Monroe council president faces calls to resign after disparaging comments caught on video

PHOTO COURTESY OF MONROE TOWNSHIP

A petition posted on a Facebook page seeks to have Township Council President Miriam Cohen, who is a Democrat, resign from office in Monroe Township after a microphone captured her making disparaging comments about Republicans during a May 3 council meeting.

Audio from the meeting has Cohen naming Republicans Peter Tufano, who is running for an at large two-year unexpired term on the council; Melody Amantea-Henry, who is running for a Ward 1 four-year term; and Timothy Eosso, who is running for a Ward 2 four-year term.

After the council meeting ends, the Zoom recording continues to show video of the dais and Cohen can be heard saying, “These were their candidates. The Republican candidates for office were on tonight. They will be back every month,” then identifying the individuals by their last names, and citing Tufano, “who I affectionately call ‘the pig.’ ”

Cohen later states, “The point is that I need to be prepared differently” because Tufano “is going to come back with regular questions” and Henry “is very interesting.”

When asked about her comments, Cohen subsequently said, “As an elected official and council president, I hold myself to the highest standard. As a mother and grandmother, I have learned the effect of an unkind word. When (the May 3) council meeting ended, I used a word that was unfortunate and for which I immediately apologized.”

In an interview with the Sentinel, Cohen provided context for her comments. She said she called Tufano a “pig” because of comments he has made over the years that are racist and derogatory toward women.

Many of those posts still exist on social media sites where they were originally posted. The language is not suitable for print in the Sentinel.

“I have always been involved and stood up for the rights of women,” Cohen said. “The word I used to describe him was about the nicest thing I could say about that man.”

She reiterated that she regrets using the word “pig” because she said she is an elected official and holds herself to the highest standards.

A petition to remove Cohen through Change.org is posted on the Watchdog Monroe Township Facebook page.

Tufano insisted that Cohen step down.

“There is no excuse to call somebody a pig if you are an elected official. I don’t care what they did. It’s offensive and it’s wrong,” he said.

Tufano is currently serving the third year of his first term on the Monroe Township School District Board of Education.
He said he is running for Township Council this year because he wants to “lead the charge on what should have been done years ago” in terms of securing fair funding, increasing builder impact fees and keeping taxes at bay – while also adding diversity to the council since the Democrats have been in charge in Monroe for 40 years.
Tufano said that during the May 3 council meeting, he asked why the council keeps inviting legislators back to the township to plead for votes, thereby keeping the same people in power.
He said he has complained about 3,000 students in the school district being unhoused, how the increase in affordable housing puts more of a strain on the school system, and how the township does not get is fair share of state aid from the state government.
He said because he has been vocal about what he says the Democrats have failed at, they constantly attack him, and he pointed to Cohen’s comments as the latest example.
Tufano confirmed that about five years ago, which was two years before he was elected to the school board, he made derogatory comments toward a resident on social media while he was a private citizen.
He explained that after he helped to block a land deal that would have allowed an individual who was serving as a councilman at the time to sell a piece of land to the township at an inflated price, the councilman’s wife began spreading rumors of domestic violence by Tufano toward his wife.
He acknowledged that he “lost control” of himself and said, “I’m embarrassed that I said it now” regarding the harsh language he used on Facebook back then, but he said that when it occurred he was tired of being berated.
“I absolutely said it. I didn’t deny it when I said it,” Tufano said, adding he is not proud he used such foul language toward anyone.
He also admitted to making a comment in 2020 that using the word “racist” is tiring, and other comments about the Black Lives Matter movement.
He said at that point, another conspiracy was lodged against him to have him removed from the school board, even though his words were misconstrued.
“Mr. Tufano has made countless irresponsible and derogatory remarks in the Monroe Township Voice Facebook group with the complete confidence of a man abusing a position of power. This position is a luxury, not a right, and it is not permanent. Peter Tufano knows this, even threatening to proceed with a lawsuit for defamation when his words were reposted exactly as written to public social media sites,” the petition on Change.org from June 2020 states.

“The Board of Education code of conduct instructs board members to ‘avoid making defamatory statements about the Board of Education, the school district, employees, students, or their families.’ ” the petition continues. “Mr. Peter Tufano has violated this code many times over: verbally and sexually harassing Monroe citizens online, making openly racist statements, and personally threatening those who dare to disagree with him.”

More than 5,000 people signed the petition to have him removed.

Tufano said the claims were investigated and dismissed.

“People read through the lies about me,” he said. “I have a large support of township residents who want me on that board because I’m not corruptible and I speak the truth.”

Tufano alleged that politicians in Monroe are influenced by developers and he alleged that members of the school board are influenced by the Township Council. He said he is targeted because he brings the truth to light. He called it “political bullying.”

“Now, mysteriously, I’m ‘the pig’ because they are under pressure now,” he said.

Tufano said he believes this situation is “1,000%” a political attack against him and his fellow Republicans.

“Our entire town is in peril because of a lack of leadership. … We are members of the community. We pay taxes. We have children who go to school here. We want to know what’s going on,” he said.

When asked if her words were politically motivated, Cohen said her statement on May 3 was directed toward Tufano and not his running mates, nor the Republican Party.

“It was personally directed toward him,” she said. “I was elected to represent all residents of our town and that is what I do. I represent everyone who lives in Monroe, no matter what their political party is, and I wish to be thought of that way.”

Lucille Panos, the chairwoman of the Middlesex County Republican Organization, who is a Monroe Township resident, has called for Cohen’s resignation from the Township Council.

“It is the actions of elected officials like Ms. Cohen who give good government a bad name.

“The first thing she should have been concerned with were the legitimate issues that were brought up, not political candidates. As for preparing differently, she should always be prepared and know the issues.

“Calling out Republican candidates by name for asking questions, announcing her derogatory nickname for a candidate and stating that she needs to be better prepared are all reasons I call for Council President Cohen to resign.

“If Councilwoman Cohen doesn’t have the integrity to see the error of her mindset and resign, then I ask the council to censure her and vote to remove her from her leadership position as council president,” Panos said in the statement.

Monroe Township Acting Mayor Stephen Dalina said, β€œThe council president has apologized. It is time to move forward and work together to serve a community we all love.”

Cohen said, “I am elected to serve the residents of this community and I intend to do that.”

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com.