Campaign ad invoking name of murdered police officer sparks rebuke

An error in a local newspaper advertisement has led to bad feelings and apologies in the race for Franklin Township Committee.

In an ad that ran today, Franklin Township (Gloucester County) deputy mayor Joe Petsch and candidate Jim Kelly took aim at opponents Lou Gonzalez, Sheryl Neely and Ed Leopardi for what they called a “smear campaign.” But instead of naming Lou Gonzalez, the ad named his brother Lee, a police sergeant killed during a routine traffic stop 18 years ago by Robert “Mudman” Simon.

Simon was found guilty of the murder and was on death row until he was murdered in prison by another notorious death row inmate, Ambrose Harris.

In a statement, Lou Gonzalez called the error “inexcusable.”

“Today’s Republican ad in the Sentinel is a new low,” Gonzalez said. “My brother Lee gave his life protecting our community .  For them to invoke his name, accidentally or intentionally, is inexcusable and hurtful.  Shame on them.  While in my heart I would like to believe this was a mistake, the result is the same.  I would like to thank all my friends and neighbors for their support today and I hope my opponents do what is right and rectify the situation.”

Through a spokesman Petsch expressed regret for the error and promised to apologize to the Gonzalez family at the Tuesday committee meeting.

“I spoke to Joe this afternoon and he is terribly upset about the typo in this ad,” said spokesman Chris Russell. “He has personally reached out to the Gonzalez Family to express his regret and sorrow over this innocent mistake.  As a former fire chief in the town who worked with Sgt. Gonzalez, Joe considered him a friend and would never do anything to sully his memory.  He has taken responsibility for the error and plans to apologize publicly tonight at a township committee meeting.  His apology is sincere and he hopes it is accepted in good faith.”

Petsch and Kelly are facing Gonzalez and Sheryl Neely in the November election that will determine control of the committee. The campaign has been a heated one that has spurred accusations of racism.  

Campaign ad invoking name of murdered police officer sparks rebuke