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RED BANK: ZIPPRICH OWNS ‘ASTROTURF’ URL

zipprich-102413-500x375-9170550Councilman Ed Zipprich, seen at the Red Bank NAACP candidates’ forum at Calvary Baptist Church Thursday night, acknowledged he set up a website that now attacks Republican candidates. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank Councilman Ed Zipprich has admitted having connections to an apparent ‘astroturf‘ website that slams Republican politicians and has boosted his own candidacy for state Assembly.

In response to questions from redbankgreen Friday morning, Zipprich acknowledged that he owns the domain name SayWhatNJ.com and is a former owner of an active website at that address. The site bills itself as a watchdog of “policy makers and the people who influence them.”

Among the site’s activities was a comment posted on redbankgreen Friday morning to bolster a claim by Monmouth County Democrats that GOP council candidate Sean Di Somma was the subject of a three-year-old arrest warrant in Dallas. Di Somma calls the allegation a lie; police in Dallas were not immediately reachable for comment.

Di Somma calls SayWhatNJ’s latest action “a straight-up violation” of state election laws.

On its “about us” page, SayWhatNJ describes itself as “[t]he combined thoughts and opinions of a couple of fearless progressives living and working in NJ who want policy makers and the people who influence them to know we’re watching and speaking out on what they say and what they do.” It identifies three contributors by name: Olivia Nuzzi, Joshua Henne and Mark Lagerkvist.

On Friday morning, beneath redbankgreen‘s story about the claims that a warrant had been issued for Di Somma’s arrest, SayWhatNJ – using its Facebook account – posted a comment echoing the Democrats’ claim that Di Somma has legally resided in Red Bank for just a year, which he also disputes.

The comment:

Where does this guy live? Isn’t that the real question? [Di Somma running mate] Cindy Burnham is on record saying she moved to Red Bank to advance her political ambitions. If that’s also why Sean Disomma decided to take a rental in town, the question for voters is simply do the people want carpetbaggers leading the town or longtime citizens and taxpayers who care and have a vested, long-term interest in Red Bank?

In a post dated January 29, 2013, SayWhatNJ endorsed Zipprich in his run for Assembly. SayWhatNJ has also urged voters to replace Republican Mary Pat Angelini, an 11th district Assembly representative, with Zipprich.

A search of the domain registry whois indicates that SayWhatNJ.com was registered by Edward J. Zipprich at Zipprich’s River Road address in March, 2011.

When redbankgreen asked Zipprich in a phone interview Friday morning if he was familiar with the site, he replied, “I’ve read it.” Asked if he was the owner, he said, “I’m not sure who the owner is.”

Asked if he was behind SayWhatNJ, Zipprich said, “I am not.”

He went on to say that he owns the domain name, one of 30 similar URLS he set up “around the country,” but added, “I’m not responsible for the content.”

“It was a business I started about three years ago,” Zipprich said. Asked what that business was, he said, “it’s on the website.”

The site says of itself:

At Saywhatnj.com we’re committed to holding policy makers and policy influencers accountable for their words and actions…

Democrats, Republicans, Independents – we don’t care who you’re affiliated with. We care about what you’re doing.

Zipprich referred questions about the site’s content to Marybeth Maida, a volunteer with the Red Bank Democrats. Maida could not be reached for immediate comment.

Di Somma blasted the site for being an undisclosed mouthpiece for Zipprich.

“This sort of campaign correspondence needs a ‘paid for by’ on it,” said Di Somma. “This is a straight-up violation of [state Election Law Enforcement Commission] laws. There’s no public disclosure that it’s his.”

[Editor’s note: Because the comment on redbankgreen‘s is posted by an anonymous or pseudonymous poster, it violates our comments policy. Repeated attempts to remove it from the comment thread, however, have been unsuccessful. “Something went wrong,” Facebook reports with each attempt. “We’re working on getting it fixed as soon as we can.” Assuming the fix is made, the comment will be deleted.

Update: the comment is now visible only to fans of the SayWhatNJ Facebook page, according to Facebook.]

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