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A freshly elected GOP councilman in New Jersey is under fire for wearing a blackface costume

“I’ve not a racist bone in my body," Kelly said in response.

Vince Kelly, left, a newly elected official in Pitman, NJ, in a resurfaced Facebook post showing him wearing blackface while dressed as rapper Flava Flav.
Vince Kelly, left, a newly elected official in Pitman, NJ, in a resurfaced Facebook post showing him wearing blackface while dressed as rapper Flava Flav.Read moreScreenshot

A white councilman-elect in South Jersey has come under fire days after his election over a Facebook photo that shows him dressed as a Black celebrity and wearing makeup to darken his skin — a practice commonly known as blackface.

Political novice Vince Kelly and his GOP running mate bested two Democratic incumbents Tuesday to win seats on Pitman Borough Council. Come Thursday, a photo from Kelly’s personal Facebook page had surfaced showing him at a Halloween party dressed as Flavor Flav, the reality TV star and member of hip-hop group Public Enemy.

In the photo, Kelly, who is white, dons the celebrity’s signature Viking helmet and oversize clock necklace, his face and hands apparently darkened with makeup. A group called the Pitman Anti-Racist Collective surfaced the photo on Thursday evening and is now calling for Kelly’s resignation.

Kelly could not immediately be reached for comment. He denied that the costume was racist in an interview with the Burlington County Times/Cherry Hill Courier Post.

“Let me tell you something: My great-grandson and my great-granddaughter are mixed race,” Kelly said, according to the paper. “I’ve not a racist bone in my body.”

Kelly maintained he “didn’t put blackface on” and suggested the makeup came with the costume. He added his intention was not “to belittle African Americans, or anything like that,” according to the paper.

The photo was taken in 2008 at a Halloween party and reposted on his Facebook page in 2015, he added. Also in the picture is Kelly’s wife, dressed as the character Peg Bundy from the show Married ... With Children.

The Pitman Anti-Racist Collective, a local advocacy group that formed around racial justice issues in 2020, called for Kelly to apologize and undergo diversity, equity, and inclusion training. “In the absence of apology and accountability, PARC calls upon Kelly to step down,” the group wrote in a statement.

Kelly isn’t the only political rookie in New Jersey facing his first wave of public backlash.

Republican Ed Durr, who toppled Senate President Steve Sweeney in a stunning upset this week, came under fire for a 2019 tweet in which he denigrated Muslims and referred to Islam as a “false religion.” Durr has since apologized.

Kelly posted a picture on Facebook of himself appearing with Durr on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the blackface costume photo remained up on Kelly’s Facebook page Friday. The Gloucester County GOP planned to “address past social media posts of recently elected county Republicans” on Friday afternoon at a press conference.