Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Matt Lesser and supporters Wednesday on the steps of Center Church (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — It’s been more than 24 hours since an anti-Semitic campaign mailing landed in mailboxes and Rep. Matt Lesser, a Democratic candidate for state Senate, said he has still not received an apology.

Still largely in disbelief that something like this could happen in Connecticut, Lesser, who is Jewish, was joined by faith and community leaders Wednesday on the steps of Center Church.

The mailer was sent by his Republican opponent, Ed Charamut, who has not returned repeated calls for comment. Charamut is participating in the Citizen’s Election Program and is running his campaign on $95,710 in public funding from the State Elections Enforcement Commission after raising $15,300 from at least 300 individuals in his district.

Lesser, who is an outspoken member of the House of Representatives, said he has well-known positions on paid family and medical leave, college tuition, and marijuana legalization, and that his opponent could have attacked him for any of those things.

“I did not believe the campaign would go in this direction,” Lesser said. “To be honest, two days later I still don’t believe it went where it went.”

He described the mailer — which shows a distorted image of his face grabbing five hundred dollar bills — as “hate mail.”

“Charamut can’t pretend. The Republican Party can’t pretend that they didn’t know what this mailer meant,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. “The tropes were too obvious. The message too clear.”

As leaders, “we have to say clearly and loudly that it’s not OK,” Bronin added.

He added that it’s also impossible to condemn the mailer and not condemn the candidate who approved it.

The race for Sen. Paul Doyle’s seat, which opened up when Doyle decided to run for attorney general, has been firmly in Democratic hands for years. Doyle won the seat with 63 percent of the vote in 2014.

Lesser said he’s still hopeful that Charamut will do the right thing.

“The feelings of hurt that are out there are real,” Lesser said. “His mailer played on deeply disturbing images of anti-Semitism that have attacked the Jewish people for hundreds of years.”

Lesser said he doesn’t know Charamut’s intention in creating the mailer. Lesser said Charamut needs to grapple with the impact the mailer has had on people’s lives.

“I don’t know if an apology would be enough, but it would be an important place to start,” Lesser said.

By now, Lesser said, he would hope Charamut understand what he’s done.

The mailer arrived Monday, a few days after 11 people were shot and killed at a synagogue in a neighborhood in Pittsburgh where Lesser’s wife grew up and where his in-laws still reside.

The Rev. Joshua Pawelek said everyone is feeling “if not fear, anxiety in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.” He said the mailer only heightens that anxiety and “makes us wonder what’s coming next here.” He said the true motivations of the Pittsburgh shooter are not known yet, but “we can only imagine he was swimming in a toxic soup of anti-Semitic online communities and racist online communities.”

Charamut, who is a member of the Rocky Hill Town Council, initially stood by the content of the mailer in an email to The Courant on Tuesday and accused Lesser of playing identity politics.

“Those wishing to portray a graphic illustration as something hateful are completely wrong,” Charamut wrote. “I reject hate speech in all its forms. The mailer draws a stark contrast between myself and Matt Lesser. Do you want to protect your wallets, or do you want to make Matt Lesser your new state Senator?”

At 5 p.m. Tuesday Charamut changed his Facebook profile photo.

By Wednesday afternoon, Charamut and the Rocky Hill Republican Town Committee posted this on their Facebook pages: “The entire campaign committee, which includes members of the Jewish community, never discussed or considered Mr. Lesser’s ethnicity, race, religion or any other personal characteristic of Mr. Lesser and it was never our intention for the mailer to be anything more than a reflection of Mr. Lesser’s policy record. However, it is clear now that the imagery could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, and for that we deeply apologize as hate speech of any kind does not belong in our society and especially not in our politics.”

Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman, who is also Jewish, attended Lesser’s press conference Wednesday.

Needleman said he’s also been the subject of attack mailers from Change for Connecticut, a PAC funded by the Republican State Leadership Committee.

That mailer says “While we were suffering Norm Needleman padded his own pockets.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Norm Needleman (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

“I didn’t jump on it because I thought it came up to a line,” Needleman said.

He said one of his campaign workers texted him the image asking if he felt it was anti-Semitic.

“I kinda let it go,” Needleman said.

But then the Lesser mailing arrived and the Haddam Republican Town committee posted a video of George Soros talking about how in order to survive the Holocaust he posed as a Christian and went around confiscating property from Jews.

“I came here to support Matt because I know what it’s like to feel that kind of hate,” Needleman said.

Needleman is running for the open 33rd state Senate district seat against state Rep. Melissa Ziobron.

Religious leaders speak out against anti-Semitic mailer

Posted by on Wednesday, October 31, 2018