Editor's Note: The article has been edited to include a statement from Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-16.
FLEMINGTON, NJ - A petition has been created calling for the newly-elected director of Hunterdon County’s governing body to resign from her post, as she was present at the Donald Trump rally in Washington, D.C. Jan. 6 that later led to a riot in the Capitol building, leaving five people dead, including New Jersey native, Officer Brian D. Sicknick of the Capitol Police force.
The petition on Change.org was created by the Hunterdon County Anti-Racism Coalition. It is directed to the Hunterdon County Board of County Commissioners, but it urges Director Susan J. Soloway to take action, and “denounce white supremacy and resign from the Hunterdon County, New Jersey Board of County Commissioners.”
Before midnight on Monday, the petition had almost 450 signatures, with many comments telling Soloway to resign.
A Republican and current treasurer of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women (NJFRW), Soloway is a former Franklin Township mayor who was elected to county office in November 2018.
Soloway said in a statement Monday that she was at the rally, but left before the attack on the Capitol, when the crowd began to get out of hand.
"Our group was shocked, outraged and frankly scared when it became apparent that a group of thugs were using the rally as a pretense to attack the U.S. Capitol,” she said. “When we observed the crowd up front pushing to try to enter the Capitol grounds, I grabbed some video on my phone, and, concerned for my own safety, quickly left the area."
According to Soloway, videos she shot on her cellphone once violence erupted at the Capitol have been submitted to the FBI as it investigates the incidents.
The petition noted that the First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of speech, and Soloway had the right to attend the “Save America Rally.” However, it notes the racist and white supremacist groups “that championed and attended the event,” and the focus of the rally to undermine “the democratic principles on which our U.S. and State Constitutions are based.”
“It is clear that Hunterdon County Commissioner Soloway either does not believe in the validity of any vote with an outcome she does not like, or does not have faith in the due process established by the government and upheld as legitimate in 60 lawsuits,” the petition said.
Alexa Offenhauer, signed the Change.org petition, commented, “There is no excuse for an elected official to march with white supremacists or refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential Election.”
Nina McPherson, a Yale alumna and adjunct professor of English at Raritan Valley Community College, signed the petition Monday and wrote on the petition about the message she believes Soloway’s rally attendance sends to young people.
“I am appalled that Ms. Soloway attended this white supremacist rally,” she wrote. “How can we educate students to citizenship when our elected leaders follow violent populist demagogues?”
Lebanon Township Board of Education member Kiersten Robbins, re-elected in November 2020, posted a comment with her signature as well.
“She (Soloway) swore to uphold both the U.S. and New Jersey Constitutionism” she wrote. “Attending a demonstration to protest certified election results is unacceptable and continues to feed the conspiracy theory narrative.”
Many more comments decried Soloway’s presence at the rally, whether or not she entered the Capitol building itself. They said a person elected to public office should not be advocating to overturn the will of the people in an election.
In a statement from the Hunterdon County Anti-Racism Coalition Steering Committee, for the group that posted the petition, representatives said it is disingenuous for Soloway to claim that what happened on Jan. 6 was surprising.
“She not only attended, but organized a busload of people to attend a rally advertised by President (Donald) Trump on Twitter as ‘Stop the Steal,’” the committee said. “She marched alongside people waving Confederate flags, wearing shirts emblazoned with ‘Camp Auschwitz’ and ‘6MWNE,’ and only found it necessary to leave when she became scared for her ‘own safety.’ We hold our elected officials to high standards and find her support of this event unconscionable.”
Hunterdon County Democratic Party Chair Arlene Quinones Perez sent an email blast calling for the county’s GOP to demand Soloway’s resignation from the county governing body, and for “supporters of democracy” to attend the next Board of County Commissioners meeting in Flemington Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m.
“And on Jan. 6, the world watched in horror as domestic terrorists stormed the U. S. Capitol building,” she said in her statement. “The videos and pictures are violent and extreme. They are abhorrent to the very foundation of who we are as Americans. And yet, while we were shocked about the actual attack, no one has the right at this point to say they were surprised.”
Other members of the Hunterdon County Board of County Commissioners did not immediately return a request for comment.
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-16, who represents Flemington Borough and Raritan Township among other local towns, condemned the actions of those involved in the protest. He said it is irresponsible for an elected official to disparage the election process without credible evidence.
"The people who gathered in Washington DC last week, including Hunterdon County Commissioner Soloway, are afforded the first amendment protection offered to all Americans, which includes freedom of speech, to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances," he said. "Those are a part of the foundation of our democracy. However, the motivation to assemble on Jan. 6 to protest an election that was 'stolen' was based on lies and served the self-interest of one person and his allies, who refused to accept that the election was an accurate reflection of the majority of the American voters."
"It is dangerous and irresponsible for any elected official to disparage our election process, and our democratic principles, without any credible evidence," he added. "Ultimately, five people lost their lives, many others were injured and multiple people have most likely contracted COVID-19, including several members of Congress, due to President Trump and his allies refusing to accept the will of the American people. Our democracy is stronger when we have genuine debates about issues that separate us. The outcome of our election was not one of them."
* Additional reporting by Audrey Blumberg