Meeting of Tigers' owner and faith leaders left 'unresolved' issues
Norwich — Connecticut Tigers owner E. Miles Prentice stuck by his affiliation with a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank during a meeting Sunday with several members of local faith groups, disappointing Muslim attendees, according to a joint statement issued by Mayor Peter Nystrom on Tuesday.
The group met for three hours with Prentice on Sunday at City Hall to discuss how his position as board chairman of the Center for Security Policy, labeled by some as an anti-Muslim group that promotes conspiracy theories, could affect the minor league baseball team that plays at Dodd Stadium.
Along with Prentice and Nystrom, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of Arizona, a friend of Prentice, attended with the Rev. Gregory Perry, pastor of the Greeneville Congregational Church, Swaranjit Singh Khalsa of the Sikh community, and Muslims Dr. Mohamed Diagne, Rab Nawaz and Abdul Halim Jones.
Although the meeting was requested by Tark Aouadi, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in August, representatives from CAIR-CT were not invited to Sunday's meeting. Aouadi said Tuesday that he learned of the meeting second-hand Saturday, but was not given the time, and was contacted by a participant an hour into the session.
Nystrom said Tuesday the meeting’s organizers, himself and the Norwich Area Clergy Association, decided not to invite CAIR-CT and to limit participation to local residents. Previously, Nystrom had said CAIR-CT would be invited and that the meeting would be open to the public.
During Monday's City Council meeting, in response to a question from a fellow council member, Nystrom said the meeting had taken place on Sunday.
Jones of North Stonington, a 21-year retired military veteran who works in Norwich, attended the Aug. 14 Baseball Stadium Authority meeting, when Aouadi requested the meeting with Prentice, and said at the time that anti-Muslim sentiments were hurtful to him and his family, who live and work in the community.
Aouadi on Tuesday criticized both the quick scheduling and the exclusion of CAIR and other interested parties, such as the NAACP and the Jewish Federation. He also questioned participation by Jasser, who flew in from Arizona to attend the meeting.
“In fact, CAIR was explicitly told in open session at the last council meeting that the Mayor did want CAIR and all interested parties to come to the meeting,” Aouadi said in an email statement Tuesday. “However, when it came time for the meeting no other interested parties appear to have been informed.”
Aouadi said Jasser “is part of a fringe group who endorse the CSP's anti-Muslim ideology.”
In the joint statement, Prentice said his association with CSP is due to his “concerns with national security.” The statement said Jones thanked God, the mayor and the clergy association for arranging the meeting to allow for “frank discussion” of their concerns.
“A point of unresolved contention is that Mr. Prentice was asked to denounce CSP or at least to denounce one aspect of the ideology of CSP,” the statement said. “Mr. Prentice declined. The Muslim Community had hoped to receive an indication that Mr. Prentice was different from Mr. Frank Gaffney Jr. (CSP founder) but they did not.”
In the statement, Nystrom said there has never been any discrimination associated with the Connecticut Tigers at Dodd Stadium and that Prentice’s association with CSP has played "no role in the day to day operations of the baseball team."
The Tigers and Norwich leaders signed a new 10-year lease that takes effect Jan. 1 to keep the minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers in Norwich.
“We acknowledge that there are still issues to be resolved and we look forward to the opportunity for future engagement,” the statement said but it made no reference to a future meeting.
Nystrom said Tuesday night that the “future engagement” refers to a request by participants to discuss issues with CSP founder Gaffney. Prentice told the group he would try to arrange a telephone conversation, Nystrom said.
“Everyone in attendance was appreciative of the opportunity to discuss their concerns,” the statement said. “They agreed that national security is of the upmost importance as many of the attendees have served in the military or are currently involved in security related positions. All agreed that Norwich benefits from the presence of the Connecticut Tigers at Dodd Stadium.”
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