Clark, NJ mayor apologizes: Admits racist, sexist comments caught on tape
CLARK — After dodging questions on whether a police whistleblower's secret recordings were of him, Mayor Sal Bonaccorso apologized on Tuesday for making the racist and sexual comments caught on tape.
Audio recordings published by NJ.com captured a myriad of racial slurs, comments, and misogynistic remarks by Bonaccorso. Gov. Phil Murphy was among those calling for Bonaccorso to resign.
“I’m here today to say I’ve made mistakes and I’d like to apologize to the residents of Clark, my family, my friends and all those who were offended by my comments," Bonaccorso, a long-time Republican officeholder, says in the video. "They had a right to expect more from me. My words should not reflect on any of them."
Calling his words “hurtful and insensitive,” the mayor says he is “embarrassed and ashamed to have spoken that way about a race of people. I have learned, and I have changed and it will not happen again.”
Changed by the BLM marches
The mayor says that he began to learn more about discrimination during the Black Lives Matters marches in 2020, which he says revealed his personal “blind spots" after listening to the message of protesters. The mayor says he is now a different person than he was two years ago.
"I went to those marches in 2020 thinking I was going to hear people out. Instead, I heard much more inside my own head," Bonaccorso says. "I now realize that not sharing my insights and lessons from those rallies with this community was a missed opportunity."
Bonaccorso also apologized for his "insensitive" comments about a woman police officer.
"They were hurtful and I'm sorry. They were also part of a larger difficult conversation we were having about performances of several officers employed by Clark PD," Bonaccorso says in the video.
The mayor admitted he does not recall every conversation he has ever had but said he is a different person than he was four years ago.
"Because the world is a teacher and I've gotten through good fortune to learn from it a person's age doesn't determine growth. It's ongoing," the mayor says.
Continuing to learn with action
Bonaccorso, who has served as mayor since 2000, said he will be continuing his learning by working with Rahway resident Mark Bullock and his group New Life CDC to help bring people together.
"After a long, heartfelt, truthful conversation with Mark I've decided to continue my learning with action," Bonaccorso says. "I will invite members of the community to join me as well. I look forward to working to change the perception of myself and of Clark. For those who don't live here, we will come to understand that Clark is a loving, caring community that accepts everyone."
New Life CDC’s stated mission is to “meet people's needs in all areas of living through community outreach and collaborative efforts that would result in a better community.”
The mayor did not address the $400,000 that the township paid to police Lt. Antonio Manata to keep the recordings secret. They became public as part of a whistleblower lawsuit filed by Manata.
Ties to a previous incident
The comments on the audio reference a 2017 incident at Arthur L. Johnson High School. A Black puppet was left hanging by a string for the Plainfield girls basketball team to find before a game against Clark. Just days after the image garnered public outrage on Facebook, Bonaccorso went to the Plainfield City Council to formally apologize.
Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp, who is Black and a Democrat, told New Jersey 101.5 he was offended by the racist and misogynistic remarks. He called them "astounding" and "reprehensible and called for Bonaccorso to resign.
The mother of a student whose friend left the sculpture said it was a "misunderstanding" and that the puppet was meant to resemble basketball player Lebron James for a class assignment.