Carroll Gardens vets turn their backs on Lander at ceremony over his ‘Pledge’ protest

Carroll Gardens vets turn their backs on Lander at ceremony over his ‘Pledge’ protest
Salute to vets: Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient Nick Assante lay the wreath at the park’s war memorial, and also led the other vets in turning their backs on Lander when he spoke.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

Talk about a stand off.

Local veterans literally turned their backs on Councilman Brad Lander at the annual Carroll Park Veterans Day ceremony on Friday, in protest of the pol’s refusal to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a Council session earlier this year.

The vets were livid about Lander’s actions — part of a silent protest against police shootings of black men — which they saw as disrespectful to them and their service to the country, according to one who turned around.

“That’s a real slap in the face especially to us guys,” said Nick Assante, who was wounded serving in the Army in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart. “They want people like us to vote for people like him — he should respect people like us.”

Lander (D–Carroll Gardens) was one of eight Council members — including Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook), Antonio Reynoso (D–Williamsburg), and Rafael Espinal (D–Bushwick) — who stayed seated for the pledge on Sept. 28 in solidarity with Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush), who received racist hate mail after sitting at the Sept. 14 session.

Assante and other local vets wanted to ban Lander from the ceremony entirely, but they settled for turning their backs during his speech after discussions with organizers from the Court Street Merchants Association, he said.

“A couple of guys that were there wanted to throw him out of the park — I myself would’ve done the same thing,” he said.

More than a dozen people turned on Lander while he spoke at the event, according to attendees, but the councilman did not mention their — or his — actions in his address.

After the ceremony, Vince Mazzone of longtime local home-improvement emporium Mazzone Hardware also gave a speech denouncing Lander and others who refuse to stand for the pledge.

“It’s unthinkable, it’s unacceptable, and it violates the very values and traditions that every good citizen holds dear,” said Mazzone, who served in the Army in Vietnam.

Emcee Joan D’Amico then gave Lander a chance to explain himself, but he decided not to after some members of the crowd objected, according to Mazzone — which was just fine by one attendee, who said he didn’t want to hear excuses, anyway.

“I wasn’t in the mood,” said lifelong Carroll Gardens resident Dominick Poalsamo, who was in the Army Reserves during Vietnam, but wasn’t sent overseas. “Politicians just tell you what you want to hear — the action was already done.”

Lander later told this paper in a statement that his appreciation of veterans and their sacrifices, and his decision to sit out the pledge to support “a colleague facing racist attacks,” both came from the same “deeply held patriotism and a heartfelt love of this country.” He also released a lengthier explanation of his actions in September.

But Mazzone said the councilman’s explanation — which he offered in private after the ceremony — just made him even angrier.

“He thinks what he did was patriotic and what he did was the right thing, my feeling is the opposite — you were more loyal to your colleague than you were the country,” he said. “I think they both betrayed the country, and they betrayed the communities they represent as councilmen.”

Other than the face-off between the vets and the pol, attendees say the ceremony was nice, although Poalsamo wishes more people had come — especially some of Carroll Gardens’ newer residents.

“The neighborhood is being gentrified but the newer people, they weren’t there,” he said. “The new people in this community, they don’t seem too patriotic. People don’t honor veterans the way they should — they gave us the freedom to do a lot of things in this country.”

Reach deputy editor Ruth Brown at rbrown@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8309. Follow her at twitter.com/rbbrown.
About face: Attendees at the Carroll Park Veterans Day ceremony turn their backs on Councilman Brad Lander to proteste his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in September.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

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