By JOHN T. WARD
The pastor of Red Bank’s Pilgrim Baptist Church lashed out Monday at borough Republicans, who he said had “insulted” African-American voters in avoiding a candidates’ event planned for Wednesday night at the church.
Reverend Terrence Porter teed up both the current and former GOP chairmen Sean DiSomma for what Porter said was groundless politicizing of an event that was envisioned as nonpartisan from the get-go.
“I’ve never been so disappointed in my experience in Red Bank,” Porter told redbankgreen.At issue was a “community conversation” organized by Pilgrim Baptist and Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society. The impetus, Porter said, was to give candidates an opportunity to present themselves to voters in a nonpartisan setting and the help “heal the divisiveness” engendered by the bitter presidential contest.
The format of the event, scheduled for 7 p.m., is a meet-and-greet with “light refreshments and good fellowship,” Porter said, followed by a five-minute presentation by each candidate on their vision for the borough’s future. Each would be asked to pull a single question, at random, from a collection written in advance by attendees, he said.
“I wanted to allow the candidates to show their hearts,” Porter said, adding that an additional goal was to “break down the perceptions within the community that one culture has an affinity for a particular party,” later clarifying that he meant African-Americans and Democrats, respectively.
Porter said current GOP chairman, Mike Clancy, had indicated on October 24 that the two Republican council candidates, Brian Hanlon and Kellie O’Bosky-Colwell, would participate, and that Clancy “would get right back to me if there were any problems.”
Porter said Clancy did not contact him again until Monday morning, after Porter had alerted the media about the event and redbankgreen reported on it.
Clancy, however, told redbankgreen that he first heard from Porter on October 26; that he “never told” Porter that Hanlon and O’Bosky Colwell were attending; and instead said he would discuss it with the candidates, who he said Monday “already had prior engagements.”
Porter called that a “cop out. I’ve never met a politician who, when given the opportunity, would not show up to represent their interests.”
Hanlon and O’Bosky Colwell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Porter also addressed a comment posted Monday on redbankgreen by ex-GOP chair Sean DiSomma, who wrote, “this debate is being run by Democrat Party officials.”
Porter called DiSomma’s assertion “a lie,” and said it was “insulting to the community.” He said he and the other organizers came up with the idea on their own, and reached out to the two party chairs at the same time.
“Quite frankly, this is the perception we’re trying to dispel, and it basically is an insult” to suggest that the church, and its largely African-American community, is doing the bidding of Democrats, Porter said. “It’s really disturbing that any politician doesn’t want to be part of a neutral format” aimed at closing divides, he said.
Asked to respond, DiSomma stood by his claim that Democrats Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom were behind the event, and included incumbent Cindy Burnham, a former Republican now running as an independent, in the alleged effort as well. He told redbankgreen that after the “awful showing” by the trio at the annual West Side Community Group’s annual candidates’ night on October 19, “they called their friends for a friendly setting.”
The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the church, at 172 Shrewsbury Avenue. The other three candidates in the race for two council seats confirmed to redbankgreen Monday evening that they’d be there.