Atlantic County Democrats condemned Freeholder John Carman on Wednesday for wearing a jacket with a patch that contains a Confederate symbol.
Carman, 58, a Republican from Egg Harbor Township, is up for re-election this year. The patch on the jacket he was photographed wearing is shaped like New Jersey, with an American flag covering the northern portion of the state and a Confederate flag covering the central and southern portions of the state.
Carman said the symbol on his American Legion Riders jacket is meant to represent the political divide between North and South Jersey. It has no racial overtones, he said. The patch has been on the jacket for years, he added.
“I’ve worn that jacket to honor veterans of all races during funeral processions,” he said. “Given what has happened recently, I should have considered taking it off, but it’s been on there so long I honestly didn’t think about it.”
Carman said he will probably take the patch off the jacket.
Carman will be running for re-election against Democrat Ashley Bennett, a psychiatric emergency screener at Cape Regional Medical Center. Bennett, 32, of Egg Harbor Township, is black and was offended by the Confederate symbol.
“As a woman of color, I had a deep, visceral reaction to the images I saw,” Bennett said in a statement. “I honestly could not even believe it. The Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred, intolerance and bigotry. The fact that Freeholder Carman believes this is appropriate conduct for an elected official in New Jersey in the year 2017 is outrageous.”
Keith Davis, chairman of the Atlantic County Republican Committee, said he was angry to hear that Carman had a Confederate symbol on his jacket.
“As a Republican, I’m embarrassed,” he said. “As an American, I’m outraged. And right now I’m just too angry to comment any further.”
This is not the first time Carman has created controversy this year. In January, he shared a meme on Facebook during the Women’s March on Washington, a rally that drew hundreds of thousands, with the caption, “Will the woman’s protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?”
The post quickly elicited criticism from Democrats across the state, and Carman initially refused to apologize, saying people needed to “lighten up” and that the meme was only a joke.
A day later, the story became national news and garnered comments from several political shows, including the popular progressive YouTube show “The Young Turks,” which has more than 3 million subscribers.
Carman later apologized for sharing the meme.
He said the Democrats were now trying to piggyback off the controversy last spring.
“It’s looney season right now,” he said, referring to election season. “They’re just coming after me because my record in the area is strong and they have nothing to run on.”
The general election in New Jersey will take place Nov. 7. The freeholder board in Atlantic County is currently comprised of eight Republicans and one Democrat.