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Conn. mayor's 'tacos' comment in Latino profiling case draws outrage

One blunder on top of another?

The mayor of East Haven, Conn., came under a torrent of criticism Wednesday for telling a TV reporter “I might have tacos” when asked about how he would support the Latino community in the aftermath of the arrest of four town police officers accused of racially profiling and bullying Latino residents.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called Mayor Joseph Maturo's comments "repugnant" and "unacceptable." An attorney for some Latinos suing the town police department called the comments “appalling.” Some residents said the mayor should step down.

 Maturo sought to backtrack Wednesday, issuing a statement of public apology.


East Haven Mayor Joe Maturo

“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 reporter Mario Diaz yesterday regarding the recent events affecting our community and our police department,” the statement said.  “Unfortunately, I let the stress of the situation get the best of me and inflamed what is already a serious and unfortunate situation. I regret my insensitive comment and realize that it is my job to lead by example. “

Maturo did not return a telephone call from msnbc.com for additional comment.

The public fiasco began Tuesday with the announcement by federal officials that the FBI had arrested four East Haven police officers on charges that they conspired to deprive some residents, particularly Latinos, of their constitutional rights. The charges include multiple counts of excessive force, false arrest, obstruction and conspiracy.


Latinos make up about 10 percent of East Haven's population of the town's population of about 28,000. Yet out of a police force of 50, only one speaks Spanish, according to local media reports.

WPIX reporter Mario Diaz later interviewed the mayor about the arrests.

At one point in the exchange, Diaz asked Maturo: “What are you doing for the Latino community today?”

The mayor replied on camera: “I might have tacos when I go home. I’m not quite sure yet.”

Later, Diaz said, the mayor came over to him and apologized, saying his comments were out of context. Maturo explained that he had a long day of interviews, and that he meant no harm by what he called a "flippant" remark.

On Wednesday, Maturo sought to limit damage from the incident. In addition to publicly apologizing, his statement said his administration has already taken steps to “begin that healing process.”

He said he recently commissioned a new advisory panel to recommend policy and procedure changes to the Board of Police Commissioners. And he said he appointed Jose Velasquez, a community volunteer and native of Puerto Rico, to the new panel.

“I apologize, again, for my insensitive comments yesterday and recognize that they are a hindrance to the progress that must be made in our community,” Maturo said. “I am dedicated to the principles of tolerance and acceptance of all and will do all that I can to foster those principles in the daily execution of my duties as mayor.”

Malloy called Maturo’s “tacos” remarks “repugnant.”

"They represent either a horrible lack of judgment or worse, an underlying insensitivity to our Latino community that is unacceptable. Being tired is no excuse,” the governor said in a statement.

David Rosen, an attorney representing several Latino residents and business owners suing the East Haven police department for alleged civil rights violations, said Maturo’s comments were “appalling.”

“It just makes your heart sink to hear it and to see it. I can only hope that it will be a wakeup call to the townspeople of East Haven who are finding themselves represented this way by their elected officials and elements of their police department,” Rosen told msnbc.com in a telephone interview.

As to whether the mayor should resign, Rosen said:  “I think it’s up to the people of East Haven what the mayor’s future should be.”
Resign is exactly what some East Haven residents want the mayor to do.

A Facebook was started Wednesday titled “East Haven Taxpayers Calling For Mayor Maturo to Resign.”

Matt DeRienzo, group editor of Journal Register Company’s publications in Connecticut, including the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, Register Citizen and Connecticut Magazine, wrote in a column Wednesday that Maturo’s “blatantly racist, ignorant and arrogant slur” was “an embarrassment to the community.

“Let’s not mince words,” DeRienzo wrote.

“The thin translation of Maturo’s taco comment is, ‘I am a full human being and you are less than one.’”

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