‘Embarrassed and Ashamed:' NJ Mayor Under Fire for Racist, Sexist Comments Apologizes

Bonaccorso called his language "hurtful and insensitive...it was wrong. I'm embarrassed and ashamed to have spoken that way about a race of people. I have learned, and I have changed and it will not happen again," he said in a video posted to YouTube

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A New Jersey mayor who has faced calls to resign after allegedly making racist, sexist and hate-filled comments heard on tape issued his first apology for the remarks that shocked residents.

"I've made mistakes. And I'd like to apologize for the pain I caused to the residents of Clark, my family, my friends, and all those that were offended by my comments," said Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso in an apology video. "They had a right to expect more from me. My words should not reflect on any of them."

Bonaccorso apologized after the recordings, first revealed in legal papers, allegedly captured him using racial slurs to describe Jewish people and Black people.

The mayor of Clark had to face town residents demanding answers after he was recorded allegedly making racist and sexist remarks. NBC New York's Anjali Hemphill reports.

"They was looking for some ------ walking around or something," he can allegedly be heard saying in other recordings, as well as "f-----g hang the (racial slur) up there."

Bonaccorso on Tuesday called his language "hurtful and insensitive...it was wrong. I'm embarrassed and ashamed to have spoken that way about a race of people. I have learned, and I have changed and it will not happen again," he said in a video posted to YouTube. "However, a true measure of a man is whether he can admit an error and then learn from it."

The embattled mayor then referenced when Black Lives Matter protests took place in the town, and explained that he "understood...after interacting with people of all generations and races" why people wanted to participate in them.

"I started to see a much bigger picture of how discrimination played into a complex history. These experiences challenge my assumptions. I have never discriminated against anyone based on race, gender, and or any other groupings. I always treat people respectfully and fairly," Bonaccorso said in the nearly five minute video.

He added that the protests started "a journey of awareness" for him, and that they "revealed his blind spots."

"I went to those marches in 2020 thinking I was going to hear people out. Instead I heard much more inside my own head," Bonaccorso said. "I now realize that not sharing my insights and lessons from those rallies with this community was a missed opportunity."

The mayor of Clark, New Jersey, was accused of repeatedly using hate-filled and racist remarks, and NBC New York obtained some of the recordings. Jonathan Dienst reports.

Also heard in the recordings were comments about female officers, in which he can be heard saying "As far as female cops go, I hope there's never any, but they're all f-----g disasters that I've seen."

The mayor addressed those remarks as well, saying they were "hurtful and I'm sorry. They were also part of a larger, difficult conversation we were having about performances of several officers employed by Clark."

What the apology did not address were the alleged payments made to Lieutenant Antonio Manata, a police lieutenant-turned-whistleblower who privately recorded the mayor. Past legal papers obtained by NBC New York show the town paid Mananta $400,000 dollars on condition he turn over the offensive recordings. 

Manata, who declined to comment through his attorney, has told others he has faced retaliation.

The recordings obtained by NBC New York allegedly involve Bonaccorso and a former police chief, and have led to the question of whether taxpayer money was used to keep the controversy under wraps.

When confronted by town residents Monday night, Bonaccorso addressing the lawsuit and settlement.

“The suit that involved myself and three other people, we wanted to vigorously fight it. Insurance company wanted to settle it on a business decision, we disagreed," Bonaccorso said. “Out of the $400,000, $70,000 was paid by Clark. The rest was by the insurance company.”

The recordings also include conversations of Bonaccorso talking to the one-time Clark Police chief and a sergeant. One conversation centers on the Republican mayor having to apologize to the nearby city of Plainfield for a 2017 incident where girls basketball players complained about a puppet found hanging in a locker room.

The then-chief was recorded saying, "I want to prove that them f-----g (racial slur) did it." The sergeant at a different time was also heard making offensive statements, saying "he ain't a big dude. He's just got a big f-----g monkey head on him."

Three Clark police officers who are allegedly involved remain on administrative leave.

"The truth is I do not have a memory of every conversation I've had, and these are over four years old. I can say that I am a very different person in 2022 than I was in 2020...Because the world is a teacher and I've gotten through good fortune to learn from it, a person's age doesn't determine growth." Bonaccorso said. "I look forward forward to working to change the perception of myself and of Clark."

The tapes were turned over to the town two years ago, but remained in the shadows until now. A source familiar with the recordings provided NBC New York with a copy of the recordings, and a second source confirmed their authenticity.

News 4 obtained the recordings after nj.com first broke the story. The mayor first responded to their story, not denying the tapes' authenticity, but instead said "I have many, many Black friends in my life...I mean I've been here 22 years, never had a problem, and all of a sudden this is coming up?  I find it offensive. I do."

Mayor Adrian Mapp of nearby Plainfield says Clark residents should demand Bonaccorso resign, adding that the racist remarks in Clark Township are just one symptom.

"To use those kinds of racist remarks is something that cannot be overlooked, it can't be explained away, and clearly it was his voice on the tape," Mapp said. "Black folks have been afraid at times to go through Clark because of the kind of profiling that we have experienced over the years as a people."

Back in 2020, the Union County Prosecutor took over the running of the Clark Police Department amid misconduct allegations, with the state attorney general promising a public report on the problems there. No word on when the attorney general's report will be released. 

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