Township school board elections are rarely controversial, with candidates spending most of their campaigning time meeting voters and talking about their plans to run the school district.
But in the current Hamilton Township school board election, social media has given voters one more tool with which to scrutinize the candidates, and the picture has devolved into the kind of controversy now associated with national politics: two of the candidates have come under fire for explicitly racist and anti-Muslim posts on their public Facebook pages.
A search through the candidates’ public Facebook accounts discovered a lot of predictable online chatter, but it also revealed that accounts belonging to candidates Richard Crockett and Sherry Morency have a history of posts that are offensive or openly racist.
On Nov. 10, 2014, a Facebook account belonging to Morency posted a meme that criticized then-President Barack Obama for inviting Rev. Al Sharpton to the White House. Commenting on Morency’s post, Crockett’s Facebook account used a racial slur and obscenity, re-printed with asterisks below:
“N****r Muslim President and a F*****ng Pig Race Baiter, what happen to this once GREAT COUNTRY???” Crockett’s Facebook account posted in November 2014.
Morency’s account “liked” this comment.
Crockett, Morency, and Cynthia Simon are running on a slate together as part of a nine-person race for three open school board seats.
On the same post about Al Sharpton, another person asked Crockett if he was “late for your clan meeting,” to which Crockett’s account replied, “I’m never late.” Morency’s account also liked this reply.
In an interview with the Hamilton Post, Crockett denied making the comments and said he has never been to a Ku Klux Klan meeting. “The Ku Klux Klan? Oh my God, of course not,” he said.
The Post has confirmed that the account that posted this comment, “Rich Crockett,” is the same account that Crockett acknowledged posted on the “Crockett, Simon and Morency for School Board” Facebook page during the current election. Crockett said he does not remember making this Facebook post and that it would be out of character for him. “I wrote that?” Crockett said. “There’s no way in freaking heck I wrote that. I would never write something like that. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I was not brought up that way.”
On Jan. 20, 2015, Morency’s account posted a link to a story by clashdaily.com, a website run by an anti-Muslim minister. The article carried the headline “WHAT THE HELL: Islamic Opening Prayer to Allah in the House of Reps.”
The article refers to an Islamic imam from South Brunswick who was invited to lead the opening prayer for the House in 2014 (he was the seventh to do so since 2000).
Crockett’s account replied:
“There like a f*****g virus… Time to eradicate them like one …” Crockett’s Account posted to Facebook in 2015.
Asked about this comment, Crockett denied making it. “I feel like nobody should be eradicated,” he said. “I have no hostility against anyone.”
On Oct. 22, 2015, Morency’s account posted a link to a video from CBN News, a conservative Christian website, which shows Muslims praying in the streets of Paris. Morency’s account commented, “coming to America.” and several of her friends, including Crockett’s account, made comments on the article that were hateful towards Muslims.
“F*****g Muslims pigs,” Crockett’s account wrote. Another friend wrote, “Just in time for snow season to fill in potholes! Anybody feel like they want to drive Bigfoot down that street? I know I do!” [Bigfoot is the name of a monster truck.] Morency’s account “liked” the latter comment.
On Jan. 3, 2015, Morency’s account shared a link to an article by “Madworldnews” with the headline “KKK Billboard Deemed ‘Racist,’ But It’s Really The Exact Opposite.” The billboard reads, “It’s not racist to [heart symbol] your people” and shows the URL for a website called “WhitePrideRadio.” The article defends the KKK and argues that white pride is not racist.
Morency blamed hackers for making political posts on her Facebook wall.
“I have a lot of black and Hispanic, and also I have Islam in my family. So that’s not something that I would want to post on my Facebook page,” Morency said.
Asked about the Al Sharpton post that Crockett’s account commented on with a racial slur, Morency denied making that post as well. “First of all, I wouldn’t put anything about Al Sharpton [online], because I don’t even like him. I think he’s trouble,” she said.
In a later e-mail, Morency said she did not know Crockett in 2014 and Crockett, also in a later e-mail, said he only knew Morency from being asked to run for school board together.
The Post asked Morency via e-mail to clarify the hacking allegations, why she did not delete the offensive posts from her Facebook page if she did not make them herself, and how she and the hacker could have both have had access to the account with neither able to lock the other out by changing the password for four or five years.
Morency said her page was hacked: “I had people check on it for me that were very computer savvy. I was told some Russian troll. It sounds crazy. I always felt it was. That’s all I can tell you.”
In the end, the Post could not determine definitively one way or another whether the offensive posts on Morency’s Facebook page came from hackers or Morency herself. To bolster the hacking claims, Morency showed a screenshot of five posts from her Facebook account in which she complained of hackers over the years. In 2017, she said a hacker put a dozen new posts on her page. On March 12, 2015, she wrote that “I may have been hacked or someone is playing a game posting stupid stuff on my page about my kids.” In November 2015, she wrote that someone “hacked my facebook and is putting nasty pics and films on my page I am sorry if anyone can see it. I am trying to remove it.”
‘I can’t defend what I’ve seen. Those are not views that are reflected by me.’ – Cynthia Simon, Morency’s running mate.
Morency acknowledged that more recent posts from her Facebook account, in which she argued about sexual assault, were made by her. As part of a long discussion about sexual assault allegations, Roy Moore and Brett Kavanaugh on the page of a Hamilton resident, Morency criticized parents of sexual assault victims:
“That’s where parents should be doing there [sic] job and keeping an eye on there [sic] kids. It’s called being a responsible parent” she wrote.
The resident asked if only children of irresponsible parents got sexually molested.
“It’s a large part of the problem face it.” Morency replied.
In a Facebook post of her own, school board member Susan Ferrara, also a candidate in the upcoming election, criticized Morency’s comments as victim blaming.
Morency said her words had been taken out of context. To give readers the complete context, screenshots of the entire discussion are posted below in the photo gallery. The posts were edited to remove the names of individuals not running for school board.
Morency also said her defense of men accused of sexual assault is informed by her experience of having acquaintances falsely accused of a sex crime.
“I care about sexually assaulted women because I know some. It’s just that I don’t care when a woman falsely accuses a man for political purposes … and then this man’s life is destroyed and he never did anything,” Morency said.
The third slate member, Cynthia Simon, said she did not agree with Morency’s posts. “I can’t defend what I’ve seen,” she said. “Those are not views that are reflected by me.”
The Hamilton Post did not find any hateful posts made by Simon, whose Facebook account is not viewable to the public.
Simon said she has known Crockett since high school and does not believe he would make the posts that were made by his account and that she stands by him “100 percent.”
The campaign of Crockett, Morency and Simon is managed by David Henderson, a strategist for the Mercer County Republican Party who has split with the Hamilton GOP. Henderson’s own Facebook presence has been criticized over what Hamilton Republican Club member and township business administrator Dave Kenny called “racist” and “misogynist” posts.
The two top Republicans in Hamilton, Kenny and Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede, condemned Henderson and his slate of school board candidates. Both have been the target of frequent criticism by Henderson and Crockett.
“I wear that as a badge of honor,” Kenny said. “That doesn’t bother me one bit, because I’m looking at the source there. I wouldn’t want their support, honestly.”
Henderson said he did not necessarily agree with his candidates’ social media comments.
“I’m the last person in the world that would want to encumber First Amendment rights,” he said.
“We have a slate, I’m managing the slate, and we’re not always in lockstep. That’s the great thing about America. We can all work together and still have differences of opinion. Are some of those posts things I personally agree with? No. And I’ve articulated that to Sherry, and she understands that,” he said.
Another social media uproar was sparked after the “Hamilton 3” slate boycotted two recent candidates forums held by independent groups.
‘I am hoping the community sees this and makes a decision so that we don’t have persons of that caliber representing us on the school board.’ – Pastor Joseph E. Woods
On Oct. 4, the St. Phillips Baptist Church of Hamilton held a candidates forum. Crockett, Morency, and Simon were invited but did not attend. Simon said she was invited, and replied saying she was going, but later changed her mind.
“Someone gave us information that unfortunately did turn out to be false … that people were going to be there and hold up signs … we did say we were going to attend but did not, based on information that was given to us that I don’t know if it was credible or not,” Simon said.
While the candidates did not attend, Crockett did go onto the live-streamed video Facebook page to argue with the other candidates and organizers. Crockett claimed that the other candidates had been given questions in advance.
“There are only 24 hours in day and a little thing called life, work, and prior commitments sometimes gets in the way,” Crockett wrote on Facebook to explain his absence from the forum. “I was able to watch the video stream later in evening. I also question the scripted questions to 2 of the candidates.”
After Pastor Joseph E. Woods of the church chimed in to deny that other candidates were given the questions in advance, Crockett responded: “Of course they were, that info was leaked this morning, and in a house of worship.”
Crockett said he could tell some of the candidates had been given answers because they looked down at notes while they spoke. Several of the other candidates said they had made notes to prepare for the event based on issues they expected to come up during the forum, not on leaked information.
The day after the candidates forum, Crockett posted a meme of Donald Trump in a fighter plane with the caption “U.S. Dept. of Winning” and wrote “I’m putting this up to piss off all of the assholes that tried to screw the Hamilton 3 tonight…. Nice try..#WINNING”
(Asked about this post, Simon said Crockett’s “asshole” post was not directed at Woods. )
The second forum was held by a Facebook-organized group called Hamilton Township Community Supporting Education. Three candidates attended that forum: Ferrara, Chandler Georgiou and Janna Sheiman.
Henderson said he advised his candidates to skip both events.
“The candidates are their own people. I offered my opinion, and they made the decision. Frankly I don’t believe either of the forums really had the credibility of organizations to be managing a debate, a forum, in an unbiased manner,” he said.
Regarding the HTCSE forum, Henderson said, “Frankly I think that there was very little advertising communicated regarding the ground rules of what would be taking place. Because a couple people get together and form a Facebook page doesn’t give them credibility to have a forum for the candidates.”
As for the St. Phillips forum, Henderson said it was not credible because only 10 people showed up to hear the forum. “I’m not sure what it does for the community to be involved with a forum or debate that isn’t presenting a decent product,” he said.
Henderson said that he believes some candidates were provided questions in advance “from information that I’ve received from various people that were involved.”
Woods said that the candidates’ forum has been held at the church for the last eight years without anyone accusing the church of bias. “This is the first time we’ve ever had an issue,” he said. “This is the first time that my integrity has been questioned concerning the candidate nights. We’ve had Democrats, Republicans, nonpartisan, independent, black and white candidates of different backgrounds in the church and there’s never been an issue. This is the first year we did not have a majority of the candidates present.”
He said he gave each candidate who accepted the invitation the same “10 commandments” sheet detailing the rules of the forum.
Woods said the accusation of bias and the profanity in Crockett’s response to the event were unacceptable. “It’s offensive and it’s disrespectful to our community and our church,” he said. “Many people have called me asking me to get engaged with this. My position has been that I’m going to state the facts. We did not release or leak any questions prior to the event.”
After being shown the posts from Crockett’s account with racial slurs, Woods said he was going to remain fair and unbiased towards the candidates.
“I am hoping the community sees this and makes a decision so that we don’t have persons of that caliber representing us on the school board and serving our children. It is very offensive and disrespectful, but I am not going to engage with a back-and-forth with the candidates.”
While the Simon Crockett and Morency slate has not attended candidate forums, they held a meet-and-greet on Oct. 9 at the Brookwood Cafe. The candidates’ Facebook page also indicated the slate would attend a candidates forum sponsored by the Hamilton Township Education Association at the Hibernian Foundation of Trenton on Kuser Road on Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 6 to 9 p.m. A second meet-and-greet had been scheduled for Saturday, October 27 but was cancelled after this story was initially published online.
All three candidates said they wanted to focus on the issues instead of social media controversy. “I care about the kids and the schools and the community. I want that to be the focus, not this middle school bickering stuff that’s been going on, it’s awful. I’m trying to limit myself away from any type of that behavior,” Morency said. The Post asked each candidate about their policy positions, and their responses will be published online later this month. Morency returned the questionnaire, but Crockett and Simon did not.
The Post began looking into the social media presences of all the candidates after several residents indicated that one or more members of the “Hamilton Three” slate were making racist comments. In the interest of covering the election fairly, the Post reviewed the media of all the candidates, not just those three. The Post did not send friend requests to the candidates and only looked at what was viewable to the public and non-friends.
Here is what the review found:
Girard A. Casale
Girard A. Casale, an executive chef by trade, attended Saint Anthony’s and Mercer County Community College. He ran for school board in 2016 and 2017 but lost. The Post did not find any social media profile for Casale.
Rich Crockett is an engineering technician with the New Jersey Department of Transportation and is the grandson of the namesake of Crockett Middle School. Crockett’s personal Facebook page is set to private, his posts are hidden to everyone who is not “friends” with him. However, his account has posted prolifically on other people’s Facebook pages including Morency’s, under which his account made the racist posts above.
More recently, Crockett made many posts criticizing Yaede and Kenny. In one recent post, he shared a photo of a high-heeled shoe, and wrote: “Taxpayers of HAMILTON, I give you the official Mayor Yaede Fundraiser golf shoe. These classy shoes are available for a small donation to the Shady Yaede re-election campaign. $1000 per. Disclaimer: we can not guarantee that these will not make you look stupid, dumb, and blonde.”
Crockett also acknowledged having posted Confederate flag imagery on Facebook during the controversy over the removal of statues of Confederate leaders in southern cities. Crockett said the Confederate flag is not a racist symbol to him.
In an interview with the Hamilton Post, Crockett explained his support of Confederate statues: “The Confederate flag is part of American history. Wiping away of American history is bullshit. I was showing support for the southerners.”
Crockett was asked how people of color and Muslims could trust him in a leadership position after these posts under his name had surfaced.
“How are they supposed to trust me? I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what the repercussions of this are going to be.”
Susan Ferrara has served one term on the school board. Her personal Facebook page is private but she maintains two public pages: “Ferrara for School Board” and “Ferrara One of Nine.”
Both pages are devoted almost entirely to school board and election issues. In a typical recent post, Ferrara responds to a post by David Henderson in which Henderson accused her of putting campaign signs on public property.
“Hi everyone. The majority of my signs are on private property, as was this one. It’s unfortunate to learn self-appointed arbiters feel entitled to pull campaign signs.”
In another, she responds to Crockett’s accusation that the candidates were provided with questions in advance of the St. Phillips candidates forum. She posted a photo of the event candidate information sheet, which outlines the format of the event, and says that all candidates were given the same thing.
Chandler Georgiou, is a graduate of Steinert and a current Rutgers student. He has very little public information on his Facebook account other than a profile picture of himself at the St. Phillips candidates forum.
Angelo Hall, the former executive director of the John O. Wilson Hamilton Neighborhood Service Center, has not appeared at any campaign events and has not responded to any requests for information from the Post. He previously ran for school board in 2017.
Richard Kanka, father of the child whose killing became the inspiration for Megan’s Law, has served three terms on the school board. On Facebook, he did not post as prolifically as Morency, but did share at least one story on his Facebook page that criticized the LGBT movement. One post, which originated with “Yournewswire,” a site described as a proliferator of fake news by fact checkers at CBS, Poynter, and Snopes. The story, which was entirely made up, asserted “Pedophilia Included As ‘Sexual Orientation’ On New LGBT Pride Flag.”
Sherry Morency is the owner of Morency Realty Investment Group, AVT Holding Co. and Innercity Redevelopment Specialists of Mercer County together with her husband. Her Facebook posts of 2017 or later are private, but older posts were visible to the public in mid-October. She made them private after the Post asked her about the content of some of the links that were posted on her wall. Scanning back several years, a scroll through her Facebook wall found numerous posts linking to fake news publications in the run-up to the 2016 election. Frequent subjects were the Black Lives Matter movement and Muslims in general.
For example, in a Sept. 22, 2016, post, Morency’s account links to an entirely false and made-up story with the headline “Police Find 19 White Female Bodies In Freezers With ‘Black Lives Matter’ Carved Into Skin.”
On Oct. 19, 2016, Morency’s account posted a link from Friends of Syria, a blog that posts propaganda on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. The headline “IT’S OVER: Hillary’s ISIS Email Just Leaked & It’s Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined…” (The story, which is about Wikileaks cables in which then-secretary-of-state Clinton discussed selling weapons to Libyan rebel groups, with ISIS as a potential user of the weapons, is at least partially true.)
On Sept. 26, 2016, Morency’s account posted a photo that’s a picture of a black man with gold teeth and the words “THIS BLACK GUY WAS JUST ARRESTED FOR SHOOTING A BLACK GUY AT A PROTEST OVER A BLACK GUY SHOOTING A BLACK GUY.”
On May 15, 2016, Morency’s account shared a post referencing the controversy over transgender bathrooms. The post demands Obama show a video of his children showering. It was a photo of Sasha and Malia Obama with the words, “before our children are forced to shower with grown men…perhaps the president should show us a video of his children doing it…after all he doesn’t mind everyone seeing your children…lead by example Barry…. Put up… or shut up!!”
Janna Sheiman is a legal expert and a township Democratic Committee member. Like Ferrara, Sheiman has a mostly private personal page and a public candidate page, “Janna Sheiman for Hamilton Township School Board.” In a typical recent post, Sheiman discusses dangerous walking routes to school and proposes enhancing busing routes to improve student safety.
What little is public on Sheiman’s personal page includes a few left-leaning posts, including an article from the liberal blog Thinkprogress.org about Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation process: “About 40 minutes after Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began his second day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, all eight of the justices he hopes to join said a major disability decision Gorsuch wrote in 2008 was wrong” about his interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Cynthia Simon is an employee of Educational Testing Service. Her Facebook page has very little visible to the general public. One is a picture of herself posing with Hamilton councilwoman Ileana Schirmer and another woman at a “Tough Mudder” obstacle course race. A few other posts are live videos of school board meetings.
Update: After the initial publication of this story, the “Hamilton Three” slate cancelled a campaign meet-and-greet event. The story has been updated to reflect this.