ROCKFORD — In a long radio interview on WROK radio Thursday morning, Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey pulled no punches against those who oppose the proposed South New Towne Drive low-income housing project.

Using terms like “slanderous” and “B.S.”, and describing the plan’s opponents’ use of racist “code words”, the mayor dismissed criticism of the project as being the result of fear-mongering.

Morrissey’s harshest criticisms were against Winnebago County Board Member, John Sweeney, Jr., who implied that Morrissey’s personal motivation for pushing the project is because he has financial ties to its developer, Gorman and Company. “I want to say directly, not only do I not have any financial ties the Gorman, there’s no connection between this project and the Amerock hotel proposal that Gorman is also working on. That was suggested by County Board member John Sweeney Jr. in a Facebook post that claimed the City “sold out” New Towne for the sake of a downtown hotel. “It’s a fabrication. It’s borderline libelous, and he should be ashamed of himself for putting out that kind of outrageous comment,” Morrissey rebutted.

Morrissey told host Michael Koolidge that he felt that the Winnebago County Board, which overwhelmingly voted against the project, was fomenting “lies and general inaccuracies” that were adding to the hostility towards both himself and other supporters of the project. During the interview, he discussed a meeting which took place last week with local residents, which was cut short after emotions ran high. The mayor called the meeting place a “horrible environment.”

The mayor also said he believes racism is an element to opposition to the plan, saying, “What I’ve been really shocked at is the number of emails I’ve gotten and some of the comments from people saying, ‘You shouldn’t let ‘those people’ come to the east side, which is a (racist) code word in my opinion.”

Morrissey then went on to say that he believes the New Towne Drive project, if built, would be among the safest areas in the city, in part because it would be right across the street from the District 3 police station. He then added, “Let me acknowledge that there certainly has been a history in Rockford of high crime around a number of the public housing projects … but there’s a big difference between a housing project of the 1960s in an affordable housing development were talking about building today.”

You can find excerpts from the interview on WROK’s website here.