Saturday night, a Facebook posting by one of our community residents commenting on the candidates for Board of Education went viral. It went viral not only because the comments about three of the candidates (Regina Truitt, Jesse Liu and me) were so repugnant, but also because it was endorsed by two of the other four candidates.
We all understand as candidates that we become targets for unjustified attacks, but sometimes those attacks go too far and demand a response. The comments about Ms. Truitt, Mr. Liu and me were so nasty and mean-spirited that I will not dignify them by repeating their full content here. And while the comments about Ms. Truitt and me were insulting and untrue, I am more concerned about what was said about Mr. Liu, who was grew up in China and speaks accented English. In particular the posting called him a “communist” “that could benefit from English lessons, not a BOE seat”.
Inflammatory comments like these have no place in our community. Even though I had never met Jesse before this election, and we do not always agree on the issues, I have come to respect him as a good and decent man worthy of anyone's vote.
I was particularly disturbed to see the posting endorsed by BOE candidate Jim Kasdon by means of a Facebook “like” and by BOE candidate Jyoti Sharma by means of re-posting all of the comments on her own Facebook campaign page. Dr. Sharma went even further by calling the posting a “great endorsement.”
When another of our community members politely questioned Dr. Sharma on her Facebook page about the propriety of including such inflammatory comments, she responded in part “I have myself faced severe comments about my stance on STEM from some people, unfortunately that’s the price we, the candidates, have to pay for being in the public eye. As BOE members, we will have to accept both positive & negative feedback.” She apparently equates good faith disagreements on the issues (her stance on STEM) with personal attacks and believes that both are equally fair game in public discourse.
I cannot, as some others have done, accuse Dr. Sharma and Mr. Kasdon of intentionally endorsing racially insensitive comments, because I do not know what lies in their hearts and minds. However, I call on both of them publicly to apologize to Mr. Liu and to explain why they did what they did. Our community deserves to know whether this was a lapse in character or a lapse in judgment.
Editor's Note: Richard Gray is a candidate for the Millburn Board of Education. Read TAP into Millburn's story about the Facebook controversy here.