It’s been widely suspected for several years that the author of two anonymous political blogs, Jersey Conservative and Sussex Watchdog, is political consultant Bill Winkler, but now one of his former clients is exposing him after becoming the victim of his sizzling attacks – including one involving her former husband, a convicted sex offender.
Dawn Fantasia, a Sussex County Commissioner seeking the Republican nomination for State Assembly in the 24th district, alleges that Winkler is hurling “false and vile attacks” after she didn’t hire him for this year’s campaign.
“Most of his missives are paid political communications intended to damage or defame the target. After growing weary of his tactics, I did not enlist him for my current campaign, “ Fantasia said. “As such, I am his current target.”
The last straw for Fantasia was a Jersey Conservative post this month that brought up a 2007 story about the arrest and conviction of her then-husband, a teacher, for having criminal sexual contact with a 15-year-old student. The story suggested that she supports allowing convicted sex offenders to be granted custody of minor children, something she thinks is ridiculous.
“She might be open to policies that allow registered sex offenders, convicted of sex crimes against children, to be granted custody of minor children,” Jersey Conservative wrote.
Fantasia says that’s not at all true.
She said a judge decided that her ex-husband “was not a threat to our young children or at risk to re-offend — granted joint legal custody, and granted me primary physical custody of our children.”
“This was not my decision; it was up to the judge, according to the law. The decision was never mine to make,” stated Fantasia. “And that is the official, legal record. Not a newspaper. And certainly not a political blog.”
Fantasia described the “one horrific night that started with State Troopers knocking on the door of our family home, with my young children asleep in their beds” as the worst moment of her life.
“My world crashed down around me. The scandal became state and national news. My marriage was destroyed, and I filed for divorce. I became a single mom to three young children. I lost my home and was forced to declare bankruptcy,” she said. “I was embarrassed, scared, and broken.”
Sixteen years later, Fantasia has put herself through graduate school, become a middle school principal, raised her three children, and won elections for councilwoman in Franklin and then county commissioner. Now in a close primary for two open Assembly seats in one of the most conservative districts in the state, she finds her personal life under attack.
Fantasia doesn’t just blame Winkler but also two of her GOP primary opponents, Josh Aikens and Jason Sarnoski.
She called the missives “so personal and hurtful that I cannot and will not ignore them because it re-victimizes my children and me in the most despicable and dishonest way possible.”
Aikens and Sarnoski have vehemently denied connections to the Jersey Conservative posts.
“Our campaign does not operate a blog or participate in blogging or have a relationship with those blogs,” Sarnoski said.
Sarnoski pushed back on Fantasia’s criticism that Winkler is involved in their campaign.
“Dawn Fantasia did not have an issue when these blogs put out statements about Freeholders (Jonathan) Rose and (Carl) Lazzaro when she was running against them and paying this consultant,” Sarnoski said. “Nor did she have an issue when Sussex Watchdog Jersey Conservative were going after Assemblywoman Gail Phoebus’ family. To play the victim now is hypocritical.”
Aikens said Fantasia should “take up her issues with the consultant himself.”
“We want no part in this nonsense,” said Aikens.
If Fantasia wins the Assembly seat, she is pledging to stop anonymous websites like the ones she says Winkler runs.
“I am not in favor of restricting the right to free speech. I am, however, in favor of strengthening laws that require more accountability and transparency in political campaigns,” she said. “Anonymous blogs and fake social media accounts poison the public discourse and make it too easy to slander candidates for elected office while concealing the true identity and funding sources of those launching the attacks. That needs to stop immediately.”