A New Jersey radio station with a long history of having its on-air hosts stir the pot with offensive commentary has suspended two of its personalities for 10 days after they made racist comments about state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
The action taken yesterday by Ewing-based NJ 101.5 FM came a day after longtime midday hosts
Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco made an issue out of Grewal’s name on air and called him “turban man” during a discussion of his recent decision to temporarily stop prosecuting low-level marijuana crimes in New Jersey.
A New Jersey native, Grewal is a practicing Sikh who wears a turban, which is a symbol of equality for the world’s fifth largest religion. Several hours later, Gov. Phil Murphy released a statement calling the radio hosts’ comments “abhorrent and xenophobic.”
“Hate speech has no place in New Jersey, and it does not belong on our airwaves. Station management must now hold the hosts accountable for these intolerant and racist comments,” said Murphy, who has appeared on the station for its “Ask the Governor” call-in show.
In a message posted on social media, Grewal thanked Murphy and others for immediately condemning the comments made by Malloy and Franco, adding “others have faced far worse. We rise above this. Now let’s get back to business.”
The pair issued an apology
For their part, the two hosts issued an apology yesterday afternoon as their suspension was announced by the station, calling their comments “a mistake we both deeply regret.” That came after they drew bipartisan criticism hours earlier from lawmakers who spoke on the floor of the state Senate before a voting session yesterday.
The controversy was just the latest racially-tinged incident involving a 101.5 personality; former hosts have come under fire for making off-color comments about Asian-Americans and Latin-Americans, and for once calling former state Sen. Ray Lesniak a “gay Polack.” They also drew the ire of former governor and current Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) for making insensitive comments about a public-awareness campaign on postpartum depression that his wife, as first lady, personally waged a decade ago.
A station official declined comment when reached by NJ Spotlight yesterday, pointing instead to a statement that had been issued that called the comments about Grewal “offensive.”
Grewal made history earlier this year after Murphy, a first-term Democrat, nominated him to be attorney general, becoming the nation’s first Sikh-American to serve in such a position. He was confirmed by the Senate in a 29-0 vote, just hours after Murphy was sworn in to office in January.
A former assistant U.S. Attorney for both New York and New Jersey, Grewal was made county prosecutor in Bergen County by former Gov. Chris Christie in 2016. He is a graduate of West Essex High School and now lives in Glen Rock in Bergen County.
Murphy takes pride in diverse Cabinet
Murphy took pride in nominating a Cabinet that he said was reflective of New Jersey’s diversity, and Grewal said at the time that he hoped his selection would “show other people that while I and others like me may look different or worship differently that we too are committed to this country.”
As attorney general, Grewal has taken the administration of President Donald Trump to court on numerous occasions, including over issues related to immigration policy and the environment.
But it was his recent decision to get involved in an ongoing debate over legalizing marijuana in New Jersey that brought out the racist comments from Malloy and Franco on Wednesday. Grewal issued a letter to county and municipal prosecutors that said they should suspend prosecution of minor marijuana offenses until at least September 4; he said this was to allow time for a working group to review the issue in the wake of a decision by officials in Jersey City to effectively decriminalize marijuana. State lawmakers are also expected to soon consider legislation sought by Murphy to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Malloy and Franco began their clumsy discussion of the marijuana policy with Malloy calling Grewal “the guy with the turban,” according to a clip of their remarks that was posted on social media by Politico New Jersey Bureau Chief Ryan Hutchins.
“I’m never going to know his name, I’m just going to say the guy with the turban,” Malloy said.
Franco followed by saying “turban man” in a singing voice.
“Listen, if that offends you, then don’t wear the turban, and then I’ll remember your name,” Malloy said.
The radio hosts were rebuked by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-Newark), who said “we are New Jersey; bigotry has no place, religious intolerance no harbor.”
On the floor of the state Senate yesterday, Sen. Vin Gopal — the Senate’s first ever South Asian-American member — came to the defense of Grewal, calling him “among the best New Jersey has to offer.”
“It does not matter whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or any religion — religious discrimination is totally unacceptable, and it is religious discrimination that was uttered (Wednesday) night by these two radio hosts,” said Gopal (D-Monmouth).
“Make no mistake, this is the ugly head of bigotry, not disagreements on public policy, but religious discrimination that we must fight at every turn,” Gopal said.
Republican senator: He’s ‘our attorney general’
Moments later, Sen. Robert Singer (R-Ocean) weighed in, calling Grewal “our attorney general.”
“It’s important that we recognize that bigotry is not accepted, any place, any time, and mocking anyone — anyone — is never accepted,” Singer said.
But on the radio station yesterday during the time slot that is normally filled by Malloy and Franco, most callers were coming to their defense. One caller, who identified himself as Leo, pointed the finger at Grewal while talking about the issue with substitute host Steve Trevelise, saying “if he can’t take criticism he shouldn’t be attorney general.”
The station’s swift action in suspending Malloy and Franco breaks with the way they’ve handled similar situations in the past, including 2007 controversies involving former hosts Craig Carton and Ray Rossi. They remained on the air after speaking in a sing-song voice to depict Asian-Americans, and for suggesting illegal immigrants from Latin-American countries were causing property taxes to rise and were more likely to become terrorists. The hosts did issue an apology about their comments about Asian-Americans, and Carton eventually left for a gig as a sports-radio personality.
Meanwhile, in 2007 they also clashed with Lesniak, the former senator, who complained to the station about their use of the term “Polack” as a slur. Carton also created a controversy with remarks in 2005 about then-First Lady Mary Jo Codey’s personal campaign to raise awareness about postpartum depression, something she said she personally coped with. Carton’s take included saying women with postpartum depression should use marijuana “instead of putting their babies in the microwave.”
In response, the former governor reportedly went to the station studio and told Carton, “I wish I weren’t governor, I’d take you out.”