FLEMINGTON — A blue line down the middle of Main Street was ordered removed by Flemington Borough Mayor Betsy Driver on Saturday morning, calling it a "shameful, divisive dividing line."

Driver announced the action in message on her Twitter account and stated it was done "before most of Flemington woke up." Hours after the line was painted over, a protest in support of Black Lives Matter was held in Flemington, attended by 1,500 people including Rep. Tom Malinowski, she said in a post on her Facebook page.

The blue line was painted on Main Street in October 2016 to honor the borough's police, according to TAP into Flemington/Raritan.

The legality of painting such lines on municipal streets became an issue in 2017, when the Federal Highway Administration sent letters to municipalities blue lines were against the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways. The agency said the blue paint might confuse drivers because blue paint is also used to mark handicap-accessible parking spaces.

Then-Rep. Leonard Lance, who was defeated by Malinowski in 2018, introduced legislation granting state DOTs the ability to give exemptions.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Driver wrote that she was amazed that “people think removing a faded blue line means there isn't support for the police” and called Flemington's department "one of the best."

"We support them and honor them every day with making sure they have a contract that is fair, by making sure they have the equipment they need to do their jobs, and making sure they have a good work environment," the mayor wrote. "We don't ask them to work for free, and we don't ask them to work under horrible conditions. Platitudes don't pay their bills; good pay and working conditions do."

“To those who claim the police won't respond due to the removal of the faded blue paint, shame on you. You insult every officer who does their job honorably,” she wrote.

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Neither the mayor nor police chief Jerry Rotella has yet responded to messages seeking comment about the blue line being painted over.

But the mayor said in response to a comment on Facebook "The line was placed there in 2016 in opposition to BLM. I’ve heard from many many residents, particularly black residents, who saw it not as support for police but as opposition to their existence. That we would have any type of symbol that makes residents and visitors uncomfortable is shameful and divisive."

The mayor, a former CBS News producer, posted a link for donations to the department's union, Hunterdon County PBA Local 188.

"Our police do a great job and have great community involvement. You can honor them by actually supporting the good things they do for the community, like their annual Shop With A Cop program that provides holiday gifts for disadvantaged kids in our community," Driver wrote.

Clinton Township FOP Lodge 182 President John Tiger, on the union lodge's own Facebook page, said he and other officers were in absolute agreement that the Minneapolis death of unarmed black man George Floyd under the knee of an officer who has since been charged with murder — which set off racial justice protests and debates about policing nationwide — was wrong.

But Tiger said the blue line "represents the fine officers of your police department."

"As an officer in a neighboring agency I can tell you that your officers routinely respond to dangerous incidents. They regularly investigate serious crimes, with real victims. You should applaud their service. I am proud to work alongside these officers, and assist them in any way I can," he said.

Tiger went on to say it's those same officers who protected the mayor and protesters, diverting traffic, and protecting businesses and homes.

"On the periphery of your town, dozens of other members of 'that shameful dividing line' waited to respond in case the peaceful rally became anything but that. And I am proud to say that the residents of your town, our county, and all of the citizens who exercised their rights that day were shining examples of freedom in action. They peaceably assembled to seek redress for their grievances," Tiger wrote.

And he admonished the mayor for a decision he said was made by her, and not her constituents.

"I am sure that your citizens are proud that your officers have much more conviction for their beliefs then you do for yours. You may have painted over that thin blue line. But you will never erase it," he wrote. "Those officers are what stands between right and wrong. They are the ones that stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. And they will still be there to answer any call for help, whether you think they are 'shameful' or not.


Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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