Connecticut Post, Bridgeport
City Council leaders are demanding fellow member Maria Pereira to step down over what they are calling her “derogatory” and “offensive” actions this week following the passage of a resolution backing a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.
In an email sent Wednesday morning to Bridgeport Council President Aidee Nieves and Thomas Gaudett, Mayor Joseph Ganim’s deputy chief of staff, Pereira refers to members of the Islamic community who attended Tuesday night’s meeting as a “Palestinian mob” and “Palestinian thugs,” calls Police Chief Roderick Porter and his officers a “pig and his piglets” and mocks a Ganim aide’s weight.
In her email, which was obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Pereira also admits that while seated as a council member during the meeting she twice stuck up her middle finger at an individual she said “repeatedly yelled out my name and was waving some propaganda poster at me.”
“In light of Councilwoman Pereira’s recent actions, City Council leadership calls for Councilwoman Pereira’s immediate resignation,” Nieves and other council leaders wrote in a statement released Thursday. “It is imperative that our elected officials uphold the highest standards of conduct, treating all members of our community and our sworn law enforcement officers with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
The statement concludes that if Pereira refuses to step down before the full, 20-person council convenes again on Jan. 16, leadership “will be introducing a resolution to censure and reprimand her and will be taking action to remove her from all of her committee assignments.”
Hearst Connecticut Media on Thursday contacted Pereira on the email and phone number listed for her on the city website. She responded, but did not provide a comment for this story.
A former school board member elected in 2019 to the now all-Democrat legislative body, Pereira often publicly clashes with her colleagues and with Ganim and has previously been accused by them of being a bully and making personal attacks. In 2020, Pereira was criticized for accusing school board member Bobbi Brown, who is a Black woman, of “ghetto”-like behavior.
In 2022, Pereira was stripped of her committee assignments for refusing to apologize to Ernie Newton, a longtime political rival, for shouting that he was a felon during a dispute at a council meeting. Newton pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in 2005 before staging a political comeback.
Still, Pereira has continually been reelected to additional two-year-terms by her constituents in the upper East Side, including last November. And Nieves last month announced new committee co-chairs and membership and put Pereira in charge of the key group that has to approve all sorts of municipal contracts. She also sits on miscellaneous matters, which authorizes legal settlements and approves mayoral appointments to various volunteer boards and commissions.
Pereira at one time was a Ganim supporter, but most recently backed his chief rival for reelection, John Gomes, in the Democratic mayoral primary. The mayor is calling on his opponent to “condemn these divisive and discriminative remarks” and also push for her immediate resignation.
Gomes on Thursday distanced himself from Pereira, saying they have not spoken in recent months. But according to the Town Clerk’s records, Pereira as of Wednesday had obtained 300 absentee ballot applications for the new Jan. 23 mayoral primary between Ganim and Gomes. A judge ordered a re-do of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary that Ganim won over allegations by Gomes of absentee voter fraud by some of the mayor’s supporters.
“The content of her email is not condoned by myself or my campaign,” Gomes said Thursday. “As elected officials, we have to not only support our residents but those within the public safety sector.” His daughter is also a civilian employee with the Bridgeport Police Department.
But Gomes stopped short of calling for Pereira’s resignation.
“That is a decision I would leave to the body of the City Council to act on,” he said.
The latest controversy around Pereira centers on the resolution passed Tuesday urging U.S. President Joe Biden “to immediately call for and facilitate immediate deescalation and a permanent cease-fire to urgently end the current violence in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank.” Pereira voted against it in committee and on the full council.
The two-page document also seeks a U.S.-led humanitarian effort in Gaza and the West Bank; asks the Biden administration “to facilitate the immediate release of innocent Israeli hostages as well as the immediate release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails” and urges the White House to work with Israel and Palestine toward peaceful co-existence through “a political two state solution.”
The original resolution was introduced in the miscellaneous matters committee by freshman Councilwoman Jazmarie Melendez, who was Pereira’a running mate last year. Each of Bridgeport’s 10 council districts has two representatives.
Local Jewish leaders over the weekend raised concerns with Ganim’s office and other officials about the resolution’s initial language and argued their community had been caught off guard by the effort. Melendez’s initial draft was approved by the miscellaneous matters committee Dec. 26. It was revised and again approved by the committee Tuesday.
The full council then took up the resolution and voted 13-2 in favor, with Pereira again opposing it. At that point, the document had been re-written a third time during the meeting while members conducted other business.
Cease-fire advocates who had attended the legislative body’s last few meetings of 2023 demanding it take a stand, packed the audience for Tuesday night’s full council meeting, waving signs and Palestinian flags.
When the miscellaneous matters committee reconvened beforehand, Gaudett advised members, Pereira included, that a revised draft had been written by a small group of Jewish, Islamic and Christian faith leaders for them to consider and forward to the full legislative body for a vote.
Pereira to the committee and full council repeatedly argued the legislative body should not be voting on anything written by non-elected officials and that her colleagues should stay out of such a complicated foreign affair. She had also criticized Meledez’s first draft for not being accurate/balanced in its portrayal of the Middle East conflict.
Pereira’s Wednesday morning email to Gaudett and Nieves begins with a demand for “the names of all the individuals” who had worked on revising the resolution, information she also verbally requested Tuesday.
She then states, “We are going to set the Palestinian mob who was incapable of comporting themselves in an appropriate manner on their heels.”
During the meeting, Pereira and a few others who publicly opposed the resolution were loudly booed.
She specifies in the email that her sometime ally, retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, who on Tuesday urged the full council to reject the cease-fire resolution over procedural concerns and a lack of jurisdiction in international matters, was harassed verbally and physically afterward by some in the audience and escorted by police officers to her car.
“They were nothing more than Palestinian thugs,” Pereira writes of those in the crowd who took issue with Lopez.
The police department confirmed Lopez was walked out of the building “out of an abundance of caution” but said nothing criminal took place.
“It did all happen and they were very upset with my remarks,” Lopez said Thursday. She said she was approached by “various people” in the audience who criticized her position and wanted to talk to her about it.
“It was getting kind of heated,” Lopez said. “And the police were wonderful. … They were courteous, they were kind, they were caring. They stayed with me while I was a little nervous.”
Near the email’s conclusion, Pereira mocks Ganim, and some of his staffers and allies for failing to prevent her from being reelected last year and makes fun of one mayoral employee’s weight.
She concludes that she doesn’t “back down from anyone,” including the police chief, who she called a derogatory name.
Pereira offers no context for her attack on Porter, who was hired a year ago as top cop and lives in her district. When Ganim appointed Porter, a retired captain, Pereira offered rare praise, stating she was “thrilled” and that the mayor “is absolutely appointing the right person.”
She was arrested at a polling site on Election Day Nov. 7 and charged with third-degree assault. She was released on a $5,000 bond and has yet to enter a plea. Her case has been continued to Feb. 8.
In response to Pereira’s email, Porter said in an interview, “We just try to do our jobs in a fair, impartial way.”
“You can target me,” Porter continued. “But I would appreciate not targeting my officers. You want to call me something, that’s fine. They don’t deserve to be called stuff like that.”
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