FLEMINGTON, NJ - Less than two dozen physically-distanced, masked protestors made their way to the County Seat of Hunterdon Tuesday, following the many online posts calling for Hunterdon County Board of Commissioners’ 2021 Director Susan J. Soloway to resign after her attendance Jan. 6 at the rally to support President Donald Trump and protest the presidential election result before its certification in the U.S. Capitol.
Most of the 20 or so protestors Tuesday hailed from Lambertville. Many among them looked for the all-Republican Board of County Commissioners to “get a visual” of their bright neon signs, painting a modest picture of the outcry over Soloway’s attendance and the perceived meanings behind it, before the board’s executive session began at 4:30 p.m.
Signs were held, but no speeches were given, neither did they march to the steps of the meeting location – the Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse, site of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial 86 years ago – as a heavy security detail involving county sheriff’s office personnel and Flemington Police was evident inside and around its perimeter. Multiple law enforcement vehicles were on Main Street, and armed security manned the door to the courthouse.
Protestors remained in the vicinity of the County Hall of Records and Board of Elections headquarters.
A 30-year Hunterdon County resident, Elicia Lerman of Lambertville, was the first protestor to arrive Tuesday. When asked if Soloway should remain county director and on the Board of County Commissioners, Lerman said she questioned Soloway’s judgement in attending “the insurrectionist rally in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago.” She said she and many others signed their names to a change.org petition calling for Soloway to resign, which had garnered 2,904 signatures as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Lerman said the protest and being present in front of the Historic Courthouse would send the message to the county’s governing body, “telling them how we feel.”
“In addition to the ‘Big Lie’ and being so detrimental to the United States, I think it was extremely rude of Sue Soloway to disrespect (Hunterdon County Clerk) Mary Melfi’s office like that,” she said. "Mary Melfi does a great job and has dedicated a lifetime of service to this community and Hunterdon County. Mary is a quintessential professional, and has worked in so many elections. Soloway, in attending the rally where people believed the 2020 election was fraudulent, and with Melfi’s office and our county staff, is disrespecting her. Why was Soloway down in D.C. if she thinks the vote was free and fair – she doesn’t. Some of us have asked that Soloway apologize to Mary Melfi for going to the rally and supporting the ‘Big Lie.’ Our 2020 election process, handled by Mary and the clerk’s office, was well-run, well-thought-out and executed, so well-done. Our county did a good job.”
Several protest attendees also noted how wonderful Melfi is at her job.
Shirah Gray, also of Lambertville, said she has lived in Hunterdon County for over 15 years. She said Soloway should resign because she believes Soloway violated her Oath of Office to uphold the Constitutions of the state and nation.
“I believe her immediate resignation is probably the best thing,” she said. “We are teaching children that in America we have free and fair elections. If we are teaching them there are still many questions over the election, that represents a pretty bad beginning lesson in life. While our democracy is fairly elastic, we are seeing it stretched to the point of breaking down.”
Two friends walking their dogs on Flemington’s Main Street, just steps from the Historic County Courthouse, stopped when they saw the neon signs and slogans calling for “Respect for the Elections.”
Cheryl, of Raritan Township, who declined to give her last name, cheered on the protesters, and said she also signed the Change.org petition.
“I won’t support Commissioner Soloway continuing to represent Hunterdon County, not due to political reasons but due to the racist implications and the fact she chose to attend a rally where known white supremacists were attending and in play,” she said. “I do not feel that is appropriate for someone in our government who is supposed to represent all of her constituents. The bottom line is that she should have shown better judgement. If her judgement is to go to such an event, how can she possibly have judgement that merits her making good decisions for Hunterdon County?”
Lambertville resident Susan Shapiro said the aspect of county government she is most familiar with is the Board of Elections, with administrator Beth Thompson and Melfi. She said it is important to note this vital component of county operations does report to the county commissioners.
“They have done an outstanding job, making sure voters know how to fill out the mail-in ballots and with videos on their website, implementing ballot dropboxes, showing us what happens and how ballots are processed,” she said. “A behavior seeking to overturn results of an election is a slap in the face to Mary Melfi and the Hunterdon County Board of Elections. I am so outraged about this.”
She said Hunterdon County has hard work ahead “talking to people” and approaching more community-building conversations. But a start, in her opinion, was standing outside the Courthouse on Tuesday for the protest.
“In a democracy, it is very important for people to have their voice heard, and one of the most effective ways to do so is showing up,” she said. “We are here in downtown Flemington, with the meeting starting soon. It is important to not be silent. I do not think the board will take actions on Soloway’s appointment, but I do think they will know she is not representing all of Hunterdon County’s citizens.”
Deborah Robinson, of the Locktown section of Kingwood, said she saw news reports about Soloway’s attendance, and she decided to attend the rally to call for the county commissioners’ director to resign.
Lambertville resident Lisa Tulley, who has lived in Hunterdon County for over 20 years, said reading the news reports about Soloway’s attendance at the Washington, D.C., rally on January 6 “made her ill.”
“How does someone become the county director – just confirmed by the board as they obviously felt she has good judgement in allowing her to oversee the whole county’s operations, every department – and she turned around and the very next day she attended a ‘Steal the Vote’ rally,” she said. “Well, does it mean Susan Soloway believes her co-worker who was re-elected really was not and that the entire election was fraudulent?”
Tulley said she has followed economic development in towns such as hers and across Hunterdon County, a steadfast initiative the county governing body is heavily involved with. But looking at the longer-term, both Tulley and Shapiro said Soloway should both issue an apology and resign from her post as Board of County Commissioners’ director for 2021.
Protest attendees said they will choose whether or not to attend and protest outside the next County Commissioners’ meeting on Feb. 2, or at any subsequent county meetings depending on what statements and actions the board takes in the interim.
John Smith, a former Hunterdon Central Regional High School English teacher and Frenchtown resident, said he is active with the Hunterdon County Anti-Racism Coalition (NJ) which created the Change.org petition.
“It’s unbelievable to me that she can be elected to represent the people, and then go to a rally to overturn the will of the people,” he said. “It is just appalling because there was and is no legitimate reason to be there. Over 60 courts said there was no evidence of issues with the election. If you are out there at the Capitol, and the people have already decided, but as an official you are a representative of the people, then to me it is a contradiction with her Oath of Office.”
When asked about the judgement Soloway exercised in attending, Smith said “consider the judgement of anyone who attended that rally, they came to make trouble, they came to overturn the will of the people.”
“Soloway showed judgement not different from anyone who was there,” he added. “Whether she was expecting violence there or not, being there she was going against what her elected office empowered her to do, to represent the people. It is time for pushback at every level, and the people who without any evidence are willing to tear down our democracy need to be stopped.”