A group of Manorhaven residents - Hispanic and non-Hispanic - gathered outside Village Hall to protest what they termed "racist" comments by Mayor Nicholas Capozzi. They were reacting to a tape of remarks made by the mayor that was first aired by CBS News and later picked up by Newsday and Channel 12 news. The tape was made by Danny Aiello, who grew up in Manorhaven and has a business here. It was a recording of a telephone conversation between him and Capozzi regarding the ability of Aiello's business to remain at its current site in Manorhaven. Capozzi digressed from the topic at hand to launch into what CBS termed a "racist rant."
The demonstrators walked quietly and peacefully behind the American flag holding signs in English and Spanish protesting the mayor's remarks. They expressed deep hurt and anger at his statements. One woman said, "I have lived here happily for 14 years. I pay taxes. Why is it different now because of this mayor?" Another said, "I thought he was better than this. We all work. We are not less than anybody. I cannot believe in this day and age I would hear this kind of thing." Another asked, "How would he feel if he went to another country and was treated like this?" Other comments: "I am not sure what this means for our children;" "We own our own homes and pay taxes;" "He keeps us from getting ahead." Several of the people with whom the Port News spoke were long-term residents, some more than 20 years, and said that they were U.S. citizens. They acknowledged that there is a percentage, which they claimed is small, of undocumented immigrants, and pointed out that these persons would become citizens if they could, "but the paperwork is so hard." One gentleman said he came to the U.S. "to escape the brutality in my country." He pulled up his T-shirt and showed scars. Many cars passing Village Hall honked in support, some giving a "thumbs-up" or other indications of agreement with the protestors. A gentleman walking by said, "I have lived in this village for over 50 years, and I have never seen anything like this. My next door neighbors are Hispanic, and I couldn't ask for nicer neighbors."
A number of demonstrators, both Hispanic and Caucasian, were previously Capozzi supporters; at least two of whom served in one of his administrations. Stanley Spielman, a former village trustee, commented, "This [referring to the mayor's alleged anti-Hispanic position] is what the rental registration law is all about." (Spielman has been openly fighting that law on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.)
One of the main objections to the mayor's remarks was his use of word "spaniolis" to describe the Latino residents. In a profanity-filled declamation caught on tape, Capozzi said, for example, "The Spaniolis are rolling all over the (bleeping) place. They rent out the place and put locks on every door. It's gotta stop." He went on to say, "You've been in the village for 40 years, Danny. Do you drive down that (bleeping) block? It looks like (bleeping) Harlem. It looks worse than Harlem. It's a (bleep) hole over there."
At first, the mayor denied to CBS that he had made the comments, saying "I told you I never used that word." In a letter that was sent to all village residents following the CBS broadcast, Capozzi wrote, "It is hard to remember just what was said, [but] this transcript was doctored and manipulated, as was the tape recording he made of the conversation." In a subsequent interview, Capozzi admitted that he may have said the word ("spaniolis"), but denied that it was derogatory. He said, "They use it themselves." Finally, in another reversal, Capozzi issued a statement to the press apologizing for his statement. He said, "It was in the heat of a political campaign. It was a misguided effort on my part to be sympathetic to the individual with whom I spoke at that time." In his statement, Capozzi denied being in any way biased toward the Hispanic community. "Nothing can be farther from the truth," he wrote. He then apologized, saying, "I never intended to offend anyone and I apologize for any of my comments that may have been offensive or hurtful. I deeply regret any misunderstanding they may have caused."
When the Port News attempted to contact Mayor Capozzi for comment, the paper was referred to his issued statement.
Some residents have raised the question of who paid for the letter to village residents mentioned above. The letter had the corporate seal of the Village of Manorhaven and was sent with a preprinted mail permit number on the front. Pat Pagano, wife of Manorhaven's former mayor, said that she had submitted a Freedom of Information (FOIL) request for information on the cost to the village of the mailing, but it had been denied on the basis of "lack of specificity." "I am re-submitting it," she said, "with requests for specific documents: the invoice for the printing, the mailing costs, and (if possible) an estimate of the staff costs for preparation and distribution."
A number of residents are calling for the mayor's resignation. A petition is circulating asking the board of trustees to demand his resignation. It says, in part, "Due to his racial and ethnic slurs, he has brought shame and disgrace on the office of the mayor and upon our community. We request that the village board...pass a resolution demanding his resignation as Mayor."
Also on the Aiello tape are statements that appear to implicate Mayor Capozzi in favoritism with respect to zoning laws. Local legislator David Mejias, a Nassau County legislator of Latino background, called on the district attorney to investigate this claim. Mejias told CBS that "he [Capozzi] should consider resigning." A spokesman for the district attorney's office told the Port News, "We have no comment at this time."
The next village board meeting is the evening of Wednesday, May 23.
(Editor's Note: Local residents brought complaints about favoritism and other improprieties to the previous district attorney's attention some years ago, but no charges were ever made.)