By JOHN T. WARD
A Red Bank board of ed member faced sharp criticism Thursday for a purported racist rendition of the borough business administrator’s name the night before.
But Sue Viscomi vehemently denied referring to Ziad Shehady as “Mr. Jihad.”
Late in the borough council’s session Wednesday night, which was conducted via Zoom, Councilman Hazim Yassin said Viscomi had referred to Shehady during the public comments as “Mr. Jihad.”
“It’s not lost on me, the intent of that comment,” Yassin said, noting the Middle Eastern heritage he shares with Shehady. “No matter what your opinion of us as people, as elected officials, I would ask that we refrain from using racist language.”
Late Wednesday, Viscomi posted this on Facebook:
Viscomi told redbankgreen Thursday that she was “tongue-tied” on hearing Shehady make a snide remark about an earlier commenter, but flatly denied making the insult.
“I’m not a polished speaker,” she said via email, but “I have never made fun of anyone ever, no matter how heated the debate was.”
“You have seen me and heard me talk for years and you know I’m not a polished speaker,” she told redbankgreen, “and I have never made fun of anyone ever no matter how heated the debate was.”
Still, hours after a redbankgreen article containing Viscomi’s denial was published, Mayor Pasquale Menna posted on his personal, rather than mayoral, Facebook page:
I join Council President Yassin in denouncing the shadow of Islamophobia even at Red Bank Council meetings as it arose last night. A member of the public referred to our administrator as “Jihad” in an allegory on a person’s national heritage and a play on his name. It was not humorous but sad that the person has such little respect. I am saddened when advised that this person has done it in the past. There is no place for this in Red Bank.
Menna’a post generated dozens “likes,” including ones from council members Triggiano, Yngstrom, Horgan and Yassin.
During the meeting, which once again saw spirited discussion about the borough’s closed Senior Center, Viscomi was recognized immediately after Angela Mirandi told the council, “I’m disgusted with you people,” which Shehady followed by saying, “she’s ‘disgusted.’ OK, next speaker.”
On a recording, Shehady can be heard reacting immediately to Viscomi’s pronunciation of his name:
SHEHADY: Miss Viscomi, you have the floor. Next speaker, you have the floor.
VISCOMI: Suzanne Viscomi, 25 Senior, um, 25 Cedar Street. Well, uh, first, your little comment there, Mr. [disputed pronounciation], about…
SHEHADY: It’s Mr. Shehady, Miss Viscomi. Mr. Shehady.
VISCOMI: It’s really disgusting… please let the public talk, and then you can…
SHEHADY: Please say my name correctly, Miss Viscomi.
VISCOMI: I just would like to talk, please don’t interrupt me.
SHEHADY: OK, [unintelligible] Miss Viscomi…
During the call, and on the recording, some of Viscomi’s words sounded distorted by the technology. Here’s the excerpt:
Menna’s post also prompted supportive comments. Horgan called the purported slur “outrageous.” Resident Boris Kofman wrote that Viscomi “needs to resign immediately” from her seat on the board of education.
Others, however, defended Viscomi. Former council member Cindy Burnham responded to Kofman, in part:
Quick , go get the rope let’s hang her from the highest tree limb! You know Suzanne would never say anything like. Suzanne is not a good speaker and she has a lisp. Making fun of people with disabilities are you? Actually she was so freaked out from Shehadys remark at the speaker before her that it threw her off. It’s a simple as that.
Tiffaney Harris, who has been at the forefront of an effort to force a reopening of the Senior Center, wrote:
Listen guys and gals. I don’t think she meant it in that way. She talks fast and she has a little lisp. She was also taken back by the comments that were made. To me it sounded like she was putting his first name and last name together and it came out that way. I’ve only known her for a lil while, but never known her to be racist. I think this is being blown out of proportion.
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