove the van and made the initial arrests).
Second, there was James Galante, the Danbury trash magnate, ice rink–owner and frequenter of finer penitentiaries. Galante, who previously spent a year in the joint for tax evasion, looks to be headed back for ninety-freaking-three charges, including illegal bundling—the scheme where you give more than the $1,000 legal limit to a political candidate or PAC by dispersing it through friends and family. The Hartford Courant suspects Galante bundled $8,000 to Boughton’s People over Politics PAC in October 2003. Four $1,000 contributions were from the family of Galante’s right-hand man Paul DiNardo (already in jail) and three more from people that are, in some way, six degrees away from Galante—all given in the same week and making up a third of People over Politics’ yearly intake. That didn’t raise any suspicion at People over Politics? “There is no way I could have known,” Boughton repeated. Is he just playing dumb?
Third, there was Boughton’s handling of “the Basso problem.” Before he went public with emails forwarded by common council majority leader Pauline Basso that insulted Hispanics, Muslims and Africans, local NAACP president Ivan Pitts “tried to handle it quietly behind the scenes and when that was rebuffed we decided to call a press conference.” He mentioned that “the mayor is aware of the emails” but expressed merely “distaste and displeasure.” Boughton then arranged a meeting with Pitts and Basso, believing in “more communication and less confrontation.” Confront the poor dear and she might think she did something wrong? What about the scores of shocked and disgusted citizens standing outside City Hall at the NAACP’s press conference? Did they all also get dinner invites?
Pauline Basso wasn’t so special. There are plenty of old people who consider the computer a neat box where you can get racist jokes with lame graphics. What was special was the Republican’s majority-leader position on the Danbury Common Council; what is astonishing is the lack of response from city Republicans when her racist-email circle was exposed last October.
Up until last election, Basso sat next to the mayor’s podium at council meetings where her primary responsibilities seemed to be smiling and nodding whenever some member of the public with a what-the-fuck-is-up-with-all-this-Spanish-shit complaint came before the council.
During after-hours, Basso forwarded emails containing fat, greasy Mexican caricatures; alarmist rhetoric about Muslims and a picture of an Ethiopian tribeswoman carrying an AK47 and an iPod—we’re still not sure about the point of that last one. But we do know there are serious problems in Ethiopia; they aren’t funny and they, as far as we know, none of them involve iPods.
Two individuals did not want this garbage in their inbox and went to Rev. Gayle Keeney-Mulligan, of St. John’s Episcopal, who forwarded them to the NAACP, among other groups. Local NAACP president Rev. Ivan Pitts tried to go behind the scenes and address the matter with city officials. He got a half-hearted apology signed by Basso slipped under the church door. She wouldn’t even meet with him face-to-face.
After Pitts’ reluctant press conference, the pre-election silence from Basso’s party was deafening. Boughton held a meeting between Basso and Pitts—as if this was a private matter between the two. Basso refused to make a public statement, considering that note slipped under Pitts’ door sufficient. Common Council President Joe Cavo? Danbury Town Committee Chair Wayne Baker? City Councilwoman Mary Teicholz, who was CCed on the emails? No comment.
The silence said it all; racist emails weren’t something the Danbury GOP thought was important—or Basso’s reelection chances were more important. We’re not sure which is worse.
Danbury wasn’t putting up with it. Basso, who was once the common council member at large who gained the greatest number of votes in a previous election, lost her seat. At her final council meeting, Basso spotted Al Robinson, whose HatCityBLOG relentlessly pushed the story, and flipped him the bird. She gave the finger to the only guy in the room guaranteed to have a camera. It wasn’t very bright or articulate but at least she finally made a statement.
Aside from the Bridgeport Democratic primary, there was one election in the county this year that looked like it could include some action. Danbury mayor Mark Boughton and his Republican Party launched an aggressive campaign, some of it possibly illegal, to oust undocumented immigrants from the city and barely chastised their leader on the common council when she got caught sending racist emails (see above). There were protests in the streets and rants on the web. People wanted them gone—and the Danbury Democratic Town Committee seized on almost none of this opportunity.
The DDTC’s radio ads and mailers timidly repeated information about the Danbury 11 case, the Galante scandal and Basso-gate that had already run in the Weekly, Danbury News-Times, Hartford Courant —and mayoral candidate Helena Abrantes, in her mouse-like voice, did nothing more in public debates. They barely nibbled at his heels. Do something creative with this stuff. Get a MoveOn.org consultant. We want mud!
Even more unforgivable, their website was still “under construction” three weeks before the election. This is 2007! HatCityBLOG can’t do everything for you.
In the end, Boughton raised $50,000 and got 8,140 votes; Abrantes raised $13,000 and got 4,241, and a Republican majority in government stayed firmly in place. The City of Danbury deserves better. For running a lousy campaign, Danbury Democrats got exactly what they deserved.