A Rochelle Park Township Committee member who accused Mayor Nicholas LiBassi of using his wheelchair as a “prop” to get elected has been censured by a majority of her colleagues.
“The only reason you got elected was because of your wheelchair,” Committeewoman Linda Boniface told the mayor during a June closed session, according to a censure resolution approved by a 3-2 vote late last month.
Boniface, a Democrat, made the remark to the Republican mayor – who was confined to a wheelchair by a 1996 spinal cord injury -- during what ostensibly had been an interview for a new township police chief.
Boniface already had drawn fire from numerous loved ones, friends, colleagues and other supporters of Peter Donatello when she filed a lawsuit accusing the former township fire chief and current OEM coordinator of swerving his vehicle toward her as she was getting into her pickup truck outside the polls on Election Day.
Donatello said Boniface moved toward his vehicle, that police reports were filed and that no charges resulted.
The censure resolution accuses Boniface of failing to meet a “high level of personal, moral and ethical conduct, especially while performing the duties and responsibilities of their elected position.”
“You used that wheelchair as prop during your campaign,” Boniface is quoted in the resolution as saying. “There was not one head shot of you. Every picture of you included the wheelchair.”
Local government censures ordinarily don’t carry punishment. They’re intended to serve as formal public reprimands.
The resolution’s “sponsor,” Committeeman Michael Kazimar said Boniface made similarly disparaging remarks against former committeeman Frank Valenzuela.
“Let’s hear what the cripple has to say,” Kazimir claims Boniface said.
Boniface has refused comment on the censure or the claim about Valenzuela.
“I said, ‘You got elected because of that wheelchair?’ I did not make that statement,” Bonaface told Kazimir at a meeting earlier this summer. “You’re lying, Mike. You’re absolutely lying.”
“I was talking about discrimination…how I was discriminated as a member of this township committee when I wasn’t invited to the Fireman’s Beerfest [actually a beefsteak dinner],” she said. “Another township committeewoman told me she was never invited, either.”
Boniface also told the committee’s three-member Republican majority at a meeting last month: “Keep going after me because I’m running for re-election.”
During an online meeting Wednesday night, Valenzuela challenged Boniface during the public portion to take responsibility for her comments.
“This is an opportunity for you to apologize and move forward," he said.
Nothing? OK. That’s unfortunate.”
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