‘Clark KKK … embarrassing’ — Residents blast NJ mayor over racist recordings
CLARK — Residents heaped criticism on Mayor Sal Bonaccorso Monday night at the Township Council’s first meeting since video of the mayor’s racist remarks and reports of money paid to a whistleblower surfaced.
Audio recordings published by NJ.com captured a myriad of racial slurs, comments, and misogynistic remarks by Bonaccorso. Gov. Phil Murphy and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., were among those calling for Bonaccorso to resign.
Resident Daniel Fuchs said Bonaccorso's actions warrant his resignation and his apology fell "incredibly short."
"The mayor is an adult and a governing official. He should not have these 'blind spots,' in my opinion. A man cannot lead a community when he or she has these thoughts and feelings towards a particular group of people," Fuchs said.
In his apology message, the mayor said that during Black Lives Matters marches in 2020 he found a personal "blind spot" after listening to the message of protesters.
“The town cannot move forward with you as mayor, and I’m asking you to resign and do the right thing so we can all move forward,” Fuchs said.
He was later removed by police when he interrupted Councilman Bill Smith at the end of the meeting.
What did you know and when did you know it?
Resident Michael Shulman described Bonaccorso's comments as "disgusting and disturbing" and no secret to residents. He used the same description for council members who approved the use of insurance money as a part of what he called a "payoff" with a whistleblower who recorded the comment.
Township attorney Mark Dugan corrected Shulman and said it was a settlement.
"It was a settlement of a legal claim. There's no escaping that. It was properly authorized by a resolution, it was listed on an agenda," Dugan said.
Dugan said the settlement was made with the advice of legal counsel and that he advised council members not to comment because of investigations by the Union County Prosecutor's Office and the state Attorney General's office.
"I do not want any township official jeopardizing or even undermining to a slight degree those investigations. Let's let them conclude. Maybe then you'll get your answers," Dugan said.
A reason for confidentiality
The attorney said the $70,000 settlement was made confidential not to "hide" it but rather to not provide information that would make individuals with future legal claims against the township think they could get as large a settlement.
"It was to shield from the public possible claimants that amount that was paid to avoid establishing a floor for future claims," Dugan said.
Shulman said the settlement benefited the mayor and the police chief and not the town.
"Why was taxpayer money used? Why was a taxpayer's insurance policy used? We don't have answers to those questions. You've been silent Mr. Mayor, you as a council have been silent not answering these questions," Shulman said. "When did you know? What did you know? How were you told? Did you hear the recordings? Was counsel advising you? Was outside counsel advising you? Has new counsel been retained?"
He said that Bonaccorso is an "embarrassment" to the town by not stepping down.
Old reputations haunt new residents
Resident Joan Peters said she moved into a new development from out-of-town knowing nothing about the town.
"Almost immediately I started hearing what was going on in Clark. 'It's a racist town. It's always been a racist town. Clark KKK. The Nazi's are here. Everything that could be wrong was wrong," Peters said.
She was proud to walk with the chief and the Bonaccorso in the BLM march until she heard Bonaccorso's comments.
"Every single year it's been something else. It has been another thing that I get upset about. Then Trump was invited onto the municipal property. I didn't think that was appropriate. Then this happens? It is embarrassing."
Never wanted a payday
Former Clark Lt. Antonio Manata told NJ.com that he was only doing the right thing when he gave his recording to the township which ended his police career and brought him criticism.