HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 10 p.m.) A lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England is calling out state Sen. John Fonfara over a comment he made Wednesday in the halls of the state Capitol, forcing the Hartford Democrat to issue a written apology and to offer to schedule a community conversation to make amends.
Arvia Walker, a public policy and strategic engagement specialist for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England who is also a woman of color, said that she had stopped Fonfara Wednesday to discuss some legislation. She was wearing a button that read: “Stand With Black Women.” When Fonfara saw it he said in response: “I need a Stand with White Men pin.”
Fonfara, who is white, is in his 11th term as a state senator from Hartford and Wethersfield. Previous to his current 22-year stint in the senate he served as a state representative for 10 years.
Walker posted the exchange Wednesday on her Facebook page.
In the post, Walker said she told Fonfara he doesn’t need such a pin because “the entire country stands with white men.” According to Walker, Fonfara then told her “you’ve been listening to propaganda . . . you should walk in my shoes one day.”
In her initial Facebook post, Walker said Fonfara “represents the South end of Hartford and parts of the north end where his constituents are PRIMARILY black and brown people. To look me in my face and say something so deeply rooted in white supremacy and disconnected from the lived experiences of the people that he is HIRED (by us) to represent is unacceptable. Hartford folks … August 2018, November 2018.”
Fonfara, who is a co-chairman of the General Assembly’s powerful Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, issued an apology statement Thursday after 4 p.m. — almost 20 hours after Walker’s Facebook post.
“I’d like to first publicly apologize to the woman who I spoke with yesterday at the Capitol,” Fonfara said. “Offending her was certainly not my intention and I sincerely apologize that I did.”
The statement continued: “As a legislator that represents a community of minority women, I am aware of the hardships that they confront daily. As we are having conversations in this country and in this state around women’s issues, specifically those of minority women, I hope to be an ally to our entire community. I believe that starts by listening to everyone and being able to sometimes have uncomfortable conversations — but that’s how we gain a better understanding. To that end, I plan to host a community conversation and again I offer my sincerest apologies to the woman I offended with my insensitive comment yesterday.”
It’s unclear when the community conversation will be held. At least one elected official in Hartford has called for Fonfara to resign.
Walker said Fonfara called her to apologize and she appreciates it.
However, “It’s unfortunate that it took this incident to start the conversation about systemic racism and white supremacy that continue to create barriers for communities of color to thrive and survive. I am disappointed in that he still hasn’t acknowledged the race and gender dynamics that were at play in the conversation,” Walker said Thursday. “Despite anyone’s best intentions, without the lack of acknowledgment of how white supremacy plays out on black and brown bodies, a white man will never understand what it means to be a black woman living in America.”
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic caucus, said “Senator Fonfara did the right thing in promptly apologizing for his ill-considered remark and for committing to community outreach and further dialogue.”
Craig Stallings, the chairman of the Hartford Board of Education, called for Fonfara to resign in a Facebook post Thursday night: “Senator Fonfara this is unacceptable you should step down your action[s] are becoming increasingly divisive. #resign.”
When allegations of inappropriate remarks between a lawmaker and an underage girl came to the attention of House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz two months ago, he immediately stripped the lawmaker of all of his committee assignments.