The Republican mayor of a New Jersey township about 20 miles southwest of Jersey City is being asked to resign after a whistleblower allegedly recorded him calling Black people the N-word, "spooks," and "shines," and calling women in law enforcement "f--king disasters." Clark Township Mayor Sal Bonaccorso, the mayor in question, refused comment to NJ.com, but the news site confirmed the legitimacy of the recordings leaked last Wednesday and found through its parent company, NJ Advance Media, that Clark officials paid the whistleblower, Lt. Antonio Manata, and his lawyer $400,000 to keep the recordings hidden. The recordings also allegedly include Police Chief Pedro Matos and Joseph Testo, a sergeant of internal affairs, spewing racial slurs, NJ.com reported.
Adrian Mapp, mayor of Plainfield, a city targeted in the recordings, told the news site he recognized the voice in the recordings immediately and there was "absolutely, no question" that it was that of six-term mayor Bonaccorso.
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“His misogynistic and racist comments quite frankly have no place in our society and should be condemned by all people, including the people of Clark,” Mapp said. The Black Democrat demanded Bonaccorso’s resignation and called his language “despicable” and “indefensible.”
Alyana Alfaro Post, spokeswoman for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, described Bonaccorso’s alleged words as “hateful” in a statement to Daily Kos on Wednesday. “Governor Murphy is deeply disturbed by these allegations, both regarding the hateful language and subsequent misappropriation of municipal resources aimed at a misguided attempt to obscure the truth,” Post said. “There is no place in government or law enforcement for these unacceptable words and actions.”
Although the recordings have been released recently, they are about two years old, according to a timeline NJ.com laid out from a settlement agreement between the township and Manata. In exchange for bypassing a lawsuit that would have made the recordings a matter of public record, Manata was allowed to stop working while receiving pay for more than two years, costing $289,700 for his salary alone, NJ.com reported.
Bonaccorso addressed the settlement during a township meeting NBC New York covered on Monday. “The suit that involved myself and three other people,” he said. “We wanted to vigorously fight it. Insurance company wanted to settle it on a business decision. We disagreed. Out of the $400,000, $70,000 was paid by Clark. The rest was by the insurance company.”
This isn’t the first accusation of racist rhetoric that Bonaccorso has faced. During a protest following the murder of George Floyd, he was recorded saying he was "pro-Black for all the good Black people that I know in my life." When a protester asked what that means, he responded that he can't say he's for anybody he doesn't know. "I'm for people, good people, law-abiding, hard-working, good family, good friends, people with good intentions," the mayor said. “If you’re Black, great. If you’re white, great. If you’re Hispanic great. It doesn’t matter.”
Clark residents confronted the mayor about his rhetoric directly at the recent meeting. “I’m bringing my daughter up in this town," resident Jessica Pizzella said. "I don’t want people when they meet her to think she’s racist cause she’s from Clark."
Dr. LaTesha Sampson told NBC New York she was disappointed with the mayor’s response. “I guess I was really hoping for more of a heart response, something that spoke to what went out to the public, what everyone heard, those tapes that were really, really disturbing,” Sampson said. “I think in order for there to be healing, there needs to be conversations that are open, that are honest where people can express how they feel and then as a community we can move forward. To hide from that keeps the wound open and it needs to close.”
Residents in Plainfield, which has a population that is a bit less than 40% Black, have raised questions about the county that oversees Clark's police department, Union County, and the state attorney general's office, which has yet to complete its investigation.
Richard Rivera, an expert in internal affairs, told NJ.com it is time for the attorney general to take control. “The problem is police can’t police themselves,” Rivera said. “And the county prosecutors don’t want any part of this process, so they kick the can until it culminates in something like this.”
Former Union County Prosecutor Lindsay Ruotolo, current Union County Prosecutor William Daniel, and acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin declined comment to NJ.com, but the agencies represented by them said in a joint statement Advance Media obtained that “the investigation, once completed, will have been comprehensive, thorough, and impartial.”
Mahen Gunaratna, another spokesperson from the governor's office, said in an updated statement emailed to Daily Kos on Wednesday that the governor has joined in calls for Bonaccorso to resign.
"The Governor believes that Mayor Bonaccorso should resign immediately," Gunaratna said in the statement. "His hateful language has no place in society and his behavior has irreparably damaged his ability to lead Clark Township.”
The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General also emailed Daily Kos an update on its investigation:
“Allegations of misconduct by the leadership within the Clark Police Department, as well as township leadership, are the subject of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, and overseen by the Office of the Attorney General. Given the pending status of the investigation and constraints imposed by the rules governing court procedures and regulations governing certain investigations, this Office cannot presently provide additional information. The Office remains committed to a public release of our collective findings at the conclusion of the investigations, which will be comprehensive, thorough, and impartial.
The Office of the Attorney General takes seriously the responsibility to ensure that the policing in our communities is fair and impartial, and never driven by bias, hate, or prejudice. While this Office is not at liberty to disclose the details of the investigation or the allegations giving rise to it, at the outset the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, working in conjunction with our Office, took the extraordinary measure of exercising supersession over the Clark Police Department. That meant that the Union County Prosecutor was able to take immediate control over the operation of the entire department. The Office of the Attorney General has further required that the Union County Prosecutor’s Office maintain supersession authority over the Clark Police Department until further notice. (Due to the nature of the allegations, at the outset of the investigation, members of the police department’s command staff were relieved of their duties by the Prosecutor’ Office, and have remained so during the pendency of the investigation. However, the employment status of impacted personnel is determined by the appointing authority of the Township.)”