Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Ben Proto captured this image of a sign that was hung near the Republican Party headquarters off Putnam Avenue in Greenwich. He said he had initially assumed it was a threatening call to action in reference to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski. Police investigated and found that the sign – which is referring to a practice dummy named “Bob” – was hung by members of the nearby Greenwich Kempo martial arts studio. Credit: Contributed / Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Ben Proto

(Updated 12:42 p.m.) A sign was hung on the fence outside Republican headquarters in Greenwich that said “Kill Bob.” While Republican leaders said they initially assumed that the sign referred to Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski because of its proximity to Republican headquarters in Greenwich, it actually refers to a dummy used by a nearby martial arts studio.

That’s what a Greenwich Police investigation turned up, according to Captain Mark Zuccerella. Bob is apparently the name of the dummy used by the karate students.

“Middle school kids created the sign as motivation when they’re beating up their dummy that they named ‘Bob.’ It’s been going on for a while,” Zuccerella said. “Where the sign was located is right outside the window where the class participates. That’s what the officers found on scene. We have no reason to believe there was any malice towards any political candidate or person. It was created and done by young kids as a motivational thing when they’re practicing their martial arts.”

Reached by phone, Jonathan Simon, headmaster of Greenwich Kempo, said the sign was left over from a young student’s black belt test, which was conducted over the weekend. Part of the test involved the student, Hailey, carrying the dummy, known as Bob, through the dojo’s parking lot. 

A friend of Hailey’s made the sign, which was adjourned with hand-drawn flowers and stars, as a gesture of encouragement – as in “kill that portion of the test,” Simon said.

Martial arts student carries practice dummy
A Kempo student carries “Bob” the practice dummy during her black belt test. Credit: Contributed / Greenwich Kempo

“I wish someone would have come and talked to us, but you know what? I don’t blame them because it’s such a weird climate in the country these days,” Simon said. “We don’t do politics in the dojo. We support each other no matter where we come from or what we believe. I just wish it didn’t have to escalate the way it did.”

Despite its innocent origin, the sign provoked strong reactions in the state’s political circles before its intent was known. Stefanowski, who learned of the photo following a press conference in Hartford Tuesday, called it “disgusting” and expressed concern for his family and campaign workers when he thought the sign was directed at him.

“You think about your family and you think about how polarized this state is and how politics have become so disruptive and when I win governor, I’m going to represent all the people,” Stefanowski said. “I’m going to represent the people that agree with me, the people that don’t agree with me.”

His campaign manager Patrick Sasser told reporters that Greenwich police were investigating the sign’s appearance.

“The campaign is taking this very seriously. We have notified the Greenwich PD. They are starting an investigation,” Sasser said. “Obviously we are very concerned about not only Bob’s safety but his family and the volunteers and the staff that work out of that office in Greenwich.”

The sign was swiftly criticized by Lamont’s campaign.

“We don’t condone violence, threats or hate, or affiliate with those who use it in our democratic process. Those aren’t CT values. We look forward to a continued exchange of ideas where everyone feels safe,” Jake Lewis, a spokesman for Lamont’s campaign, said in a text.

Simon, the kempo headmaster, said his school, which has been in Greenwich for 10 years, also opposes violence, political or otherwise.

“I feel bad that Bob Stefanowski got scared. You just never know in today’s world. I feel for his family, I feel for his staffers, but I just wish someone had come talk with us,” Simon said.

But all’s well that ends well and this past Sunday, Hailey passed her black belt test.

Hugh McQuaid contributed to this story.