Three city council members in New Jersey’s capital city have now apologized for using or defending anti-Semitic language while discussing actions taken by the city’s Jewish attorney.
Councilwoman Robin Vaughn apologized in a statement on Wednesday, saying her comments defending Council President Kathy McBride were wrong and that she was “sincerely sorry.” McBride apologized at Tuesday’s council hearing. Councilman George Muschal, who also used the trope while defending McBride, apologized in a statement early Wednesday.
McBride’s comments were initially made in a closed-door session of the council Sept. 5. They became public after a local newspaper, The Trentonian, obtained an audio recording.
On the recording, McBride, a Democrat, is heard expressing concern over a $22,000 legal settlement the city struck with a woman who sued over an injury suffered on a city sidewalk.
“I’m sad for her that they were able to wait her out and Jew her down for $22,000 with pins in her knee that can never, ever be repaired,” McBride said.
The settlement was overseen by the city attorney, Peter Cohen, who is Jewish.
Numerous politicians, including Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, have condemned the comment, saying it reflected a pejorative stereotype of Jewish people as stingy negotiators.
At least one of McBride’s colleagues, Councilman Jerell Blakely, moved to censure her at Tuesday’s meeting but failed to garner support.
“We are seeing the breakdown in political conventions and the ties that bind us as Americans. We cannot sit idly by and allow elected officials who represent New Jersey’s state capital to embrace vicious anti-Semitic tropes,” Blakely said in an interview.
Vaughn and Muschal initially defended McBride.
Vaughn said the comments weren’t “anti-anything or indicative of hating Jewish people,” according to the Trentonian.
But in a statement Wednesday, Vaughn asked for forgiveness and to be allowed to continue in her job as a council member.
“First and foremost, I am sincerely sorry. My comments were wrong. Never was it my intention to hurt, disrespect or demean anyone when I described a racial slur or its usage, as a verb,” she said.
Muschal had said in an interview with the New Jersey Globe that he didn’t see a problem with using the phrase.
“You know, it’s like a car dealer. They wanted $5,000, you Jew ’em down to $4,000,” Muschal said. “It’s nothing vicious. The expression has been said millions of times.”
New Jersey’s entire 12-member congressional delegation then condemned both McBride’s original comments and the people who defended her.
“Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world and right here in New Jersey. We must never accept bigotry or hatred in any form. We are calling on both the Trenton Councilman and Councilwoman to apologize immediately or resign,” the delegation said in a statement Wednesday.
In an email to The Associated Press, Muschal said he apologized to anyone in the Jewish community he offended. Muschal said he had also apologized to Cohen.
Cohen was diplomatic about the matter, telling The Associated Press he didn’t think any council members were anti-Semitic or had made comments out of malice, though he added, “I think that everybody concerned would benefit from enhanced awareness and sensitivity about the historical nature of the language.”
Cohen noted that several years ago, McBride had asked him to help include Chanukkah as part of the city’s holiday celebrations.
Muschal and Vaughn listed their political parties as “non-partisan” in Election Law Enforcement Commission documents.