Brentwood civic leaders and elected officials voiced outrage Friday over a comment by school board president George Talley made earlier this week about Brentwood's Salvadoran community and the gang MS-13.
Speaking Wednesday at a Brentwood public forum held in the wake of at least 11 recent killings in Brentwood and Central Islip, Talley said: "When the Italians had the Mafia, the Italians brought them down. You can't take an Irishman and expect him to turn MS-13 out. You need people from the Salvadorian community to go after the Salvadorians."
As the crowd shouted in opposition, Legis. Ricardo Montano, the meeting's host and moderator, tried to tug the microphone out of Talley's hands.
On Friday, Montano (D-Brentwood) called Talley's remarks "offensive" and "wrong."
Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood) called them "outrageous" and "divisive." And leaders of Brentwood's El Salvadoran community planned to meet Friday evening to discuss Talley's comments.
"By making a scapegoat of an ethnic group, it's making things worse, not better," said David Renderos, president of Salvadoran Alliance of New York, based in Brentwood.
In a phone interview Friday, Talley said he had been misunderstood.
"This is not a racial thing at all," he said. "Everyone has to work on the problem."
"The people who know more about the gang should be giving more information" to police, he said. "I'm not picking on the Salvadorians. I'm talking about the residents of Brentwood. People are picking on every single word. I don't need that kind of baloney."
Responding to those who understood his use of the word "Irishman" as a reference to Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, a native of Ireland, who also spoke at Wednesday's forum, Talley said: "It was not about Dormer specifically. It was an analogy. You can't take an outsider . . . and expect them to crack a Spanish gang."
Dormer did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
This is not the first time Talley has faced criticism for using controversial language.
In 2007, then-Brentwood Superintendent Michael Cohen resigned in protest over language Talley used in his school board election campaign.
Cohen accused Talley of running a campaign that included "code words" for racist beliefs, including "illegals," "outsiders" and "taking care of our own."
At the time, Talley said those words and phrases were unrelated to race or ethnicity.