CHATHAM TOWNSHIP – The first key issue in a contested race that will determine which party controls town government revolves around the Nazis and Elie Wiesel.
Nothing symbolizes the polarization and exaggerations of today’s politics – on all levels – better than that. This matter also has to do with the pandemic and masks in school – of course.
Strip away the issue of the day for the moment and you see that the stakes here are pretty high. This is a swing town in what may be a swing county.
A generation ago, Democrats in this affluent Morris County township hardly existed. Now they control
the five-member township committee.
But wait a minute.
Republicans won two seats last year and can win back the governing body this fall if challenger Mark Lois beats incumbent Democrat Kathy Abbott.
That’s the backdrop.
The foreground starts last year during the beginning of the pandemic with a letter from Michael LaSusa, the superintendent of schools for a consolidated district that includes Chatham Borough and Chatham Township.
LaSusa mentions a slew of practical information about the pandemic and then offers some philosophy about coping with tough times. In short, his point was that things can be much worse.
And proving that point, LaSusa cites Wiesel’s book, “Night,” which details the author’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp. The superintendent’s obvious goal at the time was to offer some perspective about tough times.
Fast forward to last week.
That’s when the school board met with the state’s mask in schools mandate fresh in everyone’s mind.
Polls suggest a majority back the mandate, but that hasn’t dulled the passion of opponents, one of whom is Lois.
Speaking at last week’s meeting, the GOP candidate brought up the superintendent’s letter and cited Wiesel’s work himself.
Quoting from the book, Lois said, “They are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another: telling people who have suffered excruciating pain and loss, that their pain and loss were illusions. Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.”
Lois then added, “We have to stop the torment of these children whose health is affected by the masks.”
While Lois is not the first to compare mask mandates to the Holocaust, at least indirectly, such comments are not going to go unchallenged.
That’s understandable by any objective analysis.
Wiesel was talking about the execution of millions of people.
Wearing a mask in school is … well, wearing a mask in school.
Abbott called the comparison “irrational,” adding that it diminishes “the enormous magnitude of difference between the reality of Chathamites attending school during the COVID pandemic and Jewish people who have been subject to a genocide of 6 million people, and then had the history of their people denied or used for hyperbole.”
Other supporters of Abbott have made similar comments on social media. Abbott wants Lois to apologize.
Don’t count on it.
Lois said in an email exchange today that, “I spoke up about the masking of children with medical issues and my political opponent and her supporters choose to vilify me. I will not be silent for residents that need support and understanding.”
He added that he stands by his comments about masking children with medical conditions. (Lois bolded those words himself).
Election Day is about two months away and we will doubtless hear more about this issue.
Then again, isn’t masking students a school board concern, not one for municipal government? Just wondering.