State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Ventnor City) is facing fire from his district’s Democratic Assemblymen over comments made at a Veterans Day ceremony Wednesday.
“You give somebody who has 14 different genders a Citizen of the Year award and you have other people who have gone and fought, and they wind up not getting that type of recognition,” Brown reportedly said at a ceremony in Somers Point.
Assemblyman John Armato (D-Buena Vista) called those comments, and ones made by Atlantic County Executive Denny Levinson, “deplorable.”
“I think that being political, we do political speeches, but not at veterans’ events,” Armato told the New Jersey Globe. “That was very inappropriate, and to be quite honest with you, I don’t usually like to go tit-for-tat, but this actually touched a nerve with me.”
Both Armato and Brown have served in the military. The assemblyman was with the U.S. Air Force from 1967 to 1971. The senator served in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 2009, reaching the rank of Major.
Reached by the New Jersey Globe, Brown pulled away from his remarks and issued an apology.
“Watching my niece, Alexis, have the courage to come out, I witnessed the difficulty of growing up gay, which is why I’m disappointed in my poor choice words and I apologize because they in no way match my beliefs or my voting record that clearly shows I treat all families with the dignity and respect they deserve,” he said.
Brown’s record on LGBT issues shows a number of supportive votes. He voted to in favor of bills allowing transgender residents to alter their birth certificates to display the gender they identify as, requiring school boards to include LGBT history in curriculums and barring “gay panic” as a legal defense.
Some of those bills were opposed by most Republicans in the State Senate.
The assemblyman said the senator’s comments bothered him because the setting was inappropriate for politics.
“The best way I can describe it is wrong place wrong time. I didn’t understand the comments on Veterans Day. The first part of his comments, that he was talking about the wounded warrior veteran who came home at an event. I was at that event, and that was quite accurate,” Armato said. “Why he decided to go in the other direction, I have no idea.”
Brown launched his own attack at the Democrat, dinging him over what he said was a divisive presence on social media.
“I believe our veterans — including LGBTQ+ veterans — deserve more public recognition for their service and sacrifices,” the senator said. “I’m disappointed Assemblyman Armato, who voted to cut funding for our veterans homes, has not learned by now Atlantic County families are just tired of divisive, partisan tweets that have nothing to do with solving real problems facing our families.”
The tiff may an early sign of a coming political fight. The second legislative district, which Brown, Armato and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) is one of just three districts in the state with split representation.
It’s one of only two to elect members to different parties to the legislature. State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham) was elected as a Republican but defected to the Democratic Party last January. Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport) and Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (R-Westampton) hold the eighth district’s assembly seats.
Democrats have long eyed Brown’s Senate seat, and it’s possible Armato could attempt to take it, though nothing is written in stone yet.
“I have not ruled that out,” Armato said of an Assembly bid. “That’s not a confirmation that I will, it’s just that I haven’t ruled it out.”
Mazzeo also declined to rule out a Senate bid last March. He launched his own set of criticisms over Veterans Day political speeches, though he focused on comments made by Levinson, who launched attacks at “left-wing radicals” over the defund the police movement and calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“The days of the ‘good ol boys’ politics are far gone. County Executive Denny Levinson’s out of date comments should be too,” Mazzeo said on Twitter.