Enough already

Residents respond to new chapter in gay/firefighter saga

Anger and weariness were the two most common responses Secaucus residents exhibited when asked last week what they thought about the possible reinstatement of three firefighters who resigned amidst a local controversy in August 2008.
Two weeks ago, Mayor Michael Gonnelli announced that Town Attorney Frank Leanza and Labor Counsel Ralph Lamparello are reviewing a request to reinstate Charles Snyder Sr., Charles Snyder Jr., and Charles Mutschler to the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department.
The firefighters quit the department a year and a half ago after the town lost a $4.8 million lawsuit brought by a gay couple who used to live next door to the North End firehouse. According to testimony given at trial, the gay couple was allegedly harassed by members of the department. This harassment allegedly culminated in one specific attack in which threats were yelled and items were allegedly thrown at the couple’s house. In trial testimony, Snyder Sr., Snyder Jr., and Mutschler were accused of allegedly being involved, but the three men resigned rather than face an administrative hearing. They were never arrested and no criminal charges were brought against them.
After the town lost the lawsuit, the three firefighters resigned under pressure. However, Gonnelli and supporters of the three believe they became scapegoats after the lawsuit.
The request to reinstate the three men was made by members of the Engine Co. 2/Rescue Co. 1, the firehouse in which the three volunteered, in December.
Gonnelli is himself a volunteer firefighter in town and a former deputy chief.

Residents respond

Last week, when the story was posted to www.hudsonreporter.com, it got more than 30 comments from readers. Some said the men were pushed out unfairly, while others said they believe Gonnelli would be starting his administration off on the wrong foot should he reinstate them.
“It raises my eyebrows and makes me wonder if we are moving back to the typical Hudson County politics as usual?” asked someone named “DuckPond.”
But someone named NewRegime countered, “They were not convicted in a civil court.”
Random residents of Secaucus interviewed on the street were not as adamant.
“Why are people still talking about that?” asked resident Marge Covino. “I don’t really remember what happened [with the case]. I don’t care anymore. I just want it to go away.”
Other residents were almost evenly divided between those who believe the three men should be allowed to return to the Volunteer Fire Department and those who believe they should not.
“This thing makes me a little angry,” Nick Sorentino. “I think it was sort of unfair, what happened to those guys. They weren’t arrested; they weren’t charged. They haven’t been proven guilty of anything. If they had been convicted of assault or harassment or something, then I could understand why they shouldn’t be on the department. Without it, it just seems unfair.”
Sam Moss agreed with Sorentino’s points.
“I don’t really know what happened. I wasn’t there,” said Moss. “I just know what I’ve read. I feel like I know what those gay guys said happened. But I don’t know. I don’t know both sides. I don’t feel I know enough to say the firefighters were guilty. If they did something, they shouldn’t be put back on. But if they didn’t – and there’s no proof they did – I’m not sure it’s fair to them.”
Other residents felt differently.
“I voted for the Independent candidates,” said Bill Bowls. “I mean, we didn’t have much of a choice for mayor, but we did for the council. I voted for Mike Gonnelli and Rob Costantino, ’cause I live in the 1st Ward. I didn’t know anything about Costantino, but I voted for him ’cause I liked Gonnelli. When I heard they were [thinking about] putting those firefighters back in the department, it made me want to take back my vote. I don’t like it.”
A second Gonnelli supporter had a more personal reason for her opposition to the reinstatement of the firefighters.
“I have a brother who is gay,” said Karen Gluck, who said she also voted for the mayor. “Several years ago I was living with him when I was between apartments. He was living outside of Philadelphia at the time. In knew he was sometimes bothered by other people because he’s gay, but I don’t think I really understood until I lived with him. If [the firefighters] had anything to do with the harassment – even if they’re just covering up for other people who actually did the harassment – then they shouldn’t be allowed to go back.”
One man outside the Dunkin’ Donuts in the Plaza Tuesday afternoon was just exasperated.
“I’m not talking about that anymore,” he said as he waved his hand as if he were batting an annoying fly. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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