MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Several residents blasted Township Committee’s lone Democrat on Monday, saying he went too far in citing writing by Mayor Tim Donohue in a campaign flyer.
Donohue angered some over the summer with a social media post about white supremacy, which was later picked up as an opinion piece by the conservative website Save New Jersey.
Committeeman Michael Clark included a link to the piece in his campaign material, including the title “In search of white supremacy,” without further comment.
At the Monday Township Committee meeting, several people said Clark went too far and demanded an apology. They saw the inclusion as tantamount to calling Donohue a racist. At the end of the meeting, Donohue called Clark out directly, raising his voice at the meeting.
“You and I have worked together for six years. You and I have had disagreements. I have never attacked you personally. We can disagree on policy, we can be on different sides of the campaigns. I have never attacked you personally,” he said. “My family, myself, have been smeared by you for one reason, so that you can try to get reelected. It’s pathetic. And until you retract that statement, and until you are willing to do the right thing and man up and apologize, you and I are done. We are not working on anything together.”
Several speakers at the meeting defended Donohue as an honorable person.
The mayor is not on the ballot this year. Middle Township has an election each year for a three-year term on committee. Clark, who served as mayor when Democrats were in the majority, faces a challenge from Republican candidate Jim Norris. If Norris takes the seat, the three-member committee will be entirely Republican.
In a recent flyer, Clark’s campaign stated that he is all that is standing in the way of Donohue running the township.
“We need checks and balances, differing opinions and an independent voice to safeguard against abuses and prevent a ‘one-man rule’ Township Committee,” reads the flyer, an image of which was provided by former committee member Dan Lockwood, who is active in GOP campaigns in the township.
Lockwood raised the issue at the public comment portion of the meeting, joined by several other residents. A few residents who said they had not seen the flyer also spoke, stating that Clark’s campaign went too far for local politics in a township they say remains cordial and neighborly.
“That’s not what we do in this country, let alone Middle Township, where’ it’s a close-knit community, where people have each other’s backs. You can be different political parties, but that’s disgraceful,” said one of the speakers.
Several speakers called on Clark to repudiate the flyer, suggesting that leaders within the Democratic party had pushed for its inclusion, while others asked if he believed Donohue to be racist.
Clark did not directly answer that question, instead saying that he had never accused Donohue of being a racist. He said the mayor wrote the piece, he merely included a link to it.
“What was the point of putting it on the mailer if you weren’t trying to allude that he was a racist?” Lockwood said.
“I was just trying to make people aware of what he wrote,” Clark replied.
Melanie Collette, a former Republican candidate for Committee, said she has experienced racism in Middle Township but never from Donohue.
“It is absolutely infuriating to see that notation at the bottom of that advertisement indicating that someone is a white supremacist who absolutely is not, particularly when the person responsible absolutely knows better,” she said at the meeting.
For the most part, Clark said little at the meeting, aside from suggesting that white supremacy is not a joking matter. Some of the speakers at the meeting said that Donohue’s writing was no joke, but raised an important issue. Donohue described it as ‘sarcastic’ both at the Monday meeting and in previous interviews.
The writing drew a rebuke from the Cape May County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization did not suggest Donohue was racist, but did describe the writing as insensitive and arrogant. New NAACP chapter president Alexander Bland has said in subsequent interviews that he now has a good rapport with Donohue and has invited the mayor to his swearing in ceremony, planned in November.
“I do want to apologize for one thing, that I created this distraction, and people chose to take advantage of it politically,” Donohue said at the meeting. “Look, sarcasm goes over some people’s heads, you know?”
He said the writing began as a Facebook post.
“The point was I was continuing to read in the press how anyone that agreed with anything that was done by Donald Trump was a white supremist, was a racist. 50% of the country was automatically deemed racist if they agreed with anything the president said,” Donohue said. “My post was written sarcastically to point out the absurdity of that notion. So what ends up happening? Mike Clark ends up proving the point.”
The flyer includes a photo of Clark in his firefighter gear. He is a longtime volunteer firefighter in the township. It states that he will keep Middle Township transparent and affordable. A large photo of Donohue is included in the flyer.
“The Democrat party is really something else. I thought it was just down in Washington, but it must be coming up here. It’s stupid. If you don’t believe the man’s racist, you don’t keep spreading it. You let it drop and that’s the end of it,” stated resident Peggy Mathis. “Get to real issues.”
Republican committee nominee Jim Norris was at the meeting, but did not address the issue. He rose instead to ask Donohue about a change in employee health benefits.