MIDDLETOWN — Republican Common Council members criticized Democrats after two Republicans were rejected from appointments to city committees and boards.
The council rejected the appointment of Nigel Macon Wilson to the Board of Education on Monday in an 8-4 vote along party lines, over protests from Republicans and members of the public who spoke in Macon Wilson’s favor.
The appointment was to fill the seat of Republican Board of Education member Charles Wiltsie III, who stepped down.
Macon Wilson came under fire last month, along with Republican Councilman John Pulino, for his comments on a local cable access show called the “Variety Hour,” which Pulino hosts. In August, Macon Wilson appeared on the show and made comments referring to diversity, equity and inclusion as “educational communism,” claiming that former President Lyndon B. 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.”
Local Democratic leaders, members of the LGBTQ community and the president of the Middlesex County NAACP spoke against Pulino’s appointment to the city’s LGBTQIA+ Commission and the Anti-Racism Task Force during a November council meeting. The council ultimately voted against placing Pulino on the commissions, and voted on Monday to leave the positions vacant.
Minority leader Linda Salafia said the Democrats’ objections concerned issues that shouldn’t be part of the conversation when considering whether to place someone on a committee.
“It’s come down to personality,” Salafia told the council. “Because you don’t like [Pulino], you don’t want him on the committee.”
Salafia said the presence of Republicans on the committees was “superfluous” because of the large Democratic majority, and that their opinions were rarely taken into consideration. She noted that Pulino had worked for decades as a teacher.
“He works at a public school. He works with teenagers. And yet, you can’t work with him,” she said.
Salafia also urged the council to appoint Macon Wilson to the school board, saying the Board of Education needed young people who were “willing to work” and that Macon Wilson would be an asset.
Councilman Tony Gennaro said he was disheartened by what he viewed as the Democrats’ refusal to bring on people of differing opinions.
“It’s always been my experience in life. When people didn’t agree with me, or disagreed with me or looked at me in a certain way, or if I felt a certain way about somebody else, that it never helped to shut people down,” Gennaro said. “I think for me it’s always been, if that person doesn’t agree with me, I almost wanted them more at the table.”
Democratic Majority Leader Eugene Nocera said he disagreed with the premise that Democrats weren’t willing to work with people who had differing opinions. He said Democrats and Republicans frequently worked together and voted unanimously on issues.
But in the case of Pulino and Macon Wilson, he said, Democrats felt that neither shared “the vision” of the particular committee or board they were being considered for, he said. Regarding the Board of Education, he said, the position required a level of knowledge about certain issues.
“I think I understand as a career educator that that particular position requires a temperament and skill set that’s pretty unique. It’s about child development and it’s about curriculum and instruction, and it’s about understanding the educational policies, educational research — all those important little variables that … help the school system make the right decisions,” Nocera said.
Several members of the public, including Republican Town Committee Chair Bill Wilson, Republican Board of Education candidate Adam Hayn and Macon Wilson’s campaign manager Chantal McEntire Gustafson spoke in favor of Macon Wilson’s appointment.
Middletown resident Hillary Tompkins said she had been impressed by Macon Wilson’s willingness during the campaign to speak with people who didn’t share his views.
“While some people may feel Nigel’s points of view are controversial, such as his concern of fatherlessness in black homes linked to a rise in emotional behavioral issues amongst young black males in the schools — yet those very same people seem to me to be perfectly comfortable with the idea of underage children taking powerful cross sex-hormones or having perfectly healthy tissue removed from their bodies,” she said.
Tompkins also said Macon Wilson’s comments belied real social problems that were not being addressed.
“Nearly 70 percent of Black children enter the world without a father in the home married to the mother, up from 24 percent since 1965. Sadly, in white families, it’s nearly 25 percent of children born out of wedlock, also up from single digits from the ’60s. This is a central issue to Nigel and one that desperately needs addressing if we were to ever help students succeed,” Tompkins said.
Macon Wilson also acknowledged that he wanted to see more from Black Americans.
“Am I harder on Black people than most people? Absolutely, and I should be. And every race should be harder on their own race, because everybody should want their family to be better,” he said.
Macon Wilson added that his passion for education came from wanting students to exit the education system being able to read and count. He said they needed to improve their own community rather than rioting in the streets in protest of events that occurred in other cities.
Democratic Town Chair Mike Fallon and current board member Susan Owens spoke against Macon Wilson. Fallon said the voters rejected Macon Wilson in the November election, and that his comments on the cable access show “speak for themselves.”
Owens said she was concerned that Macon Wilson’s comments about black women and other adults might extend to the children that he would be responsible for on the Board of Education.
“A racist is a racist. They don’t just target somebody that is older. It’s always from the womb up,” Owens said. “If he’s on the Board of Ed, we’re there to make improvements, and to make sure our kids get good educations.”
Nocera said Democrats would recommend another person to fill the Board of Education vacancy at the next meeting, and asked Republicans to bring forward an alternative name as well.