Madison RTC leader resigns following Facebook comments on ‘shooting bagels’

Gun Rights

The vice chairwoman of Madison’s Republican Town Committee resigned that post, less than two weeks after Facebook comments that raised questions about whether she supported all businesses fairly in her other role as director of the town Chamber of Commerce.

“I have worked hard to build an inclusive Chamber that supports all businesses in our town,” Eileen Banisch said in a statement about her resignation issued by the RTC. “I have resigned my position as a member of the Town Republican Committee in order to convey my allegiance to promoting all members of the Chamber equally.”

Banisch has served as executive director of the chamber for 27 years, according to the statement.

RTC Chairwoman Amy Stefanowski said Banisch’s resignation was effective Monday.

The events prior to Banisch’s resignation began with comments she made earlier this month on a post on the “Joe LaPorta for State Senate” Facebook page.

LaPorta, a Republican candidate who is challenging incumbent Democrat state Sen. Christine Cohen for the 12th District Senate seat, announced in the post that he had received an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and shared thoughts on legislation that could prevent gun violence.

Accompanying the announcement was a picture of LaPorta holding a gun, and comments attributed to Banisch on the photo, which have since been deleted.

The first comment said, “You should but [sic] a bagel in the bullseye!” The second said, “Toss bagels in the air like skeet!”

Cohen, LaPorta’s opponent, owns Cohen’s Bagel Co. on Boston Post Road.

In the announcement regarding her resignation from the RTC, Banisch apologized for her comments.

“My post was construed by some to be divisive, anti-Semitic and even violent,” she said. “Such things were never my intent and I truly regret the trouble my comments have caused. In addition to apologizing on the Facebook page where this comment occurred, I have reached out to Senator Cohen and offered her my personal apology.”

Banisch, whose husband, Thomas Banisch, served as Madison’s first selectman from 2015-2019, has lived in town since 1978, according to her statement. During that time she has volunteered with a number of community organizations, from Madison Little League to the Rotary Club, she said.

“It is my hope that the good people of Madison will consider my contributions of the past 42 years and recognize that I have devoted my career to the betterment of our community,” she said.

The Facebook comments have drawn public criticism from multiple parties, including the Chamber’s board of directors, which held a meeting Sep. 8 to address the issue, according to a statement released Tuesday.

“It is the unanimous position of the Board of Directors that Mrs. Banisch’s recent postings on Facebook were in poor taste and in no way reflect the values embraced by the Madison Chamber of Commerce,” the statement said.

The board, which indicated it would handle Banisch’s remarks as a personnel matter, also emphasized that the chamber treats member businesses fairly and said it would review its bylaws and policies in order to “prevent any future misconception of our purpose.”

“The Chamber does not poll members as to their political affiliation, and member benefits are not determined nor influenced by politics,” per the statement. “It is the goal of the Chamber to promote member businesses equally in a non-partisan, non-discriminatory manner.”

Joan Walker, chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee, publicly condemned the bagel comments in a Sep. 5 post on the Madison CT Democrats’ Facebook page. She confirmed Tuesday that the statement was her own.

“I think there is a line crossed when the Executive Director of the Madison Chamber suggests that a person running for elected office places the wares of a Chamber member and Madison business on a target to shoot them for target practice,” Walker said in the post. “I firmly believe that the Chamber along with (its) Director should support all members and Madison businesses equally without bias.”

After learning of Banisch’s statement apologizing for the comments, Walker said she hoped the behavior would not recur.

“I really just want the chamber to work for everyone,” she said.

Walker also recognized the hard work Banisch has done in her role.

“She has worked long and hard for that organization for many years,” she said. “I appreciate all the work that she does for that organization, however, as the executive director she needs to be completely unbiased in her support for all the businesses.”

LaPorta, whose post about gun legislation drew Banisch’s comments, expressed disappointment in regard to the online discussion that arose in response to Banisch’s comment.

While Banisch’s remarks “were in poor taste,” LaPorta said, he did not think they warranted “online bullying.”

“It is discouraging that an attempt to discuss ways we can ensure the safety of the public while respecting individual rights was ignored and devolved into an attack against a political rival,” he said in an email Tuesday. “People are tired of this kind of partisan politics.”

Stefanowski, chairwoman of the RTC, said, “It makes me very sad that we’ve come to this as a town.”

“Someone who works as hard as Eileen, for our town for over 25 years, it makes me sad that we’ve come to this,” she said.

“She’s my executive vice chair, she’s awesome,” Stefanowksi added. “She knows everybody in town, she’s extremely helpful. She’s always the go-getter.

“She serves the same role in the RTC as she serves in the town, which is one to always be supportive,” Stefanowki said. “That is going to be missed.”

Cohen issued her own statement on the matter Tuesday.

“I was disappointed to hear about the comments. … As a member business of the Madison Chamber, I know how important it is for local small businesses to have nonpartisan representation,” she said.

But the senator also said she had received Banisch’s apology, indicating she was ready to move forward.

“I think all parties are glad to put this behind us. We will continue to stay on as a member of the Madison Chamber, along with the many fantastic businesses in town, and join with others in appreciation of all the efforts of the Chamber to promote our companies.”

Sarah Page Kyrcz contributed to this report;

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