LINDEN – It started innocently enough, with a conversation about a city mascot – something for the children – and fast devolved into comparisons to Hitler.
It’s a mayoral election here on June 5th, and so it was bound to get physical.
Someone was going to get nose to nose with someone else.
Someone was going to file charges.
So it happened tonight.
In this case, the two people involved were Mayor Derek Armstead and Councilman John Francis Roman, in an incident that allegedly occurred in City Hall prior to Tuesday’s scheduled meeting. Following what Roman says was a hard shoulder check by the mayor, the councilman went downstairs and filed a simple assault charge against Armstead.
According to the Roman, the elected officials were debating the merits of making the Linden Tigers a citywide mascot, considering the downside of conceivably overhauling the industrial city in orange and black.
Armstead, said Roman, pushed back against the protests.
Then Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey, who’s running against the mayor in a three-way contest that also includes Councilwoman Rhashonna Cosby, countered that her council colleague expressed fair concerns.
“Those are good, valid points,” Hickey said.
Armstead, according to Roman, turned to his citywide rival and said, “It is f’ing stupid and you’re f’ing stupid.”
Roman told InsiderNJ that the remark stopped the room.
The councilman said moments later, the mayor approached him and rebuked him for going on Facebook
to complain about another matter.
There, at close quarters, Armstead allegedly told the councilman, “I’d like to knock your f’ing head off.”
Roman said his reaction was something along the lines of, “Is that really necessary? Are you really doing this right now?”
Councilman Ralph Strano attempted to intervene, Roman said, at which point, “He [the mayor] shoulder checks me hard.”
Council President Jorge Alvarez – a Hickey ally – said, “You can’t hit a councilman.”
Armstead moments afterwards chided Roman for being childish.
“This is my game you’re playing,” Roman said the mayor told him.
At that point, he went down to police headquarters to file the simple assault charge.
“Never a dull moment,” a cop crowed down the hall as the council proceeded to chew into the night’s agenda items during its regularly scheduled public meeting.
InsiderNJ asked Armstead what he thought of the incident.
He seemed surprised.
“Good,” he said, when informed of the filed assault charge.
What was his version of events?
“I was trying to get him off me,” the mayor said.
The mayor appeared calm and collected, and honored the police chief after Roman filed the charge, then went into the hallway to engage in banter with a half dozen officers.
Armstead said they’re all conspiring to get him out of there, including Cosby.
“She’s a spoiler,” he said of the councilwoman, arguing that she’s in the contest to siphon votes from his African American base to enable the state Senator Nick Scutari-backed Hickey to win.
“But my base is bigger than African Americans,” Armstead said.
Roman appeared unamused by the incident.
“It’s Linden,” the councilman said.
“I am not surprised by his behavior,” said the mayoral candidate. “In years past, then-Councilman Armstead when he was in a disagreement with Councilman Brown during a workshop meeting when he called him a monkey and invited him to step outside. We all understood that to mean for a fight. When I expressed my dissatisfaction to him, he told me he was a man, but he would let his sister take care of me and I was speechless.
“This is not the temperament of a leader,” Cosby added. “As mayor I would never let my emotions take over my behavior toward a member of the public, staff or any member of the governing body. I applaud Councilman Roman for his decorum and restraint.”
This was the final scheduled council meeting prior to the election next month and going in, some of the principals anticipated rougher exchanges than usual as rain beat down on the factory town.
On his Facebook page, the mayor later wrote, “When candidates don’t have a platform to run on, they create fake news, lies, and resort to hate, false accusations and slander. With all the redevelopment happening in town, our success to reduce municipal taxes, the elimination of garbage taxes and the creation of a successful Linden First Job Program in which 400 people were able to secure jobs, sadly a story about a mascot took center stage.”