NORTHFIELD, N.J. — One woman brought a box of mac and cheese. Another brandished takeout menus. A third brought the book We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as a gift.
Several dozen local women packed an otherwise obscure Atlantic County freeholder meeting Tuesday to confront Republican Freeholder John Carman, under fire and global scrutiny for a post-inauguration Facebook post in which he asked if the women marching in D.C. would be home in time to cook dinner.
But after nearly two hours of impassioned comment, Carman declined to apologize for what he described as "a bad choice and in bad taste."
After he began praising the women he himself is surrounded by for being strong and confident enough not to be offended by his joke, many of the women who had spoken got up and walked out.
"This has made me realize how blessed I am," Carman said, "because the women I'm surrounded by, my family, my friends, my colleagues are all strong, confident women, women who are sure of themselves. They didn't get offended by this."
As women began to file out, he continued: "They looked at it and saw it for what it was. If it hurt your feelings, it wasn't my intent."
Outside in the rain, the women gathered and vowed to work to defeat Carman in his reelection bid this year. They said the meeting, in addition to the Women's March, had fired them up to become vigilant.
The women had packed the meeting, standing in the back and lining up outside the meeting room.
"I walked out because you had the entire time to sit and collect your thoughts, and hear what people were saying, and instead of apologizing and saying you could do better, you disrespect people and say the people you surround yourself are strong," said Ashley Bennett, 31, of Egg Harbor Township. "There are a lot of people who are strong."
Bennett had spoken at the meeting, saying that as a lifelong Atlantic County resident, she had lost confidence in the local government.
"I was so offended," Bennett said. "We are mocking and belittling -- that's the part I can't get over."
On Tuesday, Carman was still taking heat over the Facebook remarks.
"The joke is going to be on you during the election," said Gail Biel of Linwood, speaking at the meeting. "And [we] should lighten up? We're going to lighten you up and take your freeholdership away from you."
Kristen Lis, who had brought the mac and cheese, told Carman to "cook his own damn dinner."
Several friends of Carman spoke on his behalf, as did his wife. They praised his commitment to veterans' issues and his family and said he was a good man who had made a joke. One man told the audience to "toughen up."
"My husband's not a misogynist," said his wife of 40 years, Joann, who took the box of mac and cheese with her after the meeting. "I stay away from politics because of the ugly animal it has become."
Bill Butler said, "This is a good man."
Carman's office phone and email were flooded with comments. State politicians weighed in, including Loretta Weinberg, a Democratic state senator from North Jersey, who had urged women to attend the freeholders meeting Tuesday afternoon. There were extra sheriff's deputies posted at the meeting.
Carman had posted an image of a woman cooking dinner with the line "Will the Women's March be over in time for them to cook dinner," and his own comment, "Just asking."
He later took the post down, but left up another featuring Kermit the Frog drinking tea that asked if there would be a "large sandwich making party" in D.C. on Saturday. He said in an interview Monday he did it all in good humor.
But the women who attended the meeting and spoke out on social media said Carman was missing the point. The post, and the story about it, were being spread widely across social media, as were details of Carman's contact information and the Tuesday meeting.
"It wasn't funny to any of us," said Eileen Toland of Northfield, who came with her daughter and took names down for future organizing. "It has nothing to do with going home and cooking. It's putting a woman in her place."
"It's a stab at people's identities," said Alicia Newcomb, 24, of Linwood. "You belittled the hard work of hundreds of thousands of people across the country and the world."
One woman, Chrissie Martin, of West Atlantic City, defended Carman and said she found the joke funny. She said she is "thrilled to death because President Trump is going to turn this stuff around," referring to political correctness.
Emily Palmer, 18, of Northfield, said she had been unable to attend the Women's March on Saturday and came to speak at the meeting because she "wanted to do something to feel like I'm helping."
Mike Makara, 62, of Mays Landing said, "You embarrassed the people of Atlantic County."