As criticism of East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo's "tacos" comment mounted Wednesday, Maturo issued another apology.
"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," Maturo said.
But Maturo's apology did not stop community leaders from throughout the state from continuing to discuss — and condemn — the comment.
When Diaz asked Maturo what he planned to do for the Latino community in response to the arrests of four East Haven police officers on federal charges that they discriminated against Latino residents and others, Maturo said, "I might have tacos when I go home. I'm not quite sure yet."
James Rawlings, president of the Greater New Haven NAACP, said he believed that Maturo's almost reflexive response to the reporter's question was more sincere than Wednesday's thought-out apology.
"When people say things quickly, that's when they're more inclined to say what they really believe," Rawlings said.
Given the mayor's taco comment, Rawlings said he thinks that Maturo will address issues of racial discrimination in East Haven superficially. As an example, Rawlings cited an advisory committee appointed by the mayor that is supposed to recommend policies to the town's board of police commissioners.
Racial discrimination doesn't exist only within the police department and is not just affecting Latinos in the community, Rawlings said.
"The issue of racism is embedded in the community," he said. "It's pervasive. … This has been going on a long time; it just so happens there was a video at this point in time."
He was referring to a video recording of an encounter between some of the officers arrested Tuesday and the Rev. James Manship, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven.
"My advice is not to appoint an advisory committee, but to be inclusive to minorities in all levels of the administration, to have minorities represented in all civil service jobs, to have minorities represented in the fire department and the police department. That's how you affect change, not by appointing an advisory committee," Rawlings said.
Elected officials, including Gov.Dannel P. Malloy, were critical of Maturo's initial comment and his response when questioned about it.
Malloy called Maturo's comments "repugnant" and "unacceptable."
"The comments by East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo are repugnant," Malloy said in a statement released by his office. "They represent either a horrible lack of judgment or worse, an underlying insensitivity to our Latino community that is unacceptable."
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said that he was disgusted by Maturo's comment.
"Many have worked diligently to correct the painful history of racism in this country, and Mayor Maturo's comments are a disappointing example of how far we still have to go to," Segarra said.
"Mayor Joe Maturo is a dedicated public servant,'' Labriola said. "He works for all of the citizens of East Haven and I'm confident he can pull his community together and move forward."
Junta for Progressive Action, a New Haven Latino community group, posted a statement condemning Maturo's remark.
"When officers in your police department are arrested for physically abusing people, and for arresting people under false pretenses, all allegedly because of the race of those abused and arrested; it is not the time for the chief elected official of a municipality to make racist jokes — there is in fact no time to do so," the statement says.
Maturo's comment crept into a press conference Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building about strengthening the Penn Act — the state's law against racial profiling — when reporters asked several of the speakers for their input on the comment and what it could mean for the town of East Haven.
Isaias T. Diaz, chairperson of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said the mayor's comment was offensive.
"To me, I think the comment not only lacks professionalism, it is also a slap in the face to the Latino community," Diaz said. "I believe in vision; vision is often cast by leadership. We have a serious issue when the leader of a city makes a remark like that in the face of such a serious investigation."
Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut Chapter of theCouncil on American-Islamic Relations, said that Maturo needs to collaborate with religious and civil leaders in the community in addressing racial discrimination by the police department.
"I don't think the mayor is going to solve this problem by himself. I don't think he gets it," he said.