MAYS LANDING, N.J. (AP) — When a New Jersey politician shared a meme on Facebook during January's Women's March on Washington asking whether the protest would be "over in time for them to cook dinner," it sparked an uproar that led women to pack a meeting to demand an apology .
One woman brought a box of macaroni and cheese and told Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman to "cook your own damn dinner."
Another woman who went to protest that night took things a step further: she's running to replace him.
Angered by his comments and inspired by the women's march, first-time political candidate Ashley Bennett is challenging the Republican, who is seeking his second three-year term on the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders in a Nov. 7 election. The board oversees government in Atlantic County, a region of about 275,000 people that includes the struggling Atlantic City seaside gambling resort.
"I was angry about (the Facebook meme), because elected officials shouldn't be on social media mocking and belittling people who are expressing their concerns about their community and the nation," said Bennett, 32, an Egg Harbor Township resident who works as a psychiatric emergency screener in the crisis department at Cape Regional Hospital.
Addressing audience members at the meeting who insisted he apologize for the social media post, Carman said the meme was "a bad choice" but said the women in his life were "strong and confident" enough to not be offended by his joke. He apologized a few days later, saying it was an error in judgment and "obvious to me that I have hurt many people, men and women."
Carman drew more attention this month for wearing a motorcycle jacket with a patch containing a Confederate flag . He said the patch had been on the jacket for years and did not have racial overtones but instead represented the political divide between northern and southern Jersey, where many residents often feel they're short-changed when it comes to state funding and other important matters. He apologized to anyone who felt offended.
He says he understands why both issues have drawn public attention, but says the focus of the campaign should be on the issues that are important to the county.
"People will talk about things like this, but we should be discussing what we will do to make the county a better place to live and what we can do to make people's lives better," said Carman, 58, a retired construction company superintendent and former carpenters' union official. He says his focus has been mostly on jobs and the economy and trying to help combat the county's opioid addiction problems.
"If you're not interested in helping people, you shouldn't be running for office or be in office," he said.
Bennett says she would focus on economic development issues if elected, noting the need to help lower- and fixed-income residents who may be struggling to keep their homes and the thousands of people left unemployed as some Atlantic City casinos closed.
But she says a candidate's character and actions should also be an important consideration for voters. She believes the women's march and similar events that followed Trump's election "woke a lot of people up" and made them realize they have to get involved if they want change to occur.
"Don't expect it to be easy, don't expect people to just jump to your side," she said. "If people feel they're being left out and their views and needs overlooked, they want to know what you're going to do to change that."
Contact Shipkowski at https://www.twitter.com/BruceShipkowski