Photos of Westampton Township committee candidate Karl Eversmeyer dressed in blackface surfaced on Monday, igniting calls for his withdrawal from the November election and swaying the Burlington County GOP to pull its support for the Republican nominee.
The photos, which were found on Eversmeyer’s Facebook page and released to the media on Monday, show the 33-year-old wearing blackface makeup with a white button-down shirt, silver sunglasses, and a black flat-rim hat tilted sideways while holding a bottle of Hennessy.
Eversmeyer denies any racist intent and said he and his wife dressed up as Kanye West and Taylor Swift for his friend Phil’s Halloween party in 2009, which was one month after the notorious scandal between the rapper and the pop singer at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
“It was a great party. My friend Phil — and I don’t like to label anyone or describe them by their ethnicity or color, but for this, I guess I have to — he’s African American,” Eversmeyer said in a phone interview. He said that the majority of people at the party were Phil’s friends and family, who are also African American.
“I mean the thought of me dressing up as a racist to go to an African American party never really crossed my mind. It doesn’t make sense to do that,” he said. “They voted me for best costume. They couldn’t believe I was white, to be honest. They had no idea.”
Eversmeyer, who grew up in Beverly and moved to Westampton four years ago, said that he recently talked with Phil, whose last name was not provided, about the photo, and that his friend of 12 years “could not believe” people were calling him a racist. A person identified as “Phil G.,” who could not be reached for comment, provided a statement through Eversmeyer’s Facebook page that said:
“We requested and held a contest for our guests to come dressed up as something unique. Karl and his wife came as Kanye West and Taylor Swift after the the incident happened at the awards. No one took it as racist that attended the party everyone took it as he thought outside the box and won the best costume contest. Thank you for you time in reading the full side of the story. - Phil G.”
Eversmeyer said his political opponents found the photos on his personal Facebook page and then gave them to former Mayor Carolyn Chang, who is a Democrat. He said that Chang then released them to the media Monday in an attempt to “smear” his campaign.
Chang, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, described the photo as “nothing short of sickening” to the Burlington County Times.
“There is absolutely no place for racism or hate in Westampton,” said Chang, who is a past president of the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey. “Mr. Eversmeyer owes the people of this vibrant, multicultural community an explanation for his disgusting behavior.”
Eversmeyer denied all claims that he is a racist and said that he never likes to identify people by their skin color. He said that he has no plans to withdraw from the election.
“I hope that [Westampton residents] can see through these baseless claims and see that I’m here to serve them no matter what they look like.”
Eversmeyer is running against Democratic incumbent John Wisniewski, who joined the committee in 2016 and has been mayor for the last two years, for a seat on the all-Democratic five-person committee. The township elects a new mayor each year from the members of the committee.
“I find the pictures that are being circulated disgusting and highly offensive,” Wisniewski said in an email. “Mr. Eversmeyer has yet to apologize to anyone that may be offended by these photos. I understand that it be cool between him and his circle of friends, but outside of that, people are upset.”
Burlington County Republican Committee Chairman Sean Earlen announced Monday that the committee was pulling its support for the candidate, but Eversmeyer said that this “wasn’t a huge kick to the face” and does not think it will impact his race.
“They weren’t spending money on me, and it wasn’t like I had all the endorsements from everybody. I supported them way more,” he said. “I have no hard feelings against anyone because it’s an easy way out for them.”
Photos of politicians donning blackface entered the national conversation after yearbook photos of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam showed the Democrat wearing blackface and standing next to someone in a KKK outfit. Northam did not resign from office despite public outcry.
In September, photos also showed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing black and brown face when he dressed as an “Arabian Nights” character in 2001.