PLUMSTED – When interviews for a new member of the Township Committee were being done, one candidate said her morals and medical history were questioned because she had a life-saving abortion.
Resident Kate Tallon spoke during the public portion of a recent Township Committee meeting about what happened to her. She was a candidate being screened to replace Committeeman Thomas Calabrese, who resigned prior to the meeting.
Tallon told The Jackson Times, she failed the interview after questions about abortion were posed “because I stumbled for words as I couldn’t understand why that had been brought up. I don’t think it was very fair to insult me like that and to continue to ask me questions and think I would be able to find the right words.”
During her public comment, Tallon said, “I asked seven of the nine candidates who came if their interviews included questions on abortion. None of them had. Not even the other two women who stayed to hear the voting results. I asked if any of them had social media posts waiting to be used as ammunition against them. No one else had that experience either.”
Plumsted’s form of government is partisan and members of each voting district are represented by County Committee members. Pastor John Burlaga is the Republican Committeeman of District 3. He said there were six voting districts in the township and this was his first time to be involved in a screening process.
“Pastor Burlaga had pulled out his cell phone to show a Facebook post I made about my medical required D and C also known as an abortion, to save my life. Without that procedure there is a high probability that I would not have the two beautiful sons I have today. That was a lifesaving procedure that caused no deaths and required no intervention from the government but these two pastors (Pastor/Committeeman Dominick Cuozzo and Burlaga) used it to assault me so I could not respond further to questions,” she said.
“Bringing up my loss and having to watch Pastor Cuozzo and his wife (Nicole Cuozzo) snickering and giggling at me as I fumbled for the words to say. I now see I am not a good fit for the version of the Republican party that you have,” she added. She said she had hoped to serve on the Plumsted Township Committee to bring her experience in the area of environmental matters to the governing body. Tallon said she currently serves on the municipal environmental committee.
A number of people sat on the right side of the seating area in the municipal meeting room who were in support of Tallon during the session. Dr. Norma Bowe, a university teacher, was among them. She said Tallon has been a guest lecturer on environmental activism. “What happened to her this week is an abomination. She was interviewed for a municipal seat and they asked her about private, protected, medical information.”
Bowe said during the public comment period, “what you have done as part of the selection process, may be illegal if that comment was made during an interview. This has gone all the way to the state level. We have already consulted attorneys about what is happening in this town. Someone’s private medical information is protected in this country.”
“I think there is a misunderstanding. The Republican platform does support pro-life for the most part and that is what we are replacing here is a Republican seat name so that was what was important to people’s views on pro-life,” resident Barbara Diblin said. The Township Committee is all Republican.
Setting The Record Straight
Committeeman Cuozzo asked several times during the meeting for Mayor Robert Bowen and Committeeman Leonard Grilletto to state what they observed during the screening process and the specifics of the questions posed to Tallon. “I want you to weigh in on what happened during the Committee selection. Please tell them what happened, please.”
“If you would like me to do so I will do so but I will wait until after public comment,” Bowen replied.
Cuozzo argued the public comments to come “would be based on a misunderstanding and you know that. I don’t want to sit here and listen to people talking about me and things that did not happen. I would like for you to correct the record. Lenny would you correct the record?”
After repeated requests by Cuozzo and the mayor repeating his plan to speak after the public comment period, acting Township Attorney Jean L. Cipriani said it was the purview of the chair of the meeting, Mayor Bowen, to speak when he wanted to.
“This is unreasonable,” Cuozzo said. “Mayor, you know this is unreasonable. I am very disappointed in both of you for doing this.”
In a statement provided to The Jackson Times, Burlaga explained his version of the interview. “Committeeman Cuozzo opened the floor with questioning Ms. Tallon asking her: ‘Why do you want the position? Do you agree with the full Republican Party? If you dissent anywhere, can you say where?’”
“Ms. Tallon answered both questions respectfully, yet she never stated a point of disagreement with the Republican platform. After she answered Cuozzo’s question she then graciously asked if he would not ask her any more questions because there was history between the two of them,” Burlaga said.
Burlaga said Cuozzo agreed, and didn’t ask Tallon any additional questions. “I followed up the next question and asked, ‘If selected to fill the position, we also expect you to be Committeeman Cuozzo’s running mate (as Calabrese was) and support him in the 2024 election?’”
“After I asked the question. I immediately cited a Facebook post Ms. Tallon made in June 2022 where she publicly accused Committeeman Cuozzo of ‘preaching against women working, women leading, and women having voices’ and again, ‘he [Cuozzo] has a very disturbing view of how the world should be run.’”
Burlaga said he cited her post “for the sole purpose to show Ms. Tallon that I doubt she could be able to support Cuozzo. Then I finished my question with asking if she still stands by her post and if she can support him. Ms. Tallon then responded that she could not support Cuozzo, nor would she be his running mate.”
He followed with another question that he also posed to other candidates to which Tallon answered that she is pro-choice. “I then followed up with a second question, when you were asked by Cuozzo what positions you disagree with on the Republican platform, why did you not state your position on abortion?”
Burlaga said his party at large holds to pro-life beliefs. “Ms. Tallon responded with the reason that she did not consider it, since the subject of abortion is not handled at the municipal level.” He said his questions were planned in advance and maintains that he nor anyone on the board asked inappropriate questions, nor ridiculed people for their positions and answers.
“The Facebook post I quoted I received from a citizen in my district as she expressed concerns about Ms. Tallon, and she wanted to use her right to inform me, which as a County Committeeman, is my job to hear the concerns of the people in my district who I represent.”
Burlaga maintains that he nor any of the nine people who sat on the screening committee ever attacked Tallon. “She was neither mean, condescending or aggressive towards us, nor were we to her. From my point of view, it was a simple interview process, and that was all.”
The pastor said he asked the question on abortion because “I believe it carries more weight at the municipal level since the Supreme Court’s Decision on Roe versus Wade. With the decision it transfers legislation onto the state level.”
He said he asked four of the nine candidates in total (including Tallon) to give their position on abortion. “There were others I didn’t ask that question to, for the reason that I either knew their position already, or assumed their position, just by the answers they gave on other questions.”
Cuozzo said two of the candidates screened, Tallon being one, requested that he not ask them any questions during the process. “I did not say a word to Kate Tallon at the time of the interview except to welcome her into the room. She asked that I not speak, and I did not.”
Mayor Bowen confirmed that Cuozzo did not speak to Tallon. “I was informed the day after the meeting by the County Committee about the question about abortion was asked to a few of the candidates. I asked the person who asked those questions (Burlaga). I was not aware that Kate had shared her experience with others and that folks knew of it.”
“When I heard that, I was obviously, deeply concerned that the question had been targeted to her on purpose,” the mayor added. “I agree that would be totally inappropriate.”
Bowen said he contacted Burlaga and asked him about that question. “I asked him were you aware that this particular person (Tallon) has had a personal experience that she has shared with others so it is public knowledge that it was a medically necessary and obviously a very difficult situation. He said to me he was not aware.”
Tallon responded to Bowen saying that Burlaga did have her social media post on his phone and had showed it to her during the interview. “He had my Facebook post with my miscarriage story in it. I watched him hold his cell phone at me.”
New Committee member
The three candidates who emerged for Township Committee review that night were Michael Hammerstone, Anthony Mannino, and Karen Lamphere. Each were asked several questions by the Township Committee members and a motion was put forward and approved for Hammerstone’s selection. He was sworn in by Township Clerk Jennifer Witham a few minutes later during the special meeting.
A Call For Change
Township Deputy Mayor Herb Marinari, noting the comments made from members of the Committee and members of the audience throughout the evening, tearfully said, “to see this community the way it is now is just disheartening. I’ve never seen this town this way. There is a lot of anger. There is a lot of venom in this community right now.
“I don’t know if it can be done but let’s just start anew. I don’t know what we’re going to do here,” Marinari said. He noted that Township Clerk Witham has a copy of a resignation letter he wrote. He did not submit that letter.
“We all have to try our best. If there are issues let’s bring them forward and talk about them. This is not the community that all of us knew. This has to change. I don’t know if there is an answer. This whole world has turned upside down. Can’t we work a little bit together. Life is way too short believe me,” Marinari added.