Under fire for making a “Hitler” comment to Jewish colleague during a School Committee meeting last week, committeeman Alfred W. Baptista Jr. has decided to issue a formal apology.

Under fire for making a “Hitler” comment to Jewish colleague during a School Committee meeting last week, committeeman Alfred W. Baptista Jr. has decided to issue a formal apology.

“I would like to apologize to anyone I offended in my remarks at the Taunton School Committee meeting on July 18,” Baptista said in a statement he only e-mailed to the Taunton Daily Gazette. “The words I used were inappropriate and thoughtless, but were not meant to be a racial or ethnic slur in any way. Those who know me realize that I have spent my adult life working to help others and not cause them harm or distress. I am committed to continue my efforts for children and families and to be more thoughtful in the words I use.”

The controversy started last Wednesday during a subcommittee on school nursing.
After Baptista argued loudly with Schools Superintendent Arthur W. Stellar, Barry Cooperstein, who chairs the subcommittee, sternly told him to stop raising his voice while addressing district employees.

Baptista, frustrated with the way Cooperstein - who is Jewish - ran the meeting, turned to the subcommittee chairman and replied, “Yes, heil Hitler. Sieg heil.”

Although no one discussed the incident that night, Baptista later said the intent of his comment was misunderstood. He meant to say that Cooperstein was acting like a dictator, he said.

“I didn’t mean it the way it sounded,” Baptista said Monday. “The intent was not to slur him. I’m a human being and I made a mistake.”

Although the comments sparked an outcry among many city officials and members of the public, Baptista insists his apology was not politically motivated.

“It isn’t a political thing,” he said. It’s a thing that really bothered me personally.”

Cooperstein declined to comment on the apology.

The Anti-Defamation League and Mayor Charles Crowley had called for Baptista to formally apologize, but stopped short of demanding a resignation.

Andrew H. Tarsy, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the organization is satisfied with the apology.

“Mr. Baptista appears to be sincere and reflective,” he said. “This is ultimately a matter for the community to resolve at this point.”

He also sent a letter to the school committee, offering the ADL as a resource if the committee wishes to pursue any educational programs as a follow up to the incident.

The mayor is also pleased with the apology.

“That’s what we were asking for, and I hope it was heartfelt and that Mr. Cooperstein considers acceptance of it,” Crowley said. “Hopefully that conduct will not continue in the future. Every public official - not just Mr. Baptista - should conduct themselves in a professional manner, whether they’re addressing another committee member or anyone from the public.”

City Councilor David Pottier, who last week said Baptista should resign, is no longer calling for the longtime committeeman to step down.

“Taking his word and many years of service into account, if it’s good enough for Mr. Cooperstein and the ADL, then it’s good enough for me,” Pottier said. “I really appreciate that Mr. Baptista apologized. Hopefully we can move on from this.”

Baptista, a director with the Department of Social Services, once called for sensitivity training for all administrators in the school district. He said he hopes the incident will be a learning experience.

“I regret it, and I’ll try to learn from it and be much more careful about the words I use,” he said.

Gerri Tuoti of The Taunton (Mass.) Gazette can be reached at gtuoti@tauntongazette.com.