Stand Up Against Toxic Politics in Hoboken

Dear Editor:

Shortly after I was elected to City Council in 2016, a Board of Education Trustee who is now associated with the “Leaders That Listen” campaign texted a disparaging homophobic remark about me on a group text with other BOE officials. As a gay man, and the first LGBTQ+ elected in Hoboken, that comment hurt deeply.

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Six years later, the current BOE majority: a group of electeds that has gone unchallenged for years, seemingly hasn’t learned that name calling and bullying is divisive and destructive. Over the last two weeks Hoboken voters received two hate-filled mailers from the “Leadership That Listens’ team that has falsely characterized their “Kids First” opposition with QAnon and the far right. Now, it’s possible to disagree with opponents, even call them out, but to use false character assassinations is everything that’s wrong with politics today.

I know what that feels like.

I ran for mayor in 2017 and three days before polls opened, a racist flier was illegally distributed using my name, attacking the current mayor. I was called a bigot, my family received hate calls and the story was published in national and international press disparaging my reputation. I lost that election by 400 votes. Like clockwork, it happened again in 2019 when I ran for reelection and a pro-development Super PAC sent out a series of mailers absurdly associating me, a liberal Democrat, with Donald Trump. Simultaneously, a blogger mocked me for being gay, an action denounced by The Victory Fund – a national LGBTQ+ organization.

By the start of the pandemic politics had become such a toxic force in my life that I needed to take time away to concentrate on my career and family. This is why it is personally frustrating for me to see the same unnecessary attacks being leveled on three three young candidates on the “Kids First” slate – two mothers and the former student body president at Rutgers University. These upstart candidates may not be perfect, but in a non partisan race, they don’t deserve these deeply personal and misleading attacks.

Negative campaigning intended to assassinate an opponent’s character, name and family is now the norm in Hoboken and voters must demand a change. Elections should be about ideas and bringing people together through consensus, not false attacks and fear mongering. Supporting “Leadership That Listens” only serves to normalize divisive campaign tactics and encourages future candidates to do the same. If we don’t stand up against the toxicity taking over our elections, we will stop seeing young people – those with new energy and new ideas, from throwing their hat into the political ring out of fear of attack and ridicule.

Let’s use this election to stand up against the political negativity sweeping the country, it doesn’t belong in Hoboken.

Mike DeFusco
Councilperson
City of Hoboken

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