Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick apologized Monday to angry residents who objected to his recent meeting with the vice president of El Salvador.
Hardwick and other Nassau officials had met on Aug. 8 with Salvador Sánchez Cerén, vice president of El Salvador since 2009 and a likely candidate for president in 2014. Cerén participated in anti-U.S. demonstrations in San Salvador four days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in which marchers burned American flags.
About 100 residents attended yesterday's trustees meeting, where several residents demanded an apology from Hardwick during a public comment session.
"You did every resident of Freeport a disservice by honoring him not 200 yards from where we have a monument to men and women who died on Sept. 11," resident Charlie McEneaney said.
Trustees also criticized Hardwick for not informing them of Cerén's visit. Hardwick said he was unaware of Cerén's background before the visit, and that the event developed "rapidly" and that he "didn't have time to do much of anything other than get ready."
Hardwick added: "To anyone I have offended, I sincerely apologize."
Cerén met with Hardwick, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Legis. Francis X. Becker Jr. (R-Lynbrook) and other officials at ceremonies in Mineola and Freeport earlier this month to acknowledge Salvadoran American Day.
The local officials were met on Aug. 13 with protests and criticism from members of the public, including some Salvadoran-Americans. Hardwick, later that day, issued a statement that his "intentions are never to dishonor Freeport residents, firemen, police officers, military, and those who have lost loved ones in the 9/11 tragedies."
Since meeting with Cerén, Mangano has said that he would "not have extended a form of recognition" to Cerén if he had known about the vice president's background, while Becker said he was "unaware of any controversy surrounding" Cerén before this month's events.
Some residents attended yesterday's meeting to defend Hardwick. Earline Skates said the attacks against the mayor were politically motivated by his opponents.
"Remember folks, don't be fooled by smoke screens," she said.