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New London mayor calls for House investigation of Hewett intern allegations

Published 03/05/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 03/06/2013 12:16 AM

New London — Discussions in political circles here in state Rep. Ernie Hewett's hometown run the gamut from keeping an open mind to calling for a full investigation into allegations of Hewett's inappropriate behavior toward female interns.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has called on the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives to investigate allegations that Hewett was "verbally sexually harassing" female interns.

State Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said Monday that Hewett was not assigned female interns because of a "history of bad behavior" toward them.

On Tuesday, Finizio, a Democrat, called the allegations serious and said House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, needs to look into them.

"While the allegations are serious, they are only allegations and every person is entitled to due process and presumption of innocence,'' he said. He would not comment further, he said, until he's sees the results of an investigation.

Flexer's comments came days after Sharkey took away Hewett's deputy speaker duties in response to a Feb. 20 Appropriations Committee remark that some thought was fraught with sexual innuendo.

Hewett was responding to comments made by a 17-year-old girl who was asking the committee to continue funding the Connecticut Science Center's ambassador program, which she said had helped her overcome her shyness and fear of snakes.

"If you're bashful, I got a snake sitting under my desk here,'' Hewett said into the microphone when the chairman of the committee asked whether members had any questions.

City Councilor Wade Hyslop, also a Democrat, said Tuesday he supported the speaker's actions.

"I heard the tape,'' Hyslop said. "I understand the implication of what is meant by that saying. I would have to say the speaker acted in a timely and appropriate fashion."

He would not comment further.

Others in the city are viewing the allegations more skeptically.

"Anyone who has a shred of humanity in him can understand that people misspeak sometimes,'' Democratic City Council President Michael Passero said. Hewett, he said, was making a public statement and had to deliberately hold open the microphone to speak.

"There was no way in hell he meant to make that statement and deliberately put that connotation on it that people are saying," Passero said.

He said he would continue to keep an open mind and view Hewett as the strong advocate for the city that he's always been.

"I've never seen anything in his character that suggests these allegations are remotely true,'' Passero said. "I'm not going to judge the man on hearsay and innuendo. And that's all it is at this point."

Bill Satti, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, said that the matter thus far amounts to allegations.

"I feel we need to let the process and protocol of the Connecticut House of Representatives do their due diligence,'' he said.

At least one Republican in the city, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 5-to-1, said he'd never seen Hewett act inappropriately. He questioned how Hewett could serve in Hartford for five terms and never have such allegations surface.

"My personal relationship with Ernie has always been friendly," said Bill Vogel, chairman of the city's Republican Town Committee. "He's a gregarious type of person. I haven't seen him in an environment where he's shown any kind of sexual abuse of females ... I don't have any firsthand information on how he acts with women."

Vogel also wondered why no one has spoken up before now if Hewett has been notoriously inappropriate with women.

"If she (Flexer) can't assign a female intern to Ernie, that's incredible,'' he said. "How did they keep that quiet?"

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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