FLEMINGTON, NJ - Controversy continued to swirl at Tuesday’s council meeting over Facebook remarks Mayor Betsy Driver made regarding Supreme Court Justices’ views on same-sex marriage, with two council members calling for her censure and nearly a dozen residents making impassioned statements, offering both support and criticism.
Driver, whose marriage to Loretta Nagel Borowsky could be threatened by a Supreme Court decision on the legality of same sex marriages, wrote a scathing comment condemning justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The two criticized the high court's 2015 same-sex marriage decision last week when the court declined to hear a case brought by a former Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue a marriage license for such couples.
On her private Facebook page, Driver criticized the president and, using profanity, said she would “unfriend” people who supported him, linking to the NPR article regarding the statements from Thomas and Alito.
Former borough contract worker Bill LaRue came across the post and cropped the most vitriolic portion of it. The screenshot found its way to county GOP chair Gabe Plummer, who issued a statement on the county GOP website calling for Driver’s resignation.
On Tuesday night, LaRue claimed his contract with the borough was terminated by Driver for comments he had made on social media. He asked her why she would be held to a different standard.
“The way I was treated made me think it was my turn,” he said. “If you're going to hold me to a standard, I'm going to hold you to a standard.”
Plummer has not returned calls for comment. But his online remarks were heeded by state GOP chairman Doug Steinhardt, who published an online statement saying that, at the very least, Driver should apologize.
“President (Donald) Trump earned nearly 43 percent of the vote amongst Mayor Driver’s constituents,” Steinhardt said in his statement. “I think we all know she will never step down, but is it too much to ask for her to apologize?”
The controversy has been picked up by major news organizations, including Politico, Fox News, NBC and NJ 101.5.
On Sunday, a Facebook page called “Support Mayor Driver” was created, and so far has 30 members. Meanwhile, the mayor’s comments were being actively discussed on a Facebook page created in May by Flemington resident Ed Dwyer called “Remove Betsy Driver” that has 189 members.
At last month’s council meeting, Dwyer had called on the council to censure Driver over comments she made on her public mayor’s Facebook page, although he didn’t specify what those comments were.
On Tuesday night, council members Kim Tilly, currently up for re-election on the Republican ticket, and Michael Harris both called for censuring the mayor. Their motion failed in a 3-3 vote that required a two-thirds majority to pass.
"I am disappointed with the mayor and her social media antics," said Tilly, who said the mayor had not abided by advice the borough attorney had given council on social media posts.
Borough attorney Tara St. Angelo did not respond to questions about that advice.
"It's time for council to take action,” Tilly said. “I am requesting the council censure Mayor Driver.”
"Ms. Driver's social media post in no way reflects this community," added Harris, who also called for the mayor’s censure.
Resident Nicole Bishop asked Driver if she would resign, to which Driver replied that she had no intention.
“People can not vote for me the next time I'm up for election, that is your recourse,” Driver said.
Many residents spoke out against Driver’s comments.
“As our mayor, you're supposed to represent our entire town,” said resident Kathryn LaRue. “Why is it you feel you need to condemn half of this town?”
Resident Joanne Braun expressed a similar sentiment.
“I just can't believe that you would put something so vulgar on a public Facebook group,” she said. “It does not represent Hunterdon County.”
Christine Meinhardt, whose wife is currently in a nursing home with COVID, made an impassioned plea in support of Driver.
“My marriage could be invalidated, just as Betsy wrote in her comments,” she said.
That would mean, Meinhardt said, that she would be completely cut off from caring for her spouse whom she’s been with for 22 years, married for seven.
“We are in fear,” she said.
Council President Caitlin Giles-McCormick said she empathized with Meinhardt.
“If anybody’s family is threatened, it is upsetting and frightening,” she said. “Social media is corrosive to this town. To single out the mayor as the person who is making it that way is untrue.”
Harris said he also empathized with Meinhart’s plight, but that it didn’t excuse the mayor’s behavior or the amount of attention being paid to it, which could be better focused on solving problems in the community.
“No one is minimizing the statements made, but also the community has spent an hour discussing it,” he said.
Resident Adrienne Fusaro called the outrage over Driver’s remarks “stupid,” pointing to graver issues, such as COVID, that need to be addressed.
“It’s the stupidest outrage I’ve experienced since I’ve moved here,” she said. “It’s beyond Betsy and it’s beyond Mr. LaRue. It’s just the world we live in.”