Municipal officials rebuked councilman Michael Jackson on Tuesday night for making an anti-Semitic remark at a public meeting. He used the phrase “Jew us down” when referring to developers who attempt to purchase cheap land or extract development concessions from the city.
Jackson’s remark came amidst a heated discussion over the renovation of Hinchliffe Stadium. He argued economic development director Michael Powell was allowing the developers, who will get $50 million in state tax credits for the project and a long-term tax abatement agreement, to take advantage of the city.
As he made his argument, Jackson argued Powell wanted to sell the Paterson Armory for $1.5 million, half the true value of the site. He then said the developer, who ultimately purchased the site for $3 million, properly valued the city, suggesting the developers for Hinchliffe Stadium were not correctly “valuing our city.”
Jackson conjured up a conversation between himself and the developer willing to correctly value the city.
“I said, ‘Mr. Developer, I respect you, I appreciate you for valuing our city, for offering the best price possible and not trying to go backwards to Jew us down,’” said Jackson.
Business administrator Vaughn McKoy, offended at Jackson’s remark, left the council chambers. He returned after Jackson finished to condemn the anti-Semitic statement. He called Jackson’s remark “totally inappropriate” and demanded he issue an apology.
“I think it’s reprehensible and there’s no room in the council chamber for what you said,” said McKoy to Jackson.
Jackson’s colleagues roundly condemned him for the remark.
First council member to condemn the remark was Al Abdelaziz.
“That stuff should not be in this chamber,” said Abdelaziz, who is of Palestinian heritage. “I never want to hear it in this chamber.”
Abdelaziz was joined by councilman Flavio Rivera and council president Maritza Davila.
“Those comments don’t reflect all of us,” said Rivera. “It made me feel awkward to hear that type of a comment.”
Jackson acknowledged he made a “mistake.”
“That statement should have never been made. I ask everyone to forgive me for my brief lack of sensitivity,” said Jackson. “That was meant with no malice. It was a statement indicative of my upbringing.”
Jackson said he heard the phrase growing up. He claimed it was a “term of endearment” at some point, but no longer has the same meaning.
Davila said she was offended by Jackson’s statement.
“It is because of a Jewish family that I was able to go to college,” said Davila. Her mother worked for a Jewish family for 20 years to provide for the family, she said. The family treated her mother with the utmost respect until the day she died, she said.
Mayor Andre Sayegh described Jackson’s remark as “highly insensitive” and “reprehensible.”
“You offended a lot of people. A lot of people. You may not know it – you are smirking,” said Sayegh as Jackson smirked from the dais.
“I clearly apologized and I will apologize again,” responded Jackson. He said one of his “biggest mentor” was Jewish. He said Sayegh is trying to turn it into a bigger issue.
Jackson accused Sayegh of not doing enough to stop shootings and killings in black parts of the city.