JACKSON-Days after Ken Bressi, a decorated Marine Corps Vietnam War combat veteran testified in a federal civil rights court case against the Township of Jackson, Council President Barry Calogero stripped Bressi of all of his authority in the township government. Calogero, who is a federal employee and the Executive Director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency for New Jersey took revenge on Bressi at the township’s annual reorganization meeting by stripping him of all but one of his functions as an elected official in the Township of Jackson.
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Bressi, in sworn testimony to lawyers in a Jewish civil rights lawsuit filed against the township by Agudath Israel of America (AIoA) said under oath that he felt the entire township council and mayor in Jackson had made anti-Semitic statements and supported groups who have been accused of peddling anti-Semitism. Bressi named Mayor Michael Reina, Councilmembers Barry Calogero, Andy Kern and Alex Sauickie in his 250-page deposition, claiming his fellow Republicans have engaged in anti-Semitic behavior aimed to keep Orthodox Jews from moving to their town.
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Bressi’s deposition appeared to have confirmed many of the points made in AIoA’s lawsuit against the township claiming the township willfully and purposefully drafted ordinances and engaged in actions that violated the rights of Jewish citizens.
Rob Nixon, who Bressi claimed was the ringleader of the actions against the Orthodox Jewish community resigned from his council set in November of 2019. Nixon was accused by AIoA of spying on Jewish residents praying in their homes and initiating code enforcement actions against Jews in his community.
Bressi’s colleagues blamed him for drawing attention to the council’s involvement with groups who have been accused of anti-Semitism, but court documents before Bressi’s deposition clearly show those groups were already being investigated by lawyers of AIoA weeks and months before Bressi’s deposition. Former Councilwoman Anne Updegrave who did not seek re-election in 2018 also made comments in a deposition that echoed the comments made by Bressi.
After being appointed to serve as Council President, Calogero read off council appointments to boards and commissions, omitting Bressi from all but the veteran’s commission. After stripping Bressi from all involvement in municipal government function, Calogero approved a motion by Sauickie to fire Bressi as the township council’s planning board liaison, a post he has held off and on in the township for decades.
Bressi is the only member of the governing body that has served in the military. He is a Vietnam War combat veteran with a full combat disability rating and is being treated for bladder cancer, according to his deposition. Bressi founded the Jackson Township Veterans Memorial Garden, a memorial that pays tribute to all veterans of the township and is a founding member of the Jackson Marine Corps League. He has served as an elected official and volunteer servant within the township since the 1990’s.
The call for Bressi’s resignation was driven by the group Jackson Strong which refers to Bressi as “Lakewood Bressi”, a group that has been identified by AIoA as a major influence in pulling the levers of government when it came to enacting ordinances aimed at Orthodox Jews in the township. Calogero’s dismissal of Bressi from all appointed government posts was viewed positively by Bressi’s critics as a just retaliation for his going against the party and exposing possible government collusion against the Jewish community.
Members of the Jackson Republican Party have publicly branded Bressi as a traitor to his community because he did not lie or cover-up what he felt were wrong-doings by his fellow councilmembers. Jackson Strong and Rise Up Ocean County have publicly called for Bressi’s resignation. Bressi contends that what he said under oath is what he feels to be the truth and that Calogero’s punitive actions against him only confirm that the council now does the bidding of both Jackson Strong and Rise Up Ocean County.
Throughout the process, Bressi maintained his bearing and composure and made no statements about the unspoken censure by Calogero and the Jackson GOP council members.
Calogero is a politically appointed member of the administration of President Donald J. Trump. The Brooklyn native was appointed through a political arrangement by party officials to head the USDA’s New Jersey Farm Services Agency in 2017.
Jackson Township is currently defending itself from two federal discrimination lawsuits filed by AIoA over ordinances and decisions the Jewish civil rights group feels unfairly targets Jews. Bressi was chosen to be a mediator in the lawsuit by the council and was tasked by the council to work on a settlement agreement. Bressi and township lawyers were able to reach an amicable settlement agreed upon by both sides, but when news of the settlement was released to the public, the township declined to sign the agreement since it was being viewed negatively in political circles, according to township insiders.
Others who were part of that settlement agreement claim it was a settlement that neither side was happy with, but both sides had verbally agreed it was the best way to move the town forward. That settlement never saw the light of day. Instead, the township fired its attorney and hired Marci Hamilton, who is considered an expert in religious land use law. Hamilton eventually withdrew her services from the township.
A third religious land use lawsuit against the township by an Orthodox Jewish developer whos conforming application was turned down by the planning is expected to be filed within the coming weeks.
The Jackson Township Republican Party for which Calogero, Kern, Sauickie, Reina and Bressi are all members of has been condemned by the national GOP Party for statements made by club leaders made on Facebook against Orthodox Jews. Club President Todd Porter threatened to scare Jewish families out of township parks by blasting “thrash metal” and “slayer”. Jackson Township Republican Club Committee Chairwoman Clara Glory defended comments made against Jews claiming they were all criminals and deserved to be deported.
On Friday, the Jackson Republican Club updated their page photo with a picture that omitted Bressi.