How a South Jersey mayor came to terms with an internet meme

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Anthony Minniti

Cinnaminson Mayor Anthony Minniti was not happy.

He had lost in the June 6 Republican primary, and two days later someone posted his image on Facebook with the face of a weeping basketball star superimposed on his. The same thing happened to his running mate for the township committee, June Neuman, who also was defeated in the election. The photo was taken from their campaign flyer.

What Minniti, 47, did not immediately realize was that he had been the victim of a popular internet joke. Instead, he believed that the post was racist. Minniti and Neuman are white; the basketball great, Michael Jordan, whose face was superimposed on theirs, is black.

It was racist to portray him in blackface, Minniti concluded. People he knew and spoke to, including African Americans, agreed, he said. He was angry.

The person who posted the doctored photo was a third-grade teacher in the Beverly City School District. Minniti asked school officials to investigate.

Then he heard something that shook the course of action he had settled on.

The “Crying Jordan” is an internet meme, he learned, usually meant only to tease someone nursing a loss. No racism intended.

“I’m not angry at all now,” he said Thursday.

It was only after the episode received local and national media attention earlier last week that he learned of the meme, which is an image of Jordan crying at his 2009 induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I don’t live online,” Minniti said. “I don’t know memes. I don’t know internet jokes.”

He said he has since again called the school district, telling officials he had learned of the meme, though he said he believed it was a joke made in “poor judgment.” He added that he probably would not have contacted the district in the first place had he known that the post was a meme.

He said that he had originally consulted with about a dozen people spanning law enforcement, education, and the black community, and said that they unanimously believed that the post was racist. He would not disclose the names of those people.

Still, he said he was not alone in interpreting the meme as he initially did.

“Portraying any white person in blackface is racist and unacceptable. There’s no question about that,” he said. “If this was such a well-known meme and this is something everybody knows about, why did the Facebook administrator pull it down? It was flagged as racist by others. It was taken down because it was racist, or deemed racist by the administrator.”

Minniti identified the teacher as Anneliese McCloskey. She did not return requests for comment, and Minniti said he was unsure why she targeted his campaign. School Superintendent Elizabeth Giacobbe wrote in an email that the district “gave the incident its due attention,” but she would not comment further or say whether the district took any action.

Minniti said he “perhaps” has a particular sensitivity to racial issues because of his experience working in health care with minority communities in Camden, where he is a pharmacist.

Minniti and Neuman finished behind Ernest McGill, a retired police sergeant; and Ryan Horner, a wealth-management adviser, in the primary race. Minniti will finish his term as mayor on Cinnaminson’s five-member committee at the end of the year.

He  has served on the committee since 2002, including stints as mayor in 2004, 2010, and 2014. Neuman has never held public office.