Dems accuse school board candidate of racism, he calls it a smear campaign

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Justin Orlando, far right, dressed as Detective Ricardo Tubbs from the TV show "Miami Vice" at a Halloween party in 2018.

MONROE, CT — Justin Orlando, a Republican running for a seat on the Board of Education, lashed back at Democrats who accused him of racial insensitivity over a Halloween costume he wore to a party in 2018, then posted Facebook photos, they claim, show Orlando making a white power hand sign.

At the party in 2018, Orlando and a friend went as stars of the popular 1980’s TV show “Miami Vice.” Orlando, who is White, darkened his face with makeup to resemble the character Detective Ricardo Tubbs, who is Black.

Nick Kapoor and Alan Vaglivelo, two Democrats on the Board of Education who are not up for reelection, issued a press release calling it racially insensitive, because of the history of blackface being used to ridicule African-Americans.

“This is completely unacceptable and antithetical to how Board of Education members and candidates should be publicly conducting themselves,” they wrote. “Blackface is a hurtful trope against the African American community and should not be tolerated.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, Orlando denied there was any racial intent. The statement can be seen in its entirety at the end of this article or in a post on the Monroe Republican Town Committee Facebook page.

“There is tremendous irony in being harshly accused of prejudice by folks who are actually exhibiting that very behavior when using photos to cast their pre-judgement,” he said. “They are acting hypocritically by demonstrating their prejudice behaviors in pretending to know who I am or how I have lived my 42 years of life simply by a photo.”

“To me, there is nothing racial about it,” Orlando said of his costume. “I dressed up as a favorite character of mine from one of my favorite TV shows, and in doing so, was demonstrating respect for that character. Not once did I view it as a racial decision … but they have all deemed it as such.”

“Ignorance is not an excuse,” Kapoor said after reading Orlando’s statement online. “Blackface is racist and hurts our community members. Justin Orlando should not be angry that there was community outrage at his clearly racist trope, but should be apologizing for how he made people feel.”

Orlando said no one who criticized him online knows him, nor ever reached out to him to discuss any of the issues. Rather, he said they chose to radicalize this to improve their chances in the election.

“Where does it stop?” Orlando asked. “I named two of my children after my favorite athletes growing up, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Is that ‘appropriation’ or is that honoring them based on the impact they had on me?”

The Monroe Democratic Town Committee posted the Halloween photo with criticism on its Facebook page and it was picked up by the Connecticut State Democratic Central Committee, which posted it with a story on its website, CT Extremist Republicans, calling Orlando a “Blackface Antimasker.”

Then on Monday, the DTC posted more photos on its Facebook page claiming Orlando was making white power hand symbols. Orlando said he was playing “the circle game” eight years ago, adding a “person of color” who was standing next to him and making the same hand symbol was cropped out of the photo.

“Posting photos of me from over eight years ago flashing a symbol commonly used in what’s known as ‘the circle game’ and claiming that is a sign of white supremacy is both reckless and irresponsible,” Orlando said. “These are all attempts at a smear campaign and quite frankly, it is everything that is wrong with our political system. No discussion, just empty social media posts for people to hide behind.”

The Circle Game is an activity in which one person makes a “circle” with their fingers closely resembling the “OK” hand gesture and holds it below their waist, convincing a second person to look at it. If the second person looks, they receive a punch to the shoulder.

Two years ago, well after Orlando said his photos were taken, the Anti-Defamation League added the OK hand gesture as a symbol of hate, because it is often used by white supremacists.

Orlando accused Nick Kapoor of displaying “divisive leadership” in the Monroe Democratic Party, adding his belief that most Democrats in town do not agree with the actions of the DTC in its posts on the party’s Facebook page, and expressing his hope they will consider this when they vote on Nov. 2.

Orlando went on to defend his reputation.

“I know that in 35 years of living in Monroe, the one thing no one who knows me would ever accuse me of, is demonstrating any biases,” he said. “I was raised to accept people by their merit and character … NEVER by race.  Which is why I can take your criticism … I am confident that I have lived my life free of prejudice and have had a positive impact on this community.”

“The real shame of this situation is that we have lost focus on what is most important and that is Monroe school children,” Orlando said. “I chose to run for this voluntary position because I saw the damage public policy has had on our children and wanted to be a part of the solution, especially for those parents who wanted their right to choose honored and respected.”

But rather than discussing their differences on the issues, Orlando said Democrats “prefer to character assassinate.”

“Although I do not expect anyone to take me up on this offer, I am open to discussing my position on any issue with anyone at any time,” he said. “I take the opportunity to learn about opposing viewpoints and what drives them. Unlike the individual behind this post, I do not hide from my positions nor will I ever demonstrate the lack of integrity shown in their attempt at character assassination.”

“The fact that Justin can’t see what he did was hurtful after everything that our town, state, and country have been through the last several years talking about race is exactly why he should not be on the Board of Education,” Kapoor said. “We continue to call on Justin to do the right thing and withdraw from the election.”

But Orlando said he is not going anywhere.

“My commitment to Monroe parents who believe their voices need to be heard remains and my resolve to deliver on that commitment has never been stronger,” he said. “To all of those who have shown their tremendous support throughout this smear campaign, I cannot thank you enough. You are all very much appreciated!”

Orlando said the voters will make the ultimate decision on Nov. 2. “I hope I earn their vote based on the principles I stand for and what I am committed to delivering for Monroe’s parents and children,” he said.

Orlando’s statement

“There is tremendous irony in being harshly accused of prejudice by folks who are actually exhibiting that very behavior when using photos to cast their pre-judgement.  They are acting hypocritically by demonstrating their prejudice behaviors in pretending to know who I am or how I have lived my 42 years of life simply by a photo.  Choosing to racialize a costume is exactly that…it’s a choice.  To me, there is nothing racial about it…I dressed up as a favorite character of mine from one of my favorite tv shows and in doing so, was demonstrating respect for that character.  Not once did I view it as a racial decision…but they have all deemed it as such.  Not because they know me or have ever reached out to me to discuss any of these issues, but because they choose to racialize this issue to better their chances at this election.  Where does it stop?  I named 2 of my children after my favorite athletes growing up, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  Is that “appropriation” or is that honoring them based on the impact they had on me? 

Well, I believe that this has helped drive visibility to what the democrat party in Monroe has become under Nick Kapoor’s divisive leadership and I do not believe that most democrats in this town agree with the actions Monroe CT Dems fb page has taken and hope they consider this when in the voting booth on November 2nd.    

These actions show there is no civil discourse, just judgement.  The accusations here are pretty severe, yet the individual or individuals behind this post have never in their lives spoken to me nor did they ever reach out to discuss these photos prior to publicizing their harsh accusations.  Posting photos of me from over 8 years ago flashing a symbol commonly used in what’s known as “the circle game” and claiming that is a sign of white supremacy is both reckless and irresponsible.  These are all attempts at a smear campaign and quite frankly, it is everything that is wrong with our political system.  No discussion, just empty social media posts for people to hide behind.

I know that in 35 years of living in Monroe, the one thing no one who knows me would ever accuse me of, is demonstrating any biases.  I was raised to accept people by their merit and character…NEVER by race.  Which is why I can take your criticism…I am confident that I have lived my life free of prejudice and have had a positive impact on this community.

The real shame of this situation is that we have lost focus on what is most important and that is Monroe school children.  I chose to run for this voluntary position because I saw the damage public policy has had on our children and wanted to be a part of the solution, especially for those parents who wanted their right to choose honored and respected.  Rather than discuss how democrat positions differ from mine, they prefer to character assassinate. 

Although I do not expect anyone to take me up on this offer, I am open to discussing my position on any issue with anyone at any time. I take the opportunity to learn about opposing viewpoints and what drives them. Unlike the individual behind this post, I do not hide from my positions nor will I ever demonstrate the lack of integrity shown in their attempt at character assassination. My commitment to Monroe parents who believe their voices need to be heard remains and my resolve to deliver on that commitment has never been stronger.  To all of those who have shown their tremendous support throughout this smear campaign, I cannot thank you enough. You are all very much appreciated! 

Ultimately the voters will decide on November 2nd.  I hope I earn their vote based on the principles I stand for and what I am committed to delivering for Monroe’s parents and children.”

4 thoughts on “Dems accuse school board candidate of racism, he calls it a smear campaign

  1. REALLY, at Halloween We the People have the right to dress up in whatever costume we choose! Do not bring the Washington propaganda to Monroe. This is a distraction a/k/a smoke and mirrors from the real issue that Mr. Kapoor is trying to bring transgender policies that will negatively affect children in Monroe Schools. ENOUGH is ENOUGH!

  2. I’ve known Justin as well as his entire family since he was a youngster. He’s never portrayed himself as being racist in any way! These accusations are merely a method used by an opposing party or affiliation to depict him or someone else as being racist. These allegations have no place in politics.

  3. Can someone ask the candidates if costumes incorporating blackface are appropriate in Monroe schools? How about school sporting events?

  4. Sadly this has only exposed many in Monroe for their anti POC tendencies and support of racist acts. It’s appalling to see how many think this is normal. Almost like the Deep South in the 50’s. I wouldn’t be surprised to see confederate flags popping up.

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