Playing politics with a tragic death

Fresh from its crushing defeat in November, the Connecticut Republican Party has managed to demean itself in a new and different fashion by trying to make political capital out of a young woman’s tragic death.   

After the body of 24-year-old New Yorker Valerie Reyes was found stuffed in a suitcase on a Greenwich roadside Feb. 5, a former boyfriend was charged with her murder. It turned out the alleged killer, Javier Da Silva, is a dual citizen of Portugal and Venezuela who had entered the country legally in 2017 but overstayed his visa.

That he had flown here legally and wasn’t part of a caravan of those Latino “murderers, rapists and drug smugglers” Donald Trump loves to celebrate didn’t matter to the Connecticut GOP. DaSilva was a killer with a Hispanic-sounding name whose very presence in a Greenwich jail proves we have to have  Trump’s wall along the southern border he didn’t come through.  

 Within days of the arrest, the Connecticut Republican Party created and posted a video that used news footage of the Reyes murder and the faces of Connecticut’s Democratic U.S. senators to accompany a “Secure the Border Now” message. Senators Blumenthal and Murphy weren’t implicated in the murder but the video proclaimed, “US Senators Murphy and Blumenthal should be ashamed of themselves” for their opposition to the wall on the border that had nothing to do with the murder.

The ad had a mercifully short shelf life once the victim’s parents complained that the sponsors were misusing their daughter’s tragic death for political gain and asked them to stop.

Party chairman J.R. Romano didn’t exactly apologize in announcing he was taking down the ad at the Reyes family’s request “because I can’t even imagine what they’re going through.” But he could imagine using the young girl’s death in the attack on the senators because, “There are Democrats in our state General Assembly who call to defund ICE. That’s the entity responsible for chasing this criminal.”

Now, neither of the senators is in the General Assembly and local and State Police from two states were responsible “for chasing this criminal.” Aside from those discrepancies, the ad was as accurate as your average Trump tweet.

This sorry tale didn’t get the attention and condemnation it deserved. I could only find it reported in the downstate Hearst papers and that’s why I’m retelling it here. It’s the kind of demagogy the president employs to rev up his base and Chairman Romano apparently believes it could play well in Connecticut. And not for the first time. Romano was involved in a similarly smarmy incident during the campaign when he came to the defense of a Republican state senate candidate’s foray into anti-Semitism.  

Ed Charamat had sent out a flyer showing the cartoonish face of his opponent, Matt Lesser, greedily fondling a wad of cash. After Stuart Miller, who heads UConn’s Academic Center for Judaism Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, described the ad as “imagery used to vilify Jewish people for hundreds of years,” Charamat withdrew the flyer with the standard, “if I offended anyone” apology.  

Only Romano didn’t see it that way — at first. “When I look at that,” Romano told the Hartford Courant, “I don’t see Jewish. The Democrats have false outrage all the time,” he complained.

But on reflection, and inspired by talks with “Jewish friends, including Jewish Republicans,” he found the flyer offensive after all and endorsed its withdrawal. Charamat, the ad’s sponsor, lost the election.

Unlike the unpaid state Democratic Party chairman, who stepped down after the party’s November victories, Romano has retained his job and its $72,000 salary. He even got a performance bonus of $13,000 after the election.

When some Republican notables complained about rewarding the vanquished chairman, the party said the bonus was based on Romano’s fundraising prowess, not his vote-getting skills. But that didn’t go over too well either.  

Mark Boughton, the party-endorsed gubernatorial candidate who lost the nomination to Bob Stefanowski in the party primary, charged that  Romano’s fundraising may have been successful, but his fund spending was a flop. It seems more than $200,000 remained on hand after the party lost 12 House and five State Senate seats.

So goes Connecticut’s Grand Old Party today — a loser in every sense, governor, state officers, both houses of the General Assembly, congressional seats and moral ground — the works. And trying to look more like the party of Trump, despite his incredibly low approval in the state.  


Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.