Political fallout follows sexual harassment settlement
Maturo supporters stand by him; others embarrassed and want him out
“The money he’s cost the town in legal fees for his misbehavior is unacceptable. I truly believe he should resign.” Nicholas Palladino, Town Council member
EAST HAVEN — Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. is again facing pushback from constituents and town leaders, following the settlement of a sexual harassment suit and the emergence of accusations from three more women.
Maturo denies that he repeatedly sexually harassed and once exposed himself to former town employee Francine Carbone, accusations that first arose in a 2014 complaint to the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. He fought Carbone’s state civil suit with town legal resources for three years. In September, Maturo’s team opted to settle the suit right before the case was set to go to trial.
Now, East Haven will pay Carbone a $ 175,000 settlement plus medical benefits, for her and her husband until age 65, said Joseph Zullo, the town attorney.
Maturo’s backers cast doubt on the truth of the accusations against him and attribute it all to politically- motivated mudslinging. They also question what they believe may be the motives of the women.
Ken McKay, the Republican chairman of the Town Council who grew up with Maturo, cited the physical appearance of one accuser when asked if he believed the women.
“I don’t believe Joe would be turned on by this girl in any way or sexually aroused,” he said over the phone on Friday.
McKay also said he did not believe the mayor sexually harassed Carbone. McKay said he “can understand people being upset ( about the town paying the settlement), but they have to realize the circumstances involved.”
“We have to protect the mayor,” he said.
“He’s an employee of East Haven, just like a firefighter or a police officer, or any other town employee,” McKay said.
“If he says things that are out of order, we have to protect him. He's an employee of the town of East Haven,” he said.
When asked for comment on Friday, Maturo cut off a Hearst Connecticut Media Group reporter during the question and hung up abruptly.
But in the wake of the settlement, criticism of the mayor — from residents and local political leaders — is bubbling up and a wider rift is forming between those who continue to support Maturo and those who want him out of office.
Residents upset with the outcome of the settlement have asked during public hearings that the longtime mayor step down and pay for the cost of the settlement . An online petition with 430 signatures as of Friday morning demands the same.
One woman who spoke at a public hearing in Octo- ber said Maturo’s alleged behavior is highly offensive to her as a survivor of sexual assault and harassment. She asked the council members to consider their female constituents and how it must feel for them to live with a leader who is alleged to harass and demean women.
Further, Democratic Town Committee Chairman Marc Conte publicly asked the mayor to resign in September and most Democrats who work alongside Maturo on the council say they want him to step down.
“I’m totally embarrassed by his antics,” said Nicholas Palladino, a Democrat representing District 2 on the council.
“The money he’s cost the town in legal fees for his misbehavior is unacceptable,” said the retired police officer. “I truly believe he should resign. My personal believe is she wouldn’t say something like that if it didn't happen.”
Many opponents of Maturo say they believe the women who have accused him of harassment. They believe the alleged behavior is intolerable in any workplace, and especially in the office of the mayor.
“I have no reason not to believe them,” Councilman Joseph Badamo, D- 4, said of the accusers.
Republicans and defenders of the mayor, however, argue the settlement in the Carbone suit is equivalent to what the cost of the former employee’s retirement agreement would have been. They also say the town employees, including the mayor, should be pro- tected with legal resources provided from their employer.
“If people understood the complete facts, they would understand the town did very well as far as what it would have been liable for,” said Robert Parente, chairman of the Republican Town Committee and representative of District 1 on the council. “The town saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in this situation.”
Judy Esposito, a Republican councilwoman representing District 3, compared the backlash against Maturo to that against President Donald Trump, who has also been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.
“I mean, come on,” she said. “These are the same people who want to impeach Trump. And what do they want to impeach for him for? Look at our economy. He comes across like a construction worker sometimes, but he says things like they are.”
Maturo’s fervent supporters on the council cite the town’s low taxes and its financial position as successes of the mayor and his administration. They say the good they believe he’s done for the town is reason enough for him to finish his term and run again in 2019.
“I would assume the mayor’s constituents would want him to stay because our taxes have not gone up in a few years,” said Councilwoman Judy Sittnick, R- 1.
The council members who continue to support Maturo say they’ve known him socially for years. Some say they owe their involvement in the town to the mayor.
“I got involved because the mayor asked me to get involved,” Esposito said. “My allegiance is to the mayor.”
While much of the criticism of the Republican mayor from Town Council members is split along party lines, one representative within his own party believes Maturo should resign.
“I get a lot of calls ( from constituents) about it,” said Councilman Steve Tracey, R- 4 . “They don’t think it’s right they should have to pay for ( the settlement). I don’t think it’s right what happened with the lawsuit.”
Two Republicans on the council declined to comment on whether they support Maturo or not when asked by Hearst Connecticut Media : Linda Hennessy, vice chairwoman of the council, and Richard Anania, a representative of District 5.
When called on by Conte to resign, Maturo said he would not do so.
Even if all council members want the mayor to resign, there isn’t a procedural way to oust him. There is no provision for forcing a mayor to step down under any circumstance in the town’s charter.
“We have no jurisdiction as a council to unseat him, other than publicly pressuring him to make him resign,” said Councilman Joseph Deko, D- 2 .
The charter also allows for a mayor — or any town employee — to use East Haven’s resources to defend themselves in legal matters.
Some Democrats on the council want to change the charter to add mayoral term limits, checks and balances on the office and more regulation of employee’s use of the town’s legal resources.
McKay said Maturo did not want to reach a settlement in the Carbone case, but did so on the advice of his attorneys, and “It would end up costing more court fees to continue to fight it.”
Further, McKay said, he believes “it’s unfair for people to feel that mayor should pay for it.”
“Everybody gets mad at me because I support him, but I do,” McKay said.
“He's a no- nonsense guy and some people get upset with him.”
Both Maturo’s supporters and his rivals agree on one thing: the need for the town to rebuild its reputation and move forward.
“The town gets a lot of negative bashing,” said Councilman Louis Pacelli, D- 3.
“This is a good town. We need to move forward in a positive way and realize through learning and education how to get there.”