Reps agree on censure, disagree on procedure
STAMFORD — City representatives overwhelmingly agree that one of their own had to be rebuked for posting hate messages on social media, but not all cast their ballots that way.
One representative voted not to censure Democrat Marion McGarry for her anti-immigrant and Islamophobic Facebook posts during a special meeting of the Board of Representatives Tuesday night. Eight abstained from voting.
The 24-1-8 vote — seven members were absent — did not follow party lines. Most Democrats and most Republicans approved censuring McGarry, 75, who has represented the 12th District for 12 years. Members of both parties also abstained.
Rather, the vote highlights disagreement among city Democrats, who dominate the board with 31 members to the Republican Party’s nine.
Democrats were clear in their condemnation of McGarry’s posts, one of which pasted a photo of the 9/11 terror attacks next to one showing the swearing-in of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Muslim, with the question, “Are we that stupid?” Another post said there’s no such thing as a moderate Muslim. A third showed a judge telling an illegal immigrant to leave the country “and take your lawnmower with you.”
Rep. Megan Cottrell, D-4, read a statement from the Democratic caucus denouncing hatred and “any form of prejudice against any member of society.”
“We must realize that prejudice is not a partisan problem or a Stamford problem. It is an American problem,” Cottrell said. “When we have disagreements we must not attack each other personally. … We must live up to the transcendent principle of tolerance.”
Rep. Jonathan Jacobson, McGarry’s fellow Democrat from District 12 and a Facebook friend, took screenshots of her posts and brought them to the attention of the board.
“I believe we are tasked with the responsibility of representing all people in the city, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion,” Jacobson said during the meeting. “When one of our fellow representatives deviates from that responsibility by endorsing racially charged and bigoted sentiment toward Muslims and Hispanics on social media, it is our duty to formally denounce such sentiment.”
He showed the posts to board leaders in January, Jacobson said. They confronted McGarry “but the words fell on deaf ears,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson said he confronted McGarry again last week before submitting the petition for censure.
“She said, ‘I have nothing to say to you. I know what you are up to,’” Jacobson said.
But some representatives said they aren’t clear about how the matter unfolded.
“Could we have handled this in a way that is more respectful of Rep. McGarry?” asked Rep. David Watkins, R-1. “There are those who say she was told and she did not change her behavior. Others say they’re not sure, or that she was not told directly, or that she tried” to delete the posts but needed help doing it.
“I’m hoping for further clarity,” said Watkins, who voted to censure McGarry.
Rep. Elise Coleman, D-3, was the only one to vote against censure, but expressed similar concerns to Watkins’.
“Until we get to the truth and a timeline of how things happened, this should not have come to this board,” Coleman said during the meeting. “It attacks a person and opens her to some stuff. … Nobody wants to look over their shoulder every day.”
Rep. J.R. McMullen, R-18, abstained.
“The Code of Ethics allows an investigative process that can be done confidentially,” McMullen said. “There is no need for a public spectacle. I think it was done for political purposes much more than to protect the Board of Representatives’ reputation.”
The Democratic majority leader, Rep. Rodney Pratt of District 9, called it “grandstanding.” He was still investigating the matter when Jacobson and other representatives took the story to the media, Pratt said.
Rep. Anabel Figueroa, D-8, said she didn’t learn about it until the last minute.
“Why wasn’t every member of the board notified?” Figueroa said during the meeting.
She said she asked Jacobson for more information but he told her he couldn’t provide it because of privacy concerns, Figueroa said.
“Ironically, details of the charges were already announced in an email submitted by our board,” she said, and “The Advocate and Channel 12 were live” with the news.
Other representatives, including President Matthew Quinones, D-16, said they are confident the McGarry matter was properly handled.
“As the posts were public, the reaction needs to be public,” said Rep. Eric Morson, D-13, who voted to censure McGarry.
McGarry did not attend the meeting, but just before it began, her attorney, Kenneth Sosnoski Jr., held a press conference. Sosnoski questioned why Jacobson “wanted to be her friend on her private Facebook account.”
“He lied about his intent,” Sosnoski said. “He was no friend at all. He was cyber-stalking her the whole time.”
McGarry is being targeted because she is “an honest politician” in a city where that is difficult, Sosnoski said, and because some of McGarry’s votes on the board have gone against the agenda of Democratic Mayor David Martin.
Sosnoski said “there is someone behind the scenes” telling Jacobson what to do. He would not elaborate. He would not say that McGarry had indeed posted the Facebook messages. He said her Facebook page is private.
“How would you feel if someone hacked into your private email account? How would you feel if someone listened to your phone calls?” Sosnoski said.
He likened McGarry’s case to that of a rape victim who “is traumatized twice, once by the act, the other by the betrayal.”
The censure is not a disciplinary action against McGarry, who may continue to serve on the board. The Democratic City Committee is considering a vote on whether she should be removed from the party, Chairman Josh Fedeli said.