The kinds of comments involved in the debate are reminiscent of NIMBYism (not in my backyard), in which residents object to something perceived as unpleasant in their own neighborhood but raise no such concerns for similar projects elsewhere.
The project in question is not a smelly landfill or loud manufacturing site. It is rather, a community center for the town’s Muslim citizens, which touches deep chords. As Mayor James Davis said, “What we cannot do and what we must not do is question the right for residents of Bayonne and citizens of our country to gather together and worship as they believe.”
In the Feb. 14 issue of the Bayonne Community News, Second Ward Councilman Sal Gullace called rhetoric against the right of people to establish a place of prayer anywhere in the city “prejudiced.” Kevin Kuhl, who was quoted in the same article opposing the warehouse conversion on the grounds of traffic and congestion, responded in a press release. Kuhl is opposing Gullace for the Second Ward Councilman seat on the Jason O’Donnell ticket.
“Rather than acknowledge that development in the Second Ward is completely out of control and that residents demand smarter planning, Councilman Gullace is more comfortable hurling false and despicable accusation and calling me names,” he wrote. “My issue with this project is not motivated by religion. It is motivated by the simple reality that Sal Gullace and the Davis team are pushing small businesses and hardworking families out of the Second Ward with all their development.”
“My issue with this project is not motivated by religion.” – Kevin Kuhl
In the release, he suggested that he could not be prejudiced because no one has referred to him as such in his decades as a proprietor of the east side bar, Kuhl’s Tavern. He called those who harbor religious bias “slimy and disgusting.”
Two days later, City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski issued a press release calling on Jason O’Donnell to “state his position on the city’s recent settlement,” after he said that he “didn’t follow” the issue in an interview with the Hudson County View, a local digital news outlet.
“Either Jason O’Donnell is a coward who is afraid to take a position on a difficult topic, or he is truly unqualified to be mayor if he really ‘hasn’t followed’ this issue as he said,” said Ashe-Nadrowski in the press release. “Bayonne voters deserve to know where Jason O’Donnell stands.”
“If O’Donnell keeps ducking this issue, he might as well change his name to Donald,” the release concludes.
Mayoral candidate Jason O’Donnell issued a statement on social media two days later.
“I believe strongly that every person should have a place to observe or practice their religion,” he wrote. “I agree with Kevin Kuhl that the Second Ward is far too overdeveloped, and I believe the Davis administration is trying to represent this $400,000 settlement we are all paying for as a victory.”
Mayor Davis said the damages from the settlement will paid through city’s joint insurance fund, a policy for which the city makes regular payments in exchange for coverage.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.