Ashley Bennett, 32, a psychiatric emergency screener from Egg Harbor Township who showed up at an Atlantic County freeholders meeting on a rainy January night to protest comments made by Freeholder John Carman mocking the Women's March, then decided to run for his seat, knocked Carman off the board Tuesday.
Carman's sharing of a Facebook meme — "Will the women's protest end in time for them to cook dinner?" — brought scores of women to the Atlantic County board, one bearing a box of macaroni and cheese and instructions for Carman to cook his own dinner. Many had been to the march in Washington held the day after the inauguration of President Trump.
Carman said he was just joking around, but it was Bennett, a Democratic challenger in a Republican stronghold district, who had the last laugh, defeating him Tuesday by nearly 1,000 votes out of about 14,000 cast for the seat on Atlantic County Board of Freeholders. Carman was elected to the board in 2014.
"People want change," Bennett wrote by text early Wednesday. "I am beyond speechless and incredibly grateful to serve my community. I never imagined I would run for office."
National scorn had been heaped on Carman, including being ridiculed on an episode of the podcast Lovett or Leave It that featured Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York reading sexist quotes.
Bennett's decision to run for Carman's seat — "It is never wrong to ask your elected official to hold themselves to a higher standard," she said — was embraced by progressive national groups like Run for Something, which has been recruiting millennials to run for down ballot offices. She was the toast of "resistance" Twitter early Wednesday, her local victory celebrated as part of a wave of Trump-era candidates seeking office for the first time.
"Ashley's story makes me so damn happy," tweeted Amanda Litman, a former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer and a Run for Something founder. Producers from the Lawrence O'Donnell show on MSNBC invited Bennett to appear on the show Wednesday night.
In Egg Harbor Township, Kim Tullio-Steinen, 50, an executive sales person who voted for Bennett, said Bennett gave people in the community outside Atlantic City, where local races are often dominated by Republicans, a credible alternative.
Carman, interviewed several days before the election, had been confident that voters would see through the negative publicity and said he was not the person he was portrayed to be. He got into additional hot water this summer after a photo surfaced of him wearing a vest bearing a patch in the shape of New Jersey with a Confederate flag covering the southern half, which he said was an allusion to an ongoing political debate and not meant to offend.
He did not return a message Wednesday. On Facebook, the platform that cost him the election, he thanked his supporters and said, "Apparently the good Lord has other plans for me." By Wednesday evening, more than 100 followers had reacted to the post with laughing emojis.
"Perhaps John will appreciate that revenge is a dish best served cold," commented Cassandra Shober of Ventnor on Facebook.