Norwich clergy group working on meeting with Tigers' owner

Norwich — Several speakers renewed their calls for city officials to ensure that people of all ethnic and faith affiliations will be welcome at Connecticut Tigers’ games, since the team owner is affiliated with a right-wing conservative group that promotes anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.

Tigers' owner E. Miles Prentice is board president of the Center for Security Policy, a right-wing Washington think tank.

Mayor Peter Nystrom led off Monday’s council meeting prior to general public comment with his own statement, saying he has spoken to state Muslim leaders, to other local religious leaders and the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut to discuss an upcoming meeting with Prentice.

Prentice announced on Friday that he would meet with local religious leaders, one day after he initially said he would not meet with leaders of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Nystrom on Monday assured the council audience that CAIR representatives would be included in the upcoming meeting. He said he has received phone calls asking that “our city of Norwich stays the city of Norwich,” referring to the city’s embrace of its multiethnic, multicultural diversity.

Nystrom said the Norwich Area Clergy Association will meet Thursday to discuss the upcoming meeting with Prentice.

“I want to make it known to all that when a meeting is called with their assistance, that the invitation will be open to all parties,” Nystrom said. “We’ll be working on, I hope, a statement, that everyone can get behind because no one is going to be anything except to be opposed to things such as hatred, bigotry and discrimination.”

On Tuesday, Prentice released a statement through the media relations firm Hamilton Strategies that did not mention the upcoming meeting but thanked Norwich officials and the Norwich and Mohegan Tribal police departments for their quick response to an alleged bomb threat at Dodd Stadium on Friday night.

James Quinn of Waterford was charged with first-degree threatening and second-degree breach of peace after he posted a comment on theday.com that mentioned bombing the stadium. Police evacuated the stadium prior to Friday's game and searched the facility with bomb-detecting dogs.

"Thanks to everyone’s great efforts and our fans’ solidarity with the Tigers, we were able to welcome over 2,700 people and play ball that evening with only a slight delay once we had established that the stadium was safe which was our foremost concern that evening," Prentice's statement said. "We look forward to providing the Norwich community with terrific baseball, America’s favorite pastime, for many years to come."

Rabbi Julius Rabinowitz, president of the Norwich Area Clergy Association, submitted a letter to the council Monday saying he could not attend Monday’s meeting, but would listen to the comments expressed by those present.

“Mayor Nystrom has invited the Norwich Area Clergy Association to participate in a review of this matter, and we look forward to taking part in this process to reach a solution,” Rabinowitz wrote.

During public comment period, Edgar Rodriguez of Plainfield read a written statement by Norwich businessman and Sikh community leader Swaranjit Singh Khalsa. It asked that “strong wording” be added to the new 10-year lease between the city and the Tigers for use of Dodd Stadium to reinforce the positions held by Norwich against discrimination.

“It is our duty that as a city that we make a statement there is no place for hate in our community and anyone who wants to do business with us must hold the same values,” Khalsa’s statement said.

City Manager John Salomone announced later in the meeting that the new lease was signed Aug. 1.

Rodriguez, a Muslim, added his own comments that everyone has to be concerned about statements of hatred, and asked Norwich officials to look into the situation and “not just brush it off,” because the nation already has seen the consequences of hatred.

Norwich resident Nancy Baez came with a written statement but set it aside to “express my feelings.” She said she is not Muslim, but her boyfriend is Muslim, and she has become familiar with the local Muslim community.

“We shouldn’t judge anyone by their race, color, religion, what they believe in,” Baez said, “because we are all different, but it doesn’t make us evil. ... I will express that we should join together, be together and not hate each other. It’s sad because we are old, and we should know better. We need to set examples for our children in the future, whoever they are, wherever they come from.”

Tark Aouadi, executive director of CAIR CT, said he welcomed participation by the clergy association and with the mayor “to solve this issue."

Farham Memon, chairman of CAIR, said the group is concerned about Prentice’s involvement with the Tigers, saying the Center for Security Policy has “devolved” from a right-wing think tank into “a racist organization.” He said the group’s founder has called American Muslims termites who want to “hollow out the structure of civil society” and anti-Muslim positions like those of the group have been cited by mass shooters who have targeted Muslim communities.

c.bessette@theday.com

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