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Newton residents irate at detainee plan

Posted by Leslie Anderson  January 15, 2010 10:23 PM

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Appalled by a Board of Aldermen resolution that would allow a Guantanamo Bay detainee to relocate to Newton, 30 residents met Friday evening at City Hall to voice their concerns.

Earlier in the day, the resolution's cosponsors said the proposal may need a second look before it goes before the full Board of Aldermen for approval.

Many of the residents who met at City Hall said news of the resolution had damaged the image of Newton and they worried of safety concerns if the 34-year-old Algerian detainee, Abdul Aziz Naji, is brought to Newton.

“What is going to set this guy off if he is released into any Western society, where the public and the society treasure freedom of speech?" said Jeff Seideman, who unsuccessfully ran for alderman last year.

"This is a community where we value our diversity of thought as well as religion and race and things like that, and we have people here who have a great diversity of ideas. This is nuts beyond anything I’ve seen in a long time.”

Newly-elected Alderman Charlie Shapiro arranged the meeting to hear the public’s opinions. He said he would vote against the resolution Tuesday at the Board of Aldermen meeting and would like to have the resolution voted “resoundingly down.”

Police officers patrolled the halls on the second floor of the City Hall, outside the meeting. The police presence is customary in Newton when topics of discourse are openly discussed, said Lieutenant John J. Bartinelli.

“There has been no threat,” said Bartinelli.

Residents applauded Shapiro’s initiative to hold a meeting. Many said they were dismayed the resolution passed the Programs and Services Committee unanimously.

“It’s a complicated process, but every alderman who voted for this should be targeted for recall,” said Margot Einstein

Sallee H. Lipshutz said blogs have equated Newton with Amherst. In November, members of Town Meeting in Amherst voted to ask Congress to lift the ban and, if that happened, to resettle two detainees in town.

“We are painted as moonbats. I mean, they look at us like crazies now. I think we really have to combat that image,” said Lipshutz

Allen Waxman said "there is absolutely no connection" between the detainee and Newton.

“There is absolutely no reason he should be allowed anywhere, in my opinion, in the United States," he said. "There is absolutely no reason that he should be given the freedoms of an American.”

Waxman alluded to property value decreasing in Newton due to the resolution.

“As outrageous as it all is, at the municipal level it actually impacts your real estate value. I don’t really personally think of it that way, but one could put it in that context,” said Waxman. “I think what’s really needed at this point is now to counter this very bad publicity for our city. An effective way to counter is a resounding vote down.”

Shapiro stated several times he was not speaking for the full board and was only representing himself.

“Perhaps we can also look upon this, as they now have lovingly referred to as a teaching opportunity," he said. "I would like to hopefully come out of this with an expression as how when people get involved it can remind elected officials, whoever they may be, that responsiveness and openness prior to things like this can be helpful to avoid situations like this.”

Caitlin Castello can be reached at caitlincastello@gmail.com

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