Community members rallied outside Councilman Vincent Gentile’s Bay Ridge office on Feb. 20 to show solidarity for the lawmaker’s former staffer Michael Bistreich, who is suing the term-limited democrat alleging that his former colleagues made fun of his Asperger’s syndrome and even left mutilated stuffed animals on his desk to get under his skin. About 20 protestors came armed with plush toys that they used as props before donating them to local children as a way of creating good from allegations.
“Take something that is negative and flip it on its head. What happened to [Bistreich] was wrong, evil — end of story,” said organizer and Dyker Heights resident Raymond Ranaletta. “But there’s a bright side to it too, to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.”
Bistreich, who is suing the city for $10 million, said he was humbled by the outpouring of support and that Gentile should be held to a higher standard because he is an elected official.
“It felt amazing to know that someone from the community, and the community, cared enough to stand up for the rights of a disabled worker,” said Bistreich. “It made me feel great to know that people cared about this issue that they care about the rights of disabled workers and are willing to stand up against discrimination and harassment. People will not tolerate it, even if it comes from an elected official, especially if it comes from an elected official — who is supposed to uphold virtuous characteristics.”
Gentile, who is leaving office next year because of term limits, did not respond to a request for comment. City lawyers have said the claims are not substantial and do not rise to the level of harassment.