Council candidate Michael Clancy at the Red Bank Classic race in June. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
In the first attack of Red Bank’s 2018 election season, the two Republican council candidates claimed they saw one of their Democratic opponents “cavort” with a man who had made “menacing and threatening gestures” toward one of them at a local government meeting.
The Facebook post bore the headline, “When Violent Threats Come To Red Bank, Tiggiano [sic] Sympathizes?,” a reference to Democrat Kate Triggiano. A 2011 photo of Triggiano tops the page.
In the release, Clancy claims a man he did not identify by name — but who redbankgreen confirmed is Jeff Oakes, of Oceanport — made “menacing and threatening gestures” in his direction during Wednesday night’s council session. Clancy was seated with one of Gregory’s young daughters in his lap at the time, he said.
Asked to describe the gestures, Clancy said by email that Oakes “stared at me from back of room near entrance. When I kept looking back, he pointed.”
Clancy alleges Oakes had previously threatened him during a Facebook back-and-forth on July 26, when Oakes wrote to Clancy, “I will hunt you down, you down [sic] mother fucker.”
Clancy said in the press release that after the Facebook threat, he contacted Oceanport police.
In a phone interview with redbankgreen, Oakes did not dispute that he made the post, but said it was made within the current atmosphere of “rude” political debate fostered by President Trump. Oakes said he does not advocate violence against anyone.
As for alleged threats Wednesday night, Oakes said he did not make threatening gestures at anyone, and did not know what Clancy looked like or that he was present.
Oakes, who said he is dying of cancer, spoke at the meeting in support of a council resolution relating to medical marijuana.
Clancy claims that he was again threatened by Oakes outside the council chamber following the meeting, after former GOP chairman Sean DiSomma told Oakes, “don’t come to Red Bank and threaten our politicians with violence,” and Oakes responded, “I made the comment because I don’t like him, I’ll threaten who I want and you’ll see me at every meeting.”
The release didn’t make clear if Oakes and Clancy had any direct interaction.
Oakes, though, said that after the meeting, “I was walking out, talking to a couple of people, and some guy shouted my name… pointed to Clancy and said, ‘are you going to threaten him?’ I said, ‘I’ve got my rights.'”
Clancy “told me he’s a politician,” Oakes continued. “I said, ‘you’re a goddam politician. You’d better toughen up and get a thicker skin.”
Oakes said he speaks out against Republicans who support Trump, who he said is waging campaigns against women, minorities, people in need of healthcare and others while supporting Nazis and other fomenters of hatred and violence.
“This guy Clancy is a hothead,” Oakes said. Of himself, he said, “I’m a man dying of cancer, and I tell it like it is.”
Following the alleged Red Bank incident, Clancy said he spoke to police Chief Darren McConnell, who was present at the council meeting. But the press release doesn’t say if Clancy reported the threats, or how McConnell responded.
McConnell told redbankgreen that he and others were in “casual conversation” after the meeting when Clancy mentioned the Oceanport matter, “but he didn’t mention that I can recall any threats being made in the courtroom.”
McConnell said that if Clancy had done so, he’d have asked him if he wanted to pursue the matter by filing a harassment or terroristic threats complaint. “But in this case, Clancy didn’t mention to me any threat made in the courtroom,” McConnell said.
And Triggiano? She allegedly witnessed the exchange between Oakes and DiSomma and “cavorted” with Oakes in the hallway afterward, the GOP candidates claim.
Asked by email to clarify what he meant by “cavort,” Clancy responded, “Stood in hall, laughing and joking seemingly waiting for me to leave.”
“I couldn’t believe that my political opponent would stand with and attempt to cavort with a man who threatened my well being in front of her and who she clearly saw making menacing gestures towards me as I had a child on my lap,” the press release said.
On Friday, Triggiano responded with this statement:
In a room with several reporters, community members, and a live video feed, there is no evidence that this series of events transpired at all. As an active community member and candidate I engage in conversations with people and I listen to what they share. There were no conflicts, only conversations. Clearly, the Republican candidates have had experiences that impacted their perception of dialogue in the public sphere.
With my teammate Hazim Yassin, we are running a campaign on issues that impact us locally, and continue our pledge to listen and respond to Red Bank residents as future Red Bank Council members.
Oakes said that after the encounter, he chatted with Triggiano, whom he had met shortly before the meeting and did not know at the time was running for office.
Clancy said he has “inquired as to the process of getting a restraining order and a concealed carry permit as I am a legal gun owner.”
In the press release, Gregory also said Triggiano “cavorted” with Oakes, “a man who she clearly saw and heard make direct threats to my running mate.” She said the alleged incident had prompted her to “decide whether to proceed” with her candidacy.
“I thought bringing my children to a council meeting would be an appropriate setting for them to observe government in action, not to be threatened,” she said in the release. “While I have been fully committed to this campaign, I am having second thoughts when my neighbor who I’ve always liked is involved with someone who threatens violence in the vicinity of two toddler children or anywhere.”
Sue Viscomi, a former Republican seeking a council seat as an independent, issued a statement that read:
“After reading the public release from the GOP party and I am absolutely not a fan of Mr. Clancy, I condemned any physical harm on any of my fellow candidates. This elections needs to be about the issues, what we have done already and how we can service Red Bank in the future.”
She said she did not witness any threats.
The five candidates are vying for the two seats now held by first-term Republicans Mark Taylor and Michael Whelan, who are not seeking re-election in November.