Hoboken Board of Education Trustee Irene Sobolov received support from the community after controversy arose from a “butt buddies” text she accidentally sent last month.
Irene Sobolov came under fire yesterday when NJ Advance Media revealed that she referred to openly gay 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco and a political supporter as “butt buddies” in a group text sent to her fellow board trustees and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Johnson.
Prior to the meeting, Sobolov, whose sat on the board since 2009, apologized and DeFusco accepted it. During the public portion of the meeting, several residents stepped up to the podium to voice their support for the veteran trustee.
“Irene is the first person I met when I moved to Hoboken and there’s no one in this city who I respect more: I’m very proud to be at your side,” said Jean Marie Mitchell, a former Hoboken BOE trustee.
“The Urban Dictionary has the top definition of to ‘butt buddy’ [as] ‘good friend.’ Now, I don’t think Irene was saying that they were really friends, I think she was making a political joke, but I don’t think she knew the reference,” added resident Michael Lenz.
Attorney Phil Cohen scoffed at the notion that sanctioning Sobolov was about setting the proper example for school children.
“Members of the board of this district, when we talk about setting examples for our students, talk about working together and being leaders, I think trying to embarrass and humiliate your colleagues when you know you don’t have the votes for this resolution but your doing it for purposes other than what’s in the best interests of this district: it’s a sad day,” he said.
Paul Somerville and Allen Kratz, who are married, both added that they’d known Sobolov and her family for decades and feel she doesn’t have a homophobic or hateful bone in her body.
Nevertheless, Trustee John Madigan said the situation was black and white and Sobolov should face some form of punishment for using a “slur.”
“The problem is with the words: the bullying words of saying ‘butt buddy.’ It’s inappropriate, it’s meant as a slur and a horrible thing. Now if a child said it, if our children did it in our school system, they’d probably be suspended,” argued Madigan.
“If a staff member, who is employed by Hoboken board of ed, they may be up on charges, maybe to be fired. If that was a teacher, that might be it, people might be complaining teachers shouldn’t speak like that.”
Pat Waiters, a longtime critic of the Mayor Dawn Zimmer administration, and Lynn Danzker, a former board of education candidate, agreed with Madigan’s position.
Addressing the situation, Sobolov again apologized and said she did not intend to insult the gay community with the text.
“The term that was used was a term that I’ve always understood to mean sort of ‘good friends,’ or in this case, ‘interesting political friends,’”she explained.
“Of course I was embarrassed, mortified, what I had done by mistake and I was shocked to learn that Mr. Madigan had interpreted that saying to mean that I was homophobic: nothing, nothing is further from the truth.”
Madigan made a motion urging Sobolov to resign, seconded by Trustee Peter Biancamano, but the measure failed by a vote of 3-5(1), with Madigan, Biancamano and Trustee Britney Montgomery voting no and Sobolov abstaining.