Veteran Trenton City Councilman George Muschal said he was just trying to help, but he ended up fanning the flames of a situation ignited by an anti-Semitic comment made by Council President Kathy McBride. (Muschal and McBride are independents.)
During a closed-door executive session of the City Council on Sept. 5 about a lawsuit against the city filed by resident Vivian Soto, McBride said that Assistant City Attorney Peter Cohen was “able to wait [Soto] out and Jew her down” to settle the case at a lower dollar amount. The Trentonian reported that a recording of the meeting the newspaper obtained confirms that McBride used the slur, and she admitted it to Muschal, as well.
“I was at that meeting, but I didn’t hear Kathy say that,” Muschal, who has taken the role of McBride’s unofficial spokesperson in this matter, told NJJN. “Kathy did tell me she did say that during the discussion. In no way was it meant to be malicious and Kathy is not anti-Semitic.”
When asked by NJJN if the “Jew her down” comment should be considered offensive to some, Muschal, a 14-year member of the Trenton City Council and former city police officer, surmised that it might not have been wise to use the term to describe the negotiations; not because it’s anti-Semitic, but because virtually anything public officials say can be used against them.
“These days, with the way everyone is running around, and with technology, you need to watch what you say,” he said.
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, a Democrat, N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy, and N.J. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Dist. 12) called for the council president to apologize.
The N.J. Congressional delegation released a joint statement calling for apologies or resignation from McBride and Muschal.
“Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world and right here in New Jersey. We must never accept bigotry or hatred in any form. We are calling on both the Trenton Councilman and Councilwoman to apologize immediately or resign,” the group’s statement read.
McBride opened the Sept. 17 Trenton City Council meeting by apologizing for her use of the slur, according to The Trentonian.
“I am apologizing,” she said. “Because in my position you cannot make anyone feel insulted or you cannot be insensitive to any ethnic backgrounds, so I am apologizing to the community at large.” McBride did not return repeated calls and texts for comment from NJJN.
Muschal said he, too, has used the term in the past, telling the New Jersey Globe that it is “just a statement of speech.”
“In business, I have said that before, but I don’t feel I was doing anything malicious nor was there any intent,” he told NJJN.
Muschal revealed that in the wake of McBride’s comment he was contacted by news outlets from as far away as London. During the interview with New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein, Muschal asked the reporter if his was a Jewish name. Wildstein wrote in an article that appeared online — and later he confirmed the story to NJJN — that when he said his was a Jewish name, Muschal responded, “OK. There you go.” The councilman freely admitted to NJJN that the account was accurate.
“I didn’t get his name,” said Muschal. “Then I asked if it was a Jewish name. He said it was, I said ‘there ya go,’ and we continued the conversation. I meant nothing by it. If someone asks me my nationality, I say I’m German.”
In a statement released Sept. 17, ADL New York/New Jersey Regional Director Evan Bernstein condemned McBride’s comment, and also referenced Muschal’s defense of the council president’s use of the slur.
“Anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money are not just ‘statements of speech,’” it read. “Instead, they play in deeply painful myths about the Jewish community that have a long and troubling history…. We are therefore extremely concerned that Trenton City Councillors and other elected officials in New Jersey have chosen to either perpetuate anti-Semitic language and/or justify it as acceptable speech. This shows an incredible lack of understanding of the historical significance of this language and the painful impact it can have on Jewish constituents.
“There is clearly much work to be done in New Jersey.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Friday, Sept. 20.