Lakewood mayor: Toms River mayor’s Jewish ‘invasion’ comments are ‘bigotry’
Toms River mayor Thomas Kelaher on Wednesday offered an apology for his description of Orthodox Jews who moved to Toms River as being part of an "invasion" in response to an angry letter from the mayor of neighboring Lakewood.
Kellaher said that during testimony at a Township Council meeting about establishing a “cease-and-desist” zone to bar door-to-door solicitations because of persistent real estate agents ignoring a no-knock ordinance, the mayor said those who testified under oath "said they felt they were subjected to an invasion." He said he used the word in an interview with a reporter from Bloomberg Business to explain how residents felt.
"Apparently that term offended a lot of folks who are mostly opposed to the cease-and-desist and in effect supported these real estate people. It was certainly never meant to offend anybody...that was the context in which that term was used and if it offended people I'm sorry. It has apparently taken a life of its own," Kelaher said at a news conference hours after Lakewood Mayor Menashe Miller fired off a missive slamming Kelaher's comments.
Kelaher indirectly acknowledged Miller's letter and said "the folks in Lakewood, particularly the mayor, took issue with me and use of that term. I think he did that without understanding the context it was said under."
Miller had said Kelaher's comments, quoted this week in a Bloomberg Business article, are "pure unadulterated bigotry."
In the article about the growth of the Jewish community in the North Dover section of Toms River, Kelaher was quoted saying it was “like an invasion. It’s the old throwback to the 1960s, when blockbusting happened in Philadelphia and Chicago with the African-American community — ‘I want to buy your house. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.’ It scares the hell out of people.”
Toms River’s town council recently passed an ordinance creating a five-year “cease-and-desist” zone to bar door-to-door solicitations after residents said a no-knock registry wasn’t working.
Kelaher recently told Townsquare Media the new ordinance was proposed to protect residents against harassment and intimidating conduct.
After coming under attack for the Bloomberg article, Kelaher told the Asbury Park Press that his comments were taken out of context and "we have a lovely relationship with the Jewish community in Toms River."
But Miller, an Orthodox Jew, issued a statement Wednesday on township letterhead slamming Kelaher.
"It is fundamentally unjust and un-American to compare law abiding U.S. citizens engaging in legal real estate commerce to the hostile entry of a pernicious force. To say so, simply due to the fact that homebuyers are of a different faith and ethnicity than your own is pure, unadulterated bigotry," Miller said.
He also accused Kelaher of using campaign material in his re-election campaign that used "'Lakewood' as a dog whistle to intimidate Toms River residents to vote for you."
Miller wrote that "the elected officials and community leaders of Lakewood are eager to work together with our Toms River counterparts to ensure that its residents of all stripes can enjoy the quality of life they dream of. Orthodox Jewish residents share this dream."
In his letter, Miller said that "if there are any individuals within our community who have crossed the lines of accepted real estate commerce, we are willing to work together to prevent such incidents in the future."
Miller asked for Kelaher to "sincerely apologize for your hurtful comments" in order for all communities and municipalities to move forward.
Both mayors are Republicans.
Tom Mongelli and Ted Maturo contributed to this report