Mahwah Mayor John Roth announced Monday that he’d cancelled the township’s annual 9/11 ceremony because of the coronavirus pandemic, igniting yet another firestorm.
“Each of us can and should remember and honor, in our own way, those who lost their lives on 9/11 in 2001,” Roth suggested.
“Presently we have had over 280 cases of Covid19 in the [t]ownship since tracking began last April,” the mayor wrote in an email to township council members that he posted to Facebook.
“This is a serious, highly infectious virus that spreads easily and quickly among all age groups," he added. "As such it represents a serious health risk to all residents particularly those with compromised immune systems.
“The [s]tate, the [t]own and the Board of Education, among others, have taken steps to limit access to facilities and venues and discourage the formation of crowds for any purpose,” wrote Roth, a Republican who is up for re-election this November. “While we have made much progress in containing the spread, we are still experiencing one to two new cases per day.
“Accordingly, with great regret, we must cancel this year’s 9/11 ceremony in Veterans Park….We will reinstitute the remembrance of 9/11 in 2021.”
Roth made international headlines earlier this year when he passed out drunk and pantless in a township employee’s bed during a party.
Then, in June, the council approved a no-confidence vote against him for his berating of a resident during a public meeting.
"This is completely unacceptable," Councilman David May said of the 9/11 cancellation, which comes less than a month before the scheduled event.
Residents were incensed.
“This is crazy,” JacLynn Mule wrote in a public Facebook post. “[S]chools are opening indoors in a few weeks; protests were held, so I think we can manage a ceremony in a park.”
“This is ridiculous,” Brett Coplin added. “We had an outside graduation ceremony at the [h]igh [s]chool. There will be far less people at a 9/11 memorial.”
“If looters and rioters can burn buildings we should be able to host an anniversary of a tragic day,” Nick Spero added.
“The 280 number is cumulative and is not current,” Ben Kezmarsky noted. “If someone were actually monitoring and tracking, the number is closer to single digits in a township of almost 30K. Mask up and have the damn ceremony.”
Some of the responses were also intensely personal.
“I lost a family member and my best friend,” Alyssa Baldwin wrote. “Please please please do not let him cancel this.”
“As a 9/11 family member and member of the fire department this is flat out hurtful,” firefighter Tommy Murphy added. “Remembering my uncle Michael SanPhillip and friends Jimmy Riches, Tommy Knox, and Richard Keane is acknowledging a sacrifice I never expected in my lifetime.
“Our schools are going back. Youth sports are happening. Outdoor dining is hugely successful in the township,” Murphy added.
“There was a political rally at Commodore Perry [Field] that had significantly more people than any previous township 9/11 ceremony and there were absolutely no issues,” he wrote. “The high school held graduation with no issues. Memorial Day happened with no issues.”
“We can never cancel the everlasting horrific effect that this notorious day has had on not only a community so close to the heart of the city, but the entire country,” Jeanne Hanley Paolillo added. “This day serves so many purposes, whether it be remembrance, a grieving process, or otherwise.
“Who is Mayor Roth to take that away from victims’ families? Social distancing and masks exist and should be used smartly. We have no need to cancel an event [that] can be held safely, respectfully and honorably.”
Councilman Robert Ferguson called it “an absolutely terrible decision and one I do not support in any way.”
If it comes to it, Ferguson said he’d apply for a permit to hold a protest against it.
“Wanting to have a safe, socially distanced 9/11 [c]eremony does not preclude supporting the COVID response here in NJ,” he wrote. “We can certainly do both.”
May, meanwhile, promised residents that “the Township Council of Mahwah will do what it can to honor all of those lost due to the horrific events that took place on 9/11/01.”
Council members said they will discuss the matter at this Thursday’s public meeting.
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