It seems less like even a facsimile of government and more like one inappropriate, profane and hate-filled tirade after another in the City of Trenton. Of course, some might call that the very definition of government, prompting them to lay siege to the nation’s capitol. But in this capital, this time, it was Trenton At-Large Councilman Jerell Blakeley plunging into the mire with a universally condemned comment aimed at his colleague.
He actually said it nearly a year ago, referring to Council President Kathy McBride as an “illiterate crackhead prostitute” during a coronavirus briefing on April 6.
The grotesque remark surfaced last month.
Today, Blakeley apologized but stood by his decision not to resign, and said he understands the episode as a lesson and an opportunity to work toward improving the rhetoric at City Hall – and working to restore trust.
“I’ll just say this… my colleagues have been silent on racism, homophobia, threats of violence, anti Semitism etc.,” he said. “They didn’t even pass an anti bias resolution last meeting. They are attacking me for a year old comment for political purposes.”
As for his comment to McBride, “I responded to Kathy calling me a Disrespectful Piece of Sh-t unprovoked, at the meeting last year,” the councilman said. “I sincerely apologized a year ago to her and I apologize now. Kathy accepted my apology then. Kathy and my colleagues said absolutely nothing for nearly a year about our mutual argument until it was released by the newspaper.
“Kathy and I moved on from this issue,” Blakeley added. “She was just texting me during a council meeting a month ago on city business. I have been on the opposite side on nearly major issue as my colleagues and they are using this issue to be political opportunists and to destroy me politically, one year after the incident in question. I should not have said what I said. When Kathy went low, I should have went high, in the words of Michelle Obama. I made a mistake. And I’ve been reflecting on how important it is to raise the level of rhetoric and increase the level of civility in government and focus on the issues.
“And over the last year, I’ve worked very hard to stay focused on the issues. I will work even harder,” he added. “It’s been a very toxic, nasty and political charged environment on council and in city government in general and passions have run very high on all sides. No one trusts anyone. Several folks are gearing up to run for mayor. We all have said things that we regret and it’s been a very public and embarrassing lesson, one that I will grow from and learn from.”
That said, what can he do about it?
“There is so much pain and hurt in this city, and it also infects our government as well,” said Blakeley. “Trenton suffers from a severe lack of trust and leadership. Since Doug Palmer left, our municipal government has been very unstable and chaotic. One mayor went to prison, another leaving after just one term, [sitting Mayor] Reed [Gusciora] having a very tough time, Previous councils have been just as tumultuous as this one. But right now, we are at rock bottom. Trentonians are rightfully sick of all of us. We have to work together, put aside our petty political grievances and get to work on the issues the people elected us us to confront.”
Indeed, Blakeley’s comment did not arise in a vacuum.
Councilwoman Robin Vaughn last year infamously went off on Gusciora in a lurid and hateful anti-gay diatribe.
She later apologized.
Trenton Councilman George Muschal, who last month told the Trentonian he does not plan to run again, uttered anti-Semitic slurs in 2019 that prompted him to apologize.
McBride, too, dove into the muck when she said a city attorney negotiating a woman’s personal injury lawsuit was “able to wait her out and Jew her down” for a lower settlement amount.
In 2015, then-At-Large Councilwoman Phyllis Holly-Ward called for the resignation from leadership of then-Council President Zach Chester following Chester’s participation in a physical altercation at last Thursday’s city council meeting. Chester initiated the melee, said the councilwoman, who was physically hurt by her colleague, she said.
Chester washed out of office.
Holly-Ward left, too.
First elected in 2018, Blakeley said Muschal yelled him at the first meeting he ever attended.
It set the tone for the council, he admitted.
“As a young elected leader, I’m still learning,” said the councilman, up for reelection next year. “This has been a very painful lesson but pain serves a very important purpose. One of my mentors Mr. Stevenson, the first black elected official of Hamilton Township who just passed, told me something that I’ve been reflecting on. He told me that controversy makes you a stronger person. I’m in the cauldron of controversy now and it’s going to make a better and stronger public servant.”