Curse at meeting sparks racism charge Trustee's remark weighing heavily on New Jersey town Sunday, December 02, 2007 The two words were dropped like bombs during a heated discussion between two South Orange trustees -- one white, one black. Mark Rosner, who is white, called Stacey Jennings, who is black, the F-word, followed by "bitch" while arguing minutes before sitting down for a board of trustees meeting in October. The exchange has roiled South Orange residents, sparking accusations that Rosner is a sexist, a racist and is no different from radio shock jock Don Imus. It has also left residents in this Essex County village, which has prided itself on its racial harmony, agonizing over questions of race, gender and diversity. Some residents are willing to accept that Rosner -- who has apologized three times -- made an egregious mistake and are urging the board of trustees to move on. Others in the community want Rosner to resign in order to send the message that derogatory language is not acceptable, especially from public officials. "It is a gender issue. It is a race issue," said Kim Gaddy, a Maplewood resident and president of the International Black Women's Congress. The issue has split South Orange residents, mostly along racial lines, causing residents to engage in serious soul-searching about what it means to be a tolerant community. According to the last census, the village's population is 60 percent white and 30 percent black. "This could destroy this town. That's what makes this issue so troubling," said Michael Rosenberg, a white trustee who does not believe Rosner's remarks were racially motivated. "The fact that it's being made into a racial incident is troubling." South Orange's commitment to diversity issues stems from the shifting demographics in the village and neighboring Maplewood. Concerned about white flight and the perception that the school district was slipping, the two towns formed the South Orange/Maplewood Coalition on Race in 1996 to address those issues and draw homeowners to the towns. In a letter addressed to the trustees, Carol Barry-Austin, the chair of the coalition, said the perception of racism exists, even if it was not deliberate. "It presents us to the outside in a very poor light," she said. "This could negatively influence our ability to promote our towns as desirable places to raise families." The village has hired an outside attorney to investigate the matter. Jennings, 44, is also asking the seven-member trustee board to undergo diversity sensitivity training, but has stopped short of asking him to step down. Instead, she feels that should be left up to the voters. Jennings said she will not accept Rosner's apology until she believes it is sincere. She said Rosner's outburst fits a pattern of verbally abusive language that has surfaced in e-mails. "I do not accept the conduct of Isaiah Thomas, Don Imus, music recordings and other media and entertainment outlets that promote vulgarity, violence and misogynist products toward women and people in general," Jennings said. She said the comments do carry racial overtones because she doubts Rosner would have disparaged her if she was white. Rosner, 54, said he regrets his remarks and apologized to Jennings before hundreds of people at a Nov. 19 meeting. "I did not realize how much some words hurt and how my words hurt you," he said, seated next to Jennings. "It is clear to me now that certain words hurt people more than they hurt other people." The argument in question took place in village hall as the trustees were settling into their seats for a routine meeting. Rosner said the two were having a private conversation about the business improvement district and disagreed on an issue. He said he lost his temper and insulted Jennings. Jennings said the two were arguing about Rosner's comments in the local weekly newspaper, The News-Record, in which he criticized Jennings for leaving a meeting early. Jennings said she called Rosner, "wimpy," which provoked his angry response. When the trustees went into executive session, he apologized to her. Jennings, though, was not satisfied. Word of the incident spread, largely in part to an e-mail sent out by Joyce Harley, a former South Orange trustee and Essex County administrator. Harley sent an e-mail to women involved in sororities, clubs and political associations statewide, urging them to call for Rosner's resignation and to voice their outrage at the Nov. 19 meeting. Calling Rosner a pig, she ended her e-mail by saying, "First there was Imus ... Now there is Rosner! Let's go to work." Harley dismissed Rosner's apology and defended her use of the word, "pig" to describe him. "If it looks like a pig, trust me, it's a pig," she said. The Nov. 19 meeting, held at Columbia High School's auditorium, drew hundreds of people, including Rosner's daughter and Jennings' brother -- both of whom delivered deeply personal remarks about the two trustees. Nearly everyone agreed that Rosner's remarks were offensive, but they disagreed on whether they were racist. "I condemn his words, but I do not condemn him," said Raymond Brown, the attorney representing Rosner and son of the famed Civil Rights attorney. "The comparison with Imus and Mark is inappropriate." Douglas Newman, president of the board of trustees, said the name-calling and accusations only exacerbate the situation. Newman, who is white, said he did not believe Rosner's remarks were racially motivated. "I believe that individuals outside and inside our community who choose to characterize it as such do so at the peril of recklessly destroying years of commitment and hard work by our entire community to establish a role model for our children and for other communities," Newman said.