Lorenzo Richardson was named the new Jersey City Board of Education president at last night’s meeting, with Gina Verdibello becoming the vice president, before the public portion was mostly speakers voicing their support for embattled Trustee Joan Terrell-Paige.
As HCV first reported, Terrell-Paige wrote in a since deleted Facebook comment that Greenville’s Jewish community are “brutes” since black homeowners are being “threatened, intimidated and harassed” to sell their homes.
Approximately 25 speakers signed up to voice their opinions and the majority of them defended Terrell-Paige’s right to free speech and that she spoke not as a school board member, but as a citizen on behalf of Ward F residents.
Some of the speakers in fact even agreed with Terrell-Paige’s use of the term “brutes” to describe the Jewish community in Greenville because they have been, as they describe, very aggressive knocking on doors of black families to inquire about selling their homes.
Jersey City resident Arnold Williams told the story of a 92-year-old Greenville resident whose husband recently passed.
He said that two members of the Hasidic community appeared at the resident’s doorstep to offer their condolences, which the 92-year-old widow thought was a nice gesture, but then they appeared soon after to make a solicitation for the woman’s home.
“But not two days later, these same two members of the Hasidic community came to her house and demanded that she sell her property. Her husband’s gravesite hadn’t even settled, so their behavior as so suggested by Trustee Paige was brutes, there’s no getting around that,” Williams argued.
After Williams, additional speakers saw fit to describe the Hasidic Jewish community as being “aggressive” in soliciting because they pointed to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s comments to the New York Times on August 2, 2017 when he expressed concern about “very aggressive solicitation.”
Daryn Martin, who described Terrell-Paige as “the Rosa Parks of this era,” took issue that there seemed to be no outcry after the mayor’s comments in 2017, but that “all of a sudden” Fulop and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) are among the elected calling for her to resign.
“She has an impeccable record in this community. The anti-Semitic label is a bunch of crap, throw it away, and she’s not resigning,” Martin explained.
Martin was followed by Pastor Tyrone Ballon, who expressed frustration that the black community’s support of Trustee Paige is being deemed as anti-Semitic.
“Being pro-black doesn’t mean that you are anti-anything else,” he said succinctly.
It wasn’t until the last speaker of the evening that someone pushed back against Terrell-Paige’s commentary on Facebook.
Adam Schwartzbard, who is Jewish, is a special education teacher at Synder High School, and has worked in the district for 15 years. He started off by telling Terrell-Paige that he found her “rant” to be hateful and divisive at a time “when we didn’t need that” – noting it was less than a week after four innocent lives were taken in a Jersey City hate crime.
He acknowledged that Paige has done a lot of good for the community, such as playing an important role to open the Mary McLeod Bethune Life Center at 140 Martin Luther King Drive and supporting small and minority-owned businesses.
However, he also noted that her words had caused pain within the Jewish community and also sends a message of divisiveness to Jersey City students.
At this point some members of the pubic snickered at Schwartzbard’s remarks, telling him that he should condemn the remarks made by Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the chief rabbi of Israel who in March 2018 reportedly called African-Americans “monkeys” in a weekly sermon.
“I would condemn any rabbi that said anything racist. My rabbi would never say that, and when you paint brushes …,” Schwartzbard said before he was interrupted again, prompting him to note he didn’t jump in during other speakers’ time at the mic.
He then made a plea for unity and peace between the Jewish and African-American communities, suggesting a sit-down with Terrell-Paige to work out differences.
“I hope all of us can work together to find peace … and that you can respect why your comments could have been seen the way they were and the hurt that they caused some of us.
“And I would love the opportunity to sit down possibly and talk with you further so that we can discuss it.”
Fulop was in attendance to swear in two of the five victors from November: Noemi Velazquez and Alexander Hamilton.
The other trustees sworn included: Verdibello, Lekendrick Shaw and Gerald Lyons.
While not physically present for the meeting, Trustee Mussab Ali made a motion over the phone to select Lorenzo Richardson as the board’s new president, followed by Verdibello seconding the motion.
The measure passed by a vote of 8-0(1), with Shaw abstaining.
Then Trustee Marilyn Roman made a motion to select Verdibello as the board’s new vice president. When the new president, Richardson, asked if there were additional nominations, Trustee Hamilton made a motion to select Velazquez.
That prompted Richardson to ask both Verdibello and Velazquez whether to accept Verdibello’s nomination as the new VP, which both said yes.
The measure passed by a vote of 6-2(1), with Paige and Velazquez voting no, and Hamilton abstaining.
While Terrell-Paige received considerable community support last night, Anti-Semitism Accountability Project Founder Ronald Lauder said in a statement that the group still intends on seeing her resign.
Violence targeting Jews—or any ethnic, racial, or religious minority—is abhorrent, yet instead of condemning these attacks, mourning with her community, and committing to fight violent anti-Semitism, Ms. Terrell-Paige is fanning the flames of hate,” he said.
“ASAP will deploy the resources necessary to make sure voters know about Ms. Terrell-Paige’s hateful, anti-Semitic rhetoric and will do whatever is necessary to see that she steps down.”