The Double-sided Republican campaign flier sent out to independent Hillsborough voters Tuesday
shows Democratic Township Committee Candidate Donnetta Johnson, who is black, and her running mate, David Brook, hanging by puppet strings, along with captions that read, “endorsed by Bernie Sanders’ ‘Our Revolution,’ “ “Anti-police,” and “Pro More Housing Development.”
“It’s a dog whistle against people of color,” said Johnson, a 34-year resident of Hillsborough and the owner of a music and arts school. “I am stunned and horrified, the blatant race-baiting, complete falsehoods, and misrepresented quotes are shocking. They’re stoking this national rhetoric and there are some people who’ll read this the wrong way and do irresponsible things.”
Johnson says she found out about the Republican flier from concerned neighbors. The flier includes a photo of a black woman at a rally, holding an anti-police sign, with a blurred face insinuating that it’s her protesting against police.
“I think police are an essential service,” said the candidate, who dismissed the mailer on every level. “They have a responsibility to take care of people, only all people don’t feel taken care of by the police. I’m interested in building bridges to police so all members of society feel protected by the police. I’m not interested in condemning. I’m interested in solutions.”
As for the charge that she wants more affordable housing in town, Johnson said the Republican Township Committee, which has been in power for 17 years, has not fulfilled its state-ordered affordable housing obligation and she merely wants Hillsborough to devise a plan in order to avoid a builder’s remedy.
Brook, an environmental attorney, running with fellow progressive Johnson on the Democratic ticket, says he is disgusted by something else.
“When this came out, I noticed my skin was darkened, I’m white,” Brook said. “They’re suggesting we’re puppets of Bernie Sanders but the other issue that’s disturbing in the flier is the hanging and string them up kind of thing. It could be that we’re puppets or that they want to Lynch us. It could be anything depending on your train of thought.”
The campaign flier was sent out by Somerset County Republicans, supporting their candidates, Hillsborough Mayor Doug Tomson and newcomer Janine Erickson.
Both Tomson and Erickson sounded upset when InsiderNJ reached out, speaking jointly to us on the telephone.
“Obviously the graphic represents our opponents as puppets (of Bernie Sanders) and the fact that they’re insinuating that it has anything to do with race is a sick extrapolation that is vile and disgusting,” said Erickson, her voice shaking. “It’s hurtful!”
“I am personally saddened that any individual would look at that flier and think that race was supposed to be an issue,” said Tomson, who was born and reared in Hillsborough. “That is not who I am and that is certainly not who Janine is.”
But Brook says he doesn’t buy his opponents’ explanation and holds them both responsible for fanning the flames of hate, adding, “I am disappointed and it’s damning of both Doug Tomson and Janine Erickson because they’re obviously racist.”
“You don’t know who I am, and to level that kind accusation, is hurtful,” said Erickson, responding to Brook’s accusation. “I am not a racist!”
Mayor Tomson says the Township Committee, which has been controlled by
Republicans for more than a decade, has done everything it can to make sure all residents feel safe.
“In January we did a resolution as a day of healing,” Tomson said. “We passed a resolution, acknowledging institutional racism and the murder of George Floyd because we felt it was important to do so as a community.”
Johnson, a 58-year-old mother of three who lost a son to suicide, says it’s important to point out she
supports police in her community and wants to find ways to work with the department in order to build bridges. She blames President Donald Trump, who owns a golf course in her county, for fostering hatred that she now says has found its way down to the local level.
“We’ve run a clean campaign and we would never resort to lies, misrepresentation or personal attacks,” she added.
Somerset County Republican Chair Tim Howes says Johnson and Brook have nothing to run on and
that’s why they’re using race to deflect from any kind of agenda.
“Bernie Sanders endorsed them,” Howes said (actually Our Revolution did), “There is no racial intent (referring to the campaign flier) and race is being inserted into a place where it doesn’t exist because the Democrats have no plan for Hillsborough.”
Sources tell us Republican candidates will be reaching out to Johnson and Brook because this is an important discussion.
But Johnson said Republicans, with their offensive flier, already succumbed to a Trump-festering culture and dragged the public discussion to a hateful place.
“We’ve led a campaign where we haven’t once dogged them out,” said the Democrat. “Our campaign is about being inclusive and breaking up the dynasty they have had for 17 years. We are about innovation and smart strategic planning and making use of the residents who would like to weigh in on decisions made by insiders behind closed doors. We are talking about taking our township in a new direction when we preserve and we protect our tax base for every single home.
“Their website,” she said of her GOP opponents, “says ‘coming soon.’ Our campaign is about the best ideas for Hillsborough and our neighbors. Our campaign is about moving the borough forward. We want to take our community forward in a positive direction that preserves the best that we love about Hillsborough.”