Ed Charamut’s campaign staff posted a statement on social media, acknowledging the mailer had “serious unintended consequences.”
It includes an image of his Democratic opponent, state Rep. Matthew Lesser, with cash in his hands and a maniacal look on his face. Lesser is Jewish.
“The entire campaign committee, which includes members of the Jewish community, never discussed or considered Mr. Lesser’s ethnicity, race, religion or any other personal characteristic of Mr. Lesser and it was never our intention for the mailer to be anything more than a reflection of Mr. Lesser’s policy record,” the campaign said. “However, it is clear now that the imagery could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, and for that we deeply apologize as hate speech of any kind does not belong in our society and especially not in our politics.”
The statement refers to Charamut in the third person and does not include any personal message from the candidate. It indicates Charamut will remain in the race.
The message was posted on the Charamut campaign Facebook page, which also included a profile picture that was updated on October 28 with a frame from the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which was released after the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The frame has a Star of David made of interlocking arms of different colors and the hashtag “Together Against Antisemitism.”
The Anti-Defamation League says the mailing comes amid a rise in reported anti-Semitic incidents, including Saturday’s shooting that left 11 people dead and six others wounded.
Lesser said the flyer is overtly anti-Semitic. He said he has not been contacted by Charamut or state Republican leaders since the mailing went out.
“I’m not sure if there is anything he could do to undo the hurt that he has inflicted on my family, but also on a like number of people across the district, across the state and across the nation,” he said.
Charamut had defended the mailer on Tuesday, saying it was only meant to draw a contrast between Lesser and his own fiscal conservatism.
“The mailer makes the point that if elected, Matt Lesser will undoubtedly vote to hike people’s taxes again and again,” Charamut said in a statement. “Those wishing to portray a graphic illustration as something hateful are completely wrong.”
J.R. Romano, the state’s Republican Party chairman, issued a statement condemning the mailer, just hours after defending it and accusing Democrats of having “false outrage.” He said his change of heart came after discussing the imagery with Jewish friends.
“In a race with a Jewish candidate, this image should be recognized as offensive, raising classic anti-Semitic tropes,” he said. “It cannot be justified. I personally would not have approved this mailer, and I am grateful that the party did not approve it. I have requested to sit down with the ADL to broaden my understanding of and sensitivity to anti-Semitism.”
Lesser said it is his understanding that Romano is still supporting Charamut in Tuesday’s election.
He said he’s not sure what effect the mailer might have on the election.
“My belief is that voters are decent people,” he said. “My expectation is that voters will reject this kind of hatred and bigotry and division.”