TOMS RIVER – The Township Council passed a resolution censuring one of its members for behavior during the recent primary campaign.
Councilman Daniel Rodrick was running against Councilman Maurice Hill – who won the primary – and Joseph Coronato. They were competing to represent the Republican party on the November ballot.
Rodrick was accused of being a “bigot” over campaign literature that featured a photograph of Hill shaking hands with Scott Gartner, an Orthodox Jewish man, and stating that Hill got a “big endorsement.” Gartner had spoken publicly last year about the need for Toms River to reduce a requirement for houses of worship in town. The current ordinance requires 10 acres for a house of worship, which could possibly exclude any new ones being built. He said that the Orthodox community has an attorney and $500,000 to spend on a federal lawsuit if it came to that.
Gartner is also Hill’s neighbor, and has been involved in events designed to break down borders between Orthodox and other residents, with the hope that familiarity will lead to understanding. The photo in question had been taken after a public meeting where representatives of several religious backgrounds were urging politicians to denounce a certain Facebook group for what they said was anti-Semitism.
At the most recent Township Council meeting, the council passed a resolution censuring Rodrick. It has no legal repercussion. It just states that they disapprove of something he said, and called him “unfit” to serve.
Rodrick said after the meeting that the campaign literature was written about the zoning issue that Gartner had brought up last year. “I don’t see this as a religious issue but a zoning issue.” He did not want to see the zoning restrictions lessened, as a quality of life issue.
“This is what happens when you run against the establishment,” he said. “I never said anything bigoted or wrote anything bigoted. It’s a political hit job.”
Others didn’t see it that way.
“During this primary campaign and in past elections he has shown that he will do and say anything with no regard for fact or truth,” Joseph Coronato said about Rodrick’s publication during the campaign.
Gartner came out to the most recent Township Council meeting to speak about it, concerned about being used in campaign literature to pit people against the Orthodox.
“I think there’s been enough hatred in this area to last a lifetime,” he said.
He also asked a council candidate to step down from public positions, but this was already in the works.
He meant Heather Barone, who ran for a spot on the council in the primary. The Lakewood Scoop screenshotted Facebook posts where she said things like “Not a chance we had against the money Mo Hill had and team had from the Orthodox vote and money.”
Barone ran on her own slate, separate from Rodrick, Hill or Coronato.
In the beginning of the meeting, Council President George Wittmann Jr. read a letter from her where she stepped down from the Planning Board. She wrote that she regretted the way she spoke, and that her and her family are being harassed for it.
A representative from the county confirmed that she also stepped down from her spot on the Ocean County Library Commission.