John Carman

Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman says the jacket patch, which depicts Central and South Jersey covered by the Confederate flag, has no racial overtones.

Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman issued an apology Thursday after county Democrats condemned him 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 wearing, as seen in a photograph, 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.

“The ‘South Jersey Rebel’ patch which was on my vest was created to symbolize the political North Jersey/South Jersey divide. It was never intended to have any racial overtones whatsoever,” Carman said in a statement.

“This has been on my vest for years. Upon reflection and public outcry, I have removed it. I apologize for my insensitivity to those it may have offended and assure you that was not my intent. I always have, and always will represent ALL people, regardless of race or religion. Once again, I apologize. May God bless.”

Kaleem Shabazz, Atlantic City councilman and president of the Atlantic City NAACP, said he accepted Carman’s apology and planned to invite him to attend the next NAACP chapter meeting to help give him an understanding of “why the whole thing is a big deal.”

Shabazz was heartened to see Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis condemn the patch.

“I’m glad he took that position, because the Confederate flag situation is not a partisan situation.”

Carman is 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 said she 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.”

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?”

Carman later apologized for sharing the meme.

New Jersey will hold its general election Nov. 7. Currently, eight Republicans and one Democrat are on the Atlantic County freeholder board.

Staff Writers Erin Serpico and John DeRosier contributed to this report.

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