Online abuse of female candidates concerns state officials

Published on Thursday, 24 October 2019 20:55
Written by Catherine Shen


NEW BRITAIN - In light of violent and sexist social media remarks made against two women who are running for reelection, state officials are bringing attention to the need for change.

Mayor Erin Stewart and state Sen. Cathy Osten had comments made on Facebook against them that were crude and threatening.

Last week, a New Britain Democratic candidate, Antonio Tee Lavoy Sr., was discovered to have made sexist comments about Stewart in a Facebook forum. The first-time candidate referred to Stewart in his post in a derogatory manner, writing under an older photo of the mayor posing with another person, “who the fat b- with him holding a fake rose” and “she looks like a $3 hoe” in a thread on Facebook. Since then, the city’s Democratic Town Committee and Democratic mayoral candidate Chris Porcher has called for Lavoy to drop out of the race.

“It’s unfortunate that this type of behavior persists, particularly against women who have worked hard to break down barriers to serve in public positions,” said Stewart. “During my career, I have made it a point to encourage young people - particularly women - to get more involved in politics. Name calling doesn’t make things any easier. As a community, we have preached the message ‘love wins’ and teach our students from a young age to live by the Golden Rule that you treat others how you want to be treated.”

“As far as stemming it? People in leadership need to stand up, regardless of party, and denounce that kind of behavior,” she said.

Standing up against inappropriate behavior, calling out those who persist on making harassing comments, and setting positive leadership examples are collectively agreed among several state officials, who hope by bringing awareness to the ongoing harassment, it will bring change to how society uses social media and how human beings should treat each other.

A press event was held at the Sprague Public Library on Tuesday at which state officials including Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff addressed the issue.

There has been a coarsening and debasement of public dialogues and political campaigns in recent years, said Looney.

“This hateful behavior shouldn’t be tolerated in our society,” he said. “We need to shame the people who do and show that we don’t support these reckless comments.”

While recognizing that society has a right to free speech, Duff said, that freedom does not extend to hateful remarks and life-threatening messages. In Osten’s case, law enforcement was involved due to the hostile nature of the comments.

“This has become a cultural issue,” said Duff. “I believe some people feel empowered because their behaviors are either tolerated or accepted. As leaders, we have to actively denounce this behavior because it’s wrong and we have no place for it.”

Several government officials recognized the difficulties of legislating against social media attacks, including J. R. Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, who said regulating language on social media is a slippery slope.

“We have laws in place to protect people. If the comments are hateful, violent, or life threatening, you should call the police and there will be consequences. But to try to regulate or push a law relating to social media activities would be difficult and complicated,” said Romano.

“There’s no question that what happened with Senator Osten and Mayor Stewart were over the top, unnecessary and rude,” he said. “It’s the tragedy of modern-day politics that this is what you have to face as a leader. I believe in the First Amendment, but just because you have the right to doesn’t mean you should.”

Nancy Wyman, chairwoman of the Connecticut Democratic Party and a former lieutenant governor, said the committee immediately contacted local leaders when its members saw the comments.

“A lot of what’s been happening is coming from elected officials. If you’re truly a leader, you wouldn’t be doing any name calling,” said Wyman, who was also the first woman elected state comptroller in 1995. “A leader wants to lead and talk issues, not about what people wear and what they look like.”

People who want to run for office should know that it is always about the people and policy making, she said. “One thing to help move forward with this is to be better at who we choose as our candidates. We need to have a better way to review their backgrounds because anyone who displays inappropriate behaviors does not belong in leadership.”

Contact Catherine Shen at 860-801-5093 or

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Posted in New Britain Herald, New Britain, State on Thursday, 24 October 2019 20:55. Updated: Thursday, 24 October 2019 20:58.