FLEMINGTON, NJ - A handful of Hunterdon residents attended the meeting in-person but a majority telephoned in to Tuesday’s Hunterdon County Board of Commissioners meeting to offer statements, both in support and against, regarding director Sue Soloway’s attendance at the Donald Trump rally in Washington D.C. Jan. 6.
Some, including several people who said they know her personally, defended her First Amendment Rights to attend the rally and stated their ongoing support for the director, while others called for her immediate resignation.
Frenchtown Borough Council member Caroline Scutt dialed in to say that elected officials are held to a different level of accountability.
“When I was elected to serve on borough council, one of your colleagues reminded me that I was now representing my community and needed to always focus on the greater good, whatever my personal views may be,” she said. "I am not sure if Mr. (Matthew) Holt remembers sharing this advice with me, but it’s served me well for six years. Perception is reality, and while I support peaceful protests, what you did, knowingly or not, is advocate for violence and insurrection encouraged by the President. We all watched what unfolded that day, and we all saw Nazis and other hate groups.”
“On a related note, for you and the county commissioners to make a statement comparing the violence Jan. 6 in Washington to the fight against institutionalized racism and for social justice is unacceptable,” she added. “It is completely unacceptable. I do hope you will all see this as an opportunity to see and better understand issues in our community and our country which we are all facing.”
Scutt noted that she’s not advocating for Soloway to step down from the board because she deserves the opportunity “to continue to represent Hunterdon County as you were elected to do so,” she said.
“If you feel that you can still do so, fairly and with an open mind,” she added. “I believe that when it’s time for you and your colleagues to be re-elected, the voters in our community will have their say. And whatever the final vote is, even if I don’t agree with it, I will support the outcome because I believe in our democracy and I believe in our electoral system.”
County resident Patrick Heller, who in 2020 ran for a seat on the county board and was defeated by incumbent commissioner Shaun C. Van Doren, called into the meeting, and he turned the attention to Inauguration Day, as the county governing body met on the eve of the official transition of power. Heller asked if any of the five county commissioners would proclaim, at Tuesday’s meeting, that then President-elect Joe Biden did win the 2020 election fairly and that they accepted the result.
“I would first like to say thank you to Commissioner Director Soloway, as she was the only one who thanked our newly-elected President Joe Biden,” he said. “I wish all the other board members would do the same thing, as he really needs our well-wishes, and I think it would be nice if, regardless of political party identity, we stand behind our newly-elected leader as he leads our country going forward.”
He referenced his days playing high school football and a coach who told him about the importance of remembering people are judged by the company they keep.
“Director Soloway represents me and every Hunterdon County resident, and the choices she makes both in and out of the office, as well as the decisions of the company she keeps,” he said. “Every American has the right to assemble and the right to freely speak, however freedoms are not without consequences. Just as Commissioner Director Soloway is unequivocally correct that she has these freedoms, her choice to attend a rally based on an inherently false premise about ‘rigged election results’ shows a true lack of judgement that we need from our leaders. Having the rights and freedoms and knowing when to actually use these freedoms are qualities that we need in our leaders. I reiterate the request made by other learned citizens in saying the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C. was held to overturn a legitimate election, certified by representatives of both parties from every single U.S. state. Despite this, the President, at that rally, stated that the presidential election was rigged and that he actually won by a landslide and his loss comes from a criminal enterprise. Saying things over and over again does not make them true.”
One of the callers into Tuesday’s board meeting said Soloway being at the rally in D.C. showed that she was a part of what “created the violence at the Capitol.” He stated that he did not want to see Soloway resign, but he lambasted her choice of attending and asked for her to explain to the people of Hunterdon County what she was doing there.
Roberta Geist, of Califon Borough, said the bus ride Soloway took with the members of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women “was not to a high school pep rally.”
“It wasn’t a 'be nice to President Trump' mission,” she said. “It was a ‘Stop the Steal’ movement to disenfranchise voters in other states, and I don’t know why they were not attempting to disenfranchise New Jersey voters as well. It was a banding together of those who do not believe the voters or the judges, and so we will go down to Washington to attend this rally. This didn’t seem like a good thing to do.”
Barbara Sachau, of Raritan Township, said she supports Soloway in continuing in her role as a county commissioner and she also supports Soloway’s right to attend the Jan. 6 rally.
Lisa Mickey, of Holland Township, a Republican who was selected to fill a vacant Holland Township Committee seat in April 2019, called in to the meeting to discuss the generalizations being made about everyone who attended the rally. She noted that asking 10 people why they attended would probably yield 10 different answers.
“The absolutely vile statements about Susan Soloway online say much more about the hatred in the hearts of those people than they do about her,” she said. “There were definitely some people who were there to create mayhem and were up to no good. Some attended to express their frustrations over reported election irregularities, while others went to Washington to show their support for the policies of the outgoing (Trump) administration. It is really ridiculous and illogical to allege that anyone who was present that day was there to commit violence, there to incite violence, or to support white supremacy.”
Another county resident, and a Soloway supporter, calling into the meeting said, “the concept of guilt by association has a dark history in the country,” and she is very concerned that society is heading down this road, as “we must never repeat it.”
A resident of Whitehouse Station said she supports Soloway, and believes she attended the event as an individual and not in any capacity as Hunterdon County director or member of the board of commissioners.
But still many county residents said Soloway showed poor judgment in attending, no matter her views.
Bethlehem Township’s municipal chair of the Hunterdon County Democrats, Elizabeth Colacino, called into the meeting and said she’s also very disappointed Soloway attended the rally, calling it “very poor judgement.”
“To believe the election was stolen shows that she does not believe the over 60 judgements against the cases brought by the Trump Administration were legitimate,” she said. “I hear she does not know the truth from fiction. County commissioners are responsible for the evaluation and the purchase of election machines, and when commissioners are not able to distinguish the truth from lies in stories circulated about the voting machines used in the general election, they should not be qualified to make these important decisions.”
Colacino said the international recognition bestowed on Hunterdon County in 2020 being the “safest county in the United States to raise children in” will not be upheld as true if the county commissioners do not know truth from fiction.
William Thompson, of Clinton, addressed the commission as a representative of the Hunterdon County Anti-Racism Coalition, which started a petition calling for Soloway to step down from her position.
“I am here to present the petition with over 2,900 signatures, which is twice the number of vaccines given to-date in Hunterdon County,” he said.
Thompson noted that the board and county offices will receive the petition in their inbox, which calls for Soloway to denounce white supremacy and resign from the board of commissioners. It notes that the rally was attended and championed by white supremacy groups, and calls into question her judgment if she does not have faith in the election process in the country, as also upheld as legitimate through 60 lawsuits.
Soloway, in a statement later in the meeting, said she would not resign and called on everyone to tone down the hate and division and “find ways to get along.”