update deskAntisemitism

NJ mayor apologizes for Jew-hatred but says lawsuit is hit job

Derek Armstead, of Linden, said he said he wanted to prevent “guys with big hats and curls” from taking over the neighborhood.

Linden City Hall in New Jersey. Credit: quiggyt4/Shutterstock.
Linden City Hall in New Jersey. Credit: quiggyt4/Shutterstock.

Derek Armstead, the mayor of Linden, N.J., was caught on tape saying he wanted to prevent Chassidic Jews from taking over the neighborhood. He claims that he is the victim of extortion ahead of the July 16 special election, in which he is running, for New Jersey’s 10th congressional district.

The 10th, which includes Newark, is the most Democratic district in New Jersey, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index rating of D+30.

Donald Payne Jr., the district’s former representative, died on April 24 at age 65. President Joe Biden said at the time that Payne was an “accomplished public servant, whose kind strength and generosity of spirit won him love across his district and the U.S. Congress.”

Paul Oliveira, a former schools assistant superintendent in Linden, alleges in a lawsuit that Armstead, the schools superintendent and school board president engaged in an “antisemitic and illegal scheme” to “keep Linden from by being ‘taken over’ by Jews,” the Courier News and Home News Tribune, part of the USA Today network, reported.

Oliveira accused the trio of retaliation because he objected to their “nefarious and illegal agenda” to “deliberately exclude Jews” from district jobs. He also said that Armestead said during a recorded conversation to only hire black people and those of Haitian descent and that “that is what has to happen in order to keep our community from being taken over by guys with big hats and curls.”

In a May 29 statement, Armstead called the suit a $950,000 extortion scheme.

NJ Advance Media reported last week that Armstead said that “private remarks can be foolish and offensive.” The mayor “added that what he said ‘was a far cry from being antisemitic’” and that a settlement offer in the lawsuit was a “ransom note,” it added.

“Suspicions arise regarding the timing and motivations behind the leak of the recorded conversation, particularly given Armstead’s prominent position in the Democratic congressional primary,” the mayor said.

“Oliveira claimed in a lawsuit that he was compelled to take protected medical leave due to stress and anxiety caused by a conspiracy to exclude Chassidic Jewish individuals from employment within the Linden school district,” Armstead said. “Oliveira’s claims, however, lack evidence of any Chassidic Jewish candidates ever applying for positions.”

Later in the May 29 statement, the mayor denied that he excluded Chassidic Jews. “The mayor apologizes for comments referencing Chassidic Jews as ‘guys in big hats and curls’ and remains staunchly committed to diversity and inclusivity in the community,” he added. 

“Armstead was advocating, as he always has, for a workforce that reflects the diversity of the student body,” he said. “Some of the 32.4% black students in LPS [Linden Public Schools] are of Haitian descent and only speak Creole, creating the need for Creole-speaking teachers.”

The mayor told NJ Advance Media that “he also spoke with a number of those from the Orthodox community, who he has known for years, regarding the context of his remarks.”

In a post on social media, the mayor wrote, “I will not allow anyone to exploit my poor choice of words to extort nearly $1 million from taxpayers and our children.”

Armen McOmber, attorney for Oliveira, said the mayor is “a bigot” who has “absolutely no business leading any city anywhere.

“Last week, the mayor said our client’s allegations were ‘hogwash’ and that he should ‘go to hell,’” McOmber said, according to NJ Advance Media. “This week, and hidden within his ridiculous, inaccurate and defamatory press release, is a pseudo-admission and apology by the mayor for his use of antisemitic language.”

The mayor’s efforts amount to a “rhetorical safety dance,” Politico wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League’s New York and New Jersey regional office stated earlier in the week, “We are appalled by allegations of antisemitism and discrimination detailed in a legal complaint filed last week in New Jersey Superior Court against the City of Linden’s mayor, Board of Education, superintendent, board president and others.

“We are grateful that the judicial system will adjudicate these disturbing claims,” the ADL said.

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