A newly elected white member of Pitman Borough Council who came under fire just after his victory at the polls over a Facebook photo that shows him dressed as a Black celebrity and wearing makeup to darken his skin issued an apology Saturday.
According to the statement, first reported by CBS3 and posted on the Pitman Republicans Facebook page, Vince Kelly, a Republican, said he purchased and wore the Flavor Flav costume to a Halloween party in 2008 and years later “briefly” used the picture of himself in costume as a cover photo on his Facebook page during the Halloween season.
“I do understand that we live in a very different time and today, even as a celebration of one’s fame, I would not even consider wearing a costume that included blackface,” Kelly said in the statement. “I apologize to anyone who may be hurt by my costume choice of years ago and will soon reach out to the Pitman Anti-Racist Collective (PARC) so we can hopefully schedule a meeting and have some open, honest dialogue.”
It was the second mea culpa from a just-elected South Jersey official in as many days on conduct decried as racist.
At the time he wore the Flavor Flav costume, Kelly said, the member of the hip-hop group Public Enemy and a reality TV star was “incredibly popular” in part because of his yelling of “yeah boy.” Wearing the costume “was a celebration of his fame,” Kelly told CBS3.
He said he had “frankly forgotten about it until recent events.”
Two days after Kelly was elected to council, PARC issued a statement saying the 2015 Facebook photo ”came to light” on election night and was still publicly posted as of Thursday.
The group called on Kelly to make a public apology and undergo diversity, equity, and inclusion training, or else “step down.”
In a statement Saturday, PARC, an advocacy group formed around racial justice issues in 2020, said it was “relieved” by Kelly’s apology and has reached out to the Gloucester County chapter of the NAACP for further guidance.
“PARC believes this is evidence that education about cultural issues can change hearts and minds,” it said. “Our group looks forward to communicating with Councilman-elect Kelly, in hopes that further DEI training can improve his understanding of nuanced cultural issues in our town.”
Kelly could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday.
Kelly’s apology follows one issued Friday by another Gloucester County political novice. Republican Ed Durr, the truck driver who defeated Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney in a shocking upset, had denigrated Muslims in a 2019 tweet as “fools,” referred to Islam as a “false religion,” and attacked the prophet Muhammad by name, among other comments.
Hours after Durr’s election victory, the tweet was resurrected by WNYC, prompting swift condemnation from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, among other groups, and calls for the Logan Township resident’s resignation.
“I’m a passionate guy and I sometimes say things in the heat of the moment. If I said things in the past that hurt anybody’s feelings, I sincerely apologize,” Durr said in a statement Friday. “I support everybody’s right to worship in any manner they choose and to worship the God of their choice. I support all people and I support everybody’s rights.”
The one-two revelations about Kelly and Durr and their apologies had the president of the Gloucester County NAACP on Saturday feeling “scared.”
“I’m scared, I’m truly scared for the Black and brown people here in Gloucester County,” Loretta Winters said in an interview. “I’m afraid for the white people who stand up and want to support that all men and women are created equal.”
The actions for which Kelly and Durr now apologize, she said, “take us 10 steps backward” in DEI efforts.
Winters, a registered Democrat who as a resident of Williamstown did not have a vote in either Pitman’s council election or the 3rd District Senate race, said she hopes to meet with Kelly and Durr.
“I have yet to get a phone call from either one of them,” Winters said, “either to explain or make amends over what happened or to talk about the issues. I would welcome that.”