The tsunami gubernatorial candidate named Christie swept into office many Republican candidates around the state. In my hometown of Flemington, the two Republican Councilmembers-Elect are Michelle Oberst and Marc Haine. Now, prior to the election I did not know either Mr. Haine or Ms. Oberst that well at all.
But now, I know them by their campaign material.
As it will be the case in small towns in New Jersey, the top issues always seem to be the same, regardless of political party: Property taxes. Quality of life. Traffic. Economic revitalization. And property taxes again.
Both sides focus on their ideas, issues, and initiatives on how to deal with these problems—sometimes not much distinguishes the Republicans from the Democrats.
Except for this year.
This year the Republican team of Oberst/Hain sent out a campaign piece that carried the headline:
“Don’t the Elected Officials in Flemington Have Enough REAL Problems to Deal With?”
Under the headline, in a collage, were pictures that included empty Main Street businesses; buildings with graffiti; broken fences and overflowing trash containers.
And a photo of Latino day laborers waiting outside on private property —a locally owned convenience store—to be picked up for a day’s work, perhaps landscaping or construction.
This, to the Oberst/Haine team is a “REAL” problem. In conversations with members of the voting public they described these men as “intimidating”, “menacing” and “ruining the quality of life in Flemington”.
The use of such a photo without the consent of those photographed carries several possible problems—assuming that Oberst/Haine failed to get releases from the nine men in the photo. If you’re going to photograph or publish photos of people, one should be mindful of the “right to privacy”. To allude to the fact that these folks —-conducting themselves in a perfectly legal manner on private property —-are somehow a “problem” can result in “defamation” or “libel.”
The reason this photo was taken and used is obvious on its face: these folks have brown skin and come from a different culture. The use of the photo is inflammatory, and has tinges of racism. The photo may have served to elect Oberst/Haine, but it did nothing to advance the issue of community race relations.
Epilogue: At Monday night’s Flemington Borough Council meeting, one Oberst/Haine supporter defended their right to use such a photo, and asserted:
“About that photo, I am glad it was there. Look, I am not racist. I don’t care. I’m not prejudiced. But the other day I drove down Main Street and counted 22 non-whites on Main Street, 10 whites and two bums. And this is what the problem is. I have lived in Flemington for 38 years and these non-whites are having an effect on my quality of life.”
I hope that Ms. Oberst and Mr. Haine show better judgment on the Flemington Borough Council than they did in preparing their campaign material.