Fallout for Racist Tweets by Sussex GOP Chair Jerry Scanlan Uncertain

Insider NJ's Fred Snowflack looks at the possible fallout facing Jerry Scanlan, Vice-Chair of the Sussex County Community College Board of Trustees, for a series of sexist, homophobic and perhaps racist tweets he made using the Sussex County Republican Party's official Twitter account.

Those of a certain age may sympathize with Bill Curcio, the chair of the Sussex County Community College Board of Trustees, who observed Monday evening that a “tweet” used to be something you heard from a bird.

One consequence of changing times is that Curcio and his colleagues must deal with a series of  sexist, homophobic and perhaps racist tweets coming not from a low-flying hawk, but Jerry Scanlan, the board’s vice-chair. Among other things, the tweets called four Democratic congresswomen “bitches” and “whores” and referred to gay soccer player Megan Rapinoe as a “lesbian hag.”

Scanlan posted the tweets in his capacity as chair of the Sussex County Republican party. When they first drew public attention last month, Scanlan initially blamed the hubbub on Phil Murphy, claiming the governor was rousing up his minions in Sussex County for political purposes. It was an absurd thing to say and Scanlan wisely switched gears a few days later, took responsibility for the postings, and issued an apology.

But that’s not the end of it.

Scanlan’s political position is one thing; his public status as a college trustee is another. While his term expires the end of October – less than three months away – college officials seem determined to do something. Precisely what is their quandary.

Curcio joined the college president and counsel at a press briefing on Monday. This type of availability is appreciated, but the officials didn’t really have all that much to say.

Curcio said college officials have met over the matter a few times, including once with Scanlan. But he acknowledged it’s not “totally clear” what, if anything, the board can do. And Curcio declined to say what he thought of the tweets, contending that anything he would say could be viewed as “prejudicial.”

There is no mechanism for a public body to force one of its members to resign, even if members want to do that. Of course, in this case, there’s no indication that they do.

Still, there seems to be some danger here for the college. which by design strives to treat all students equally. Curcio said it’s imperative for the college environment to be dedicated to “civility” and “respect.”

So, how does civility and respect mesh with a board member who thinks it’s fine to insult women and gays? The issue in the tweets was not that Scanlan disagreed with four liberal House members known as “the squad.”  You expect Republicans to disagree with liberal Democrats. But ridiculing and insulting the women because of their gender? That was – and is – the problem.

One must ask, would such postings by a college official dissuade a young woman from enrolling in the Sussex college? Maybe.

We may not know what the board of trustees will end up doing, but we do know the next step – a special meeting is set for Aug. 20 at 5 p.m.

During a question and answer session with the press, “free speech” was raised. Freedom of speech is always an overriding issue, but it doesn’t apply here. Scanlan’s right to speak is not in question; it’s his status as a college trustee.

To put it another way, people have a constitutional right to say what they want, but not a constitutional right to serve on a college board of trustees.

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