Hoboken’s blogging scene, which can be less than civil at times, has caught the attention of the National Jewish Democratic Council – and it’s not for the right reasons.
Last week, blogger and Zoning Board of Adjustments member Nancy Pincus, a supporter of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, posted a controversial graphic of Zimmer rival Councilwoman Beth Mason. Pincus’ blog, the “Grafix Avenger,” has posted several controversial graphics of Zimmer critics over the last year. But what aroused the ire of some of her opponents this time around, and lured an unusual commentary from a national Jewish group, was a depiction of Mason at the center of a poster for a Nazi propaganda film from the 1930s.
“Did the blog post cross the line?”
Legitimate criticism, or political plot?
During the public portion of Monday evening’s City Council meeting, resident Lane Bajardi, an ardent Mason supporter and critic of the Zimmer administration, showed printouts of Pincus’ blog. The blog post in question was in response to the Nov. 2 4th Ward election between Councilman Michael Lenz and rival Tim Occhipinti. Lenz, a Zimmer ally, lost to Occhipinti.
Apparently, Pincus was not too happy about the election result. The photo on her blog was an altered poster of the 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph des Willens, or Triumph of the Will. The photo featured Councilwoman Beth Mason as the main figure, “wearing” Councilman Tim Occhipinti as an accessory on her necklace. The altered title reads: Triumph des Shillens, or Triumph of the Shill.
Like Pincus, Mason is Jewish.
“I think the council should explore its opportunities to remove her, because we cannot allow this to continue to happen.” – Councilman Michael Russo
However, Pincus responded in a blog post saying she is a descendant of Holocaust survivors.
Several council members, even those who are allied with Pincus, denounced the graphic.
Seat on Zoning Board
Some have said that Pincus should not serve on the board. But she said last week that she has no intention of resigning.
The chairman of the Zoning Board backed her up. “This is not about Nancy’s recent activities,” said fellow Zimmer ally Tony Soares. “What this is really is a transparent plot by Lane Bajardi, Beth Mason, and the remains of Team Cammarano to create another vacancy on the Zoning Board so that they can fill the sixth vote needed with one of their friends and make way for giant D Variances and return to the business of selling out Hoboken to outside interests.”
On Wednesday, the Washington, D.C.-based National Jewish Democratic Council published a release denouncing Pincus for her actions.
“As we have said repeatedly, comparing elected officials to the Nazis, whether perpetrated by a Republican or a Democrat, elected official or activist, is never acceptable,” according to the post on NJDC.org.
But why would a national group comment on a very local issue?
Pincus published on her blog that a member on the Board of Directors of the NJDC donated $1,500 to Mason’s campaign in 2007, and hosted a party for Mason in 2008.
Pincus demanded that the NJDC piece be retracted.
Pincus said on Friday that small changes were made to the article on the NJDC site, but she has now involved her lawyer in the process of trying to have the piece removed.
Pincus apologizes…sort of
After several days of defending her work, Pincus issued a letter of apology to one group on Thursday.
She sent the letter following a phone conversation with the New Jersey Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League.
“In the highly charged partisan political climate in my town, Hoboken (and admittedly I am a highly charged partisan myself) I did not think twice that it might be hurtful or bad judgment. For which I am truly sorry,” Pincus said in her letter. “The intent was NEVER to make a comparison between the subjects of the graphic and the Holocaust, but I realize now the weight of history is so enormous that these images can't be used without such comparisons drawn.”
But Mason and Bajardi have received a different kind of apology on Pincus’ blog, which seems less than sincere. She refers to Bajardi as Mason’s “Chihuahua,” writing about “the image that Beth Mason and her pet Chihuahua were peddling to Jewish organizations in order to provide the ‘scandal’ a.k.a. political cover to throw me off the Zoning Board of Adjustment.”
She continues: “Well, sorry Beth. Sorry Bajardi. I shared my genuine remorse for any hurt I may have caused to a spiritual man; and I don't mean the manufactured outrage of City Council Chamber performances.”
After previously saying she would not take the image down, in the letter to the ADL, Pincus noted that she would swap the image for a different one.
Council allies condemn it
“It’s offensive and it should be condemned,” said Councilman Ravi Bhalla, a Zimmer ally, at the meeting on Monday “I have a lot in common with Ms. Pincus in respect to city issues, but I think this crosses the line.”
Another Zimmer ally, Councilman Dave Mello, said he would reach out to Pincus to tell her that he disagreed with the display. Other council members echoed Mello and Bhalla’s thoughts.
Councilman Michael Russo, a frequent Zimmer critic, asked during the meeting for instructions on how the council can remove a member of the Zoning Board. Corporation Counsel Mark Tabakin said the image is “disturbing on many, many levels” but the council needs to be “cognizant of this person’s First Amendment rights.”
Councilwoman Mason did not respond to calls or e-mails for comments on the issue.
Descendant of survivors
Pincus has said that her father fought against the Nazis.
“What I blog about has zero relationship to my duties to the city,” Pincus said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I never discuss zoning issues [on the blog].”
Pincus said the image was just part of a pun, and not intended to invoke comparisons to the Nazi party.
Councilman Russo said his request for information about how to remove a member of the board “doesn’t mean she will be removed.”
“It doesn’t mean it should happen,” Russo said. “I think the council should explore its opportunities to remove her, because we cannot allow this to continue to happen. This is hate.”
On Tuesday, Pincus wrote on her personal blog that she believed Bajardi, who brought the issue to the council, would personally like to be appointed to her seat on the Zoning Board. Pincus also posted a graphic of a chair with her name over the Nazi propaganda poster. The image had, written in German, “I want the chair.”
Bajardi said on Wednesday that if he wanted to sit on the Zoning Board, he could have done so a few years ago. Bajardi said he has “no desire” to serve on the Zoning Board.
Pincus was absent from the Zoning Board meeting on Tuesday, and said it was in part because of the issue at hand.
“My phone was ringing from morning until the evening [on Tuesday],” Pincus said. “I was dealing with issues related to this. I had to deal with some personal things. I called in [to the Zoning Board] and they said it was fine [for her to miss the meeting]; there were eight people. It was not because I didn’t want to be there, it’s just the day was like a storm blew in.”
What do you think? Did Pincus cross the line? Take part in our poll at HudsonReporter.com and discuss the issue in the comments after the story.
Ray Smith can be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com.
Poll closes Thursday Nov. 25, 2010