MIDDLETOWN — Local Democratic leaders and members of the LGBTQ community spoke out Monday against the appointment of Republican Common Council member John Pulino to the council’s Anti-Racism Task Force and LGBTQIA+ Commission, citing what they described as racist statements made on a local cable access show.
At the Common Council meeting, the public’s comments centered around an August episode of a show called “The Variety Hour,” which Pulino hosts. In October, Democratic council members Ed McKeon and Jeanette Blackwell organized a gathering of local Democrat politicians and representatives from the Middlesex County NAACP and the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition to condemn the statements made on the show.
In the video, Nigel Macon-Wilson, a candidate for Board of Education, referred to diversity, equity and inclusion as “educational communism” which involved “hiring people based upon their skin color or who you sleep with.”
“Like that whole rainbow LGBT-HGTV BS that’s going on right now, that’s so weird. Why would you have that in schools around little kids?” he said.
Lisa Loomis Davern, a former Democratic Board of Education member, referenced this video during the meeting.
“John Pulino has a track record of years, if not decades, of spreading bigotry and hatred for both of these communities and providing people with a platform to do the same,” she said.
Middlesex County NAACP President Anita Ford Saunders quoted from another part of the episode, which she described as “blatantly denigrated Black women, Black people, and the LGBTQIA+ communities.”
In the video, Macon-Wilson says that former President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society caused a “single mother epidemic” where Black men raised by their mothers were growing up with “the body of LeBron James but the emotion of a woman” because “women are more emotional than men are.” Whereas police would be sympathetic to a woman’s actions, he said, they would treat a Black man like a threat.
“That’s a very good point, actually,” Pulino responded on the video. “It’s very refreshing to hear someone talk about that.”
“If this is what Mr. Pulino believes, that’s his business,” Saunders said. “But his mere presence on the LGBTQIA+ Commission and the permanent task force on anti-racism is an insult to what we say we stand for as members of this community. It’s offensive and it’s repulsive,” she said.
Bill Wilson, chair of the Republican Town Committee, said the disagreement should have been addressed privately between the parties, rather than calling media outlets and having people speak at a public meeting. He said this caused more division within the city.
“You learn from having different voices on these boards and committees, and that’s not going to happen. And he’s not a racist, he’s not a homophobe. He’s none of those things. He’s a teacher. He’s taught for 25 years,” Wilson said.
Council member Gene Nocera told CT Examiner that he reached out to Minority Leader Linda Salafia on Monday to ask Republicans to remove Pulino from the two committees, but that they ultimately didn’t reach an agreement.
Salafia declined to comment on the matter.
Wilson said there needed to be better communication between the parties, and that people shouldn’t be excluded based on having different opinions.
“You have to listen to voices that you think are not the same as yours. Not everybody can speak the same. What makes America great is that we have different points of views,” he said.
But Sacha Armstrong-Crockett, co-chair of the Anti-Racism Task Force, and task force member Ahmad Daniels also spoke against Pulino’s appointment, as well as Diana Martinez, a founding member of the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition. Martinez said she did not believe Pulino would be able to fill the shoes of former Common Council Member Phil Pessina, the previous appointee to the commission.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community also protested the appointment. Jennifer Billingsly, vice chair of the LGBTQIA+ Commission, said she didn’t think Pulino would work well with other members.
“Phil [Pessina] was a joy to work with on the commission. He listened deeply, even if he didn’t agree with you, and I deeply respected him,” Billingsly said. “And I don’t believe that there will be any effort to listen or hear, on the part of John [Pulino], on either of these topics.”
But Christine Rebstock, a previous member of the LGBTQIA+ Commission and current executive director of media and communications for LGBTS United, spoke in favor of Pulino’s appointment.
“I have seen nothing that is homophobic, transphobic or anything of that nature, including the cable access show in question,” Rebstock said. “There is no homophobic and transphobic anywhere from our Middletown Republicans, trust me. If it was, I’d be calling it out.”
Both Pulino and Wilson told CT Examiner that the meeting was about politics. Pulino said the people who spoke were “the usual suspects,” rather than an organic gathering of community members opposing his appointment.
He also said that the statements people were referencing were made by Macon-Wilson, a guest on Pulino’s show, and not by him. He did not directly respond to a question from CT Examiner about whether he believed Macon-Wilson’s words were racist or homophobic, or whether he agreed with the statements.
He did, however, push back against the idea that people on the committees would not be able to work with him.
“I think I’m a really, really good listener. I think I do it for a living. I have a lot of empathy. I like people,” he said. “I was shocked at what they were saying. But I think that in order to be successful as an educator, a politician, a human being, you have to listen to people.”
Macon-Wilson told CT Examiner after the meeting that he didn’t consider himself racist or homophobic.
“[The Democrats] pretend to love Black people, unless you’re the wrong type of Black person. I’m the wrong type of Black person because I don’t agree with their propaganda,” he said.
The council voted unanimously to table the appointments to the two commissions until its next meeting on Dec. 4, where members plan to vote on a replacement for Pulino.