A State College borough council member is facing criticism for calling a woman “a real New Order Nazi” in an email exchange that was later posted to Facebook.
The remark came at the end of a correspondence between Councilwoman Theresa Lafer and Brooklynn Wingert, a business owner and Bedford County resident who wrote to borough council members to voice her concerns about an ordinance passed last week that, with some exceptions, requires masks to be worn in public, limits gathering sizes in residences and borough parks and prohibits waiting lines of more than 10 people.
Lafer did not apologize for the comment during a conversation with StateCollege.com on Saturday. Council President Jesse Barlow and Mayor Ron Filippelli said Lafer spoke for herself and they would not have used that language.
“I defend the ordinance and am glad we passed it,” Barlow wrote in an email. “Councilwoman Lafer has the right to express her opinions to whoever writes to her. As with every Council member, she speaks for herself and not for the rest of Council. I would not have answered that email in that way.”
“Council member Lafer spoke for herself for reasons of her own, as was her right,” Filippelli said. “She did not speak for the Borough. I personally would not have chosen that characterization.”
Wingert said she and her husband own a general contracting company that does business in State College.
“I do not live in State College but I do business there as well as spend a decent amount of money at the local businesses,” she wrote. “I will no longer be taking contracts that are located in State College and I will be taking my money elsewhere to support boroughs who support who support the constitution and the freedoms of Americans.
“You can support the slaughter of millions of unborn children, but when it comes to Covid-19, there’s no fluidity to your thought process on human rights?”
Though it is not mentioned in her correspondence with Lafer, Wingert told StateCollege.com that her intent was to let council know her company would not work in the borough because the masking requirement would pose a health and safety hazard to individuals working outside in the heat and on rooftops. The ordinance does exempt people for whom a face covering would create a risk related to their work as determined by regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
In her initial response to Wingert, Lafer wrote that her “confusion with present dangers from a Pandemic with other health issues is pointless and feckless.” She went on to write the United States has a long history of enacting public health protections.
“Please keep your viral load at home with yourself and your family, friends and co-workers,” Lafer wrote. “We will have enough disease and death to deal with without you right now.”
Following a long reply by Wingert, Lafer responded: “Wow!! A real New Order Nazi… How proud you must be… at least a century behind the times, but still an acolyte…”
Lafer, though she did not cite Wingert or anything specific in her email, said she has received correspondence from around Pennsylvania and from other states, dating back long before the ordinance passed, that used fascist rhetoric to attack her and the ordinance.
She added that council members have received at least one threat that was forwarded to the police.
“I have nothing against commentary and discussion,” she said. “These people don’t want discussion. They are bullies.”
Wingert said the email exchange, which occurred on Wednesday, was her only correspondence with Lafer. No other council members replied to her initial letter.
Lafer also took issue with those who believe the ordinance is an unfair restriction on personal freedoms.
“I’m sorry, do these people not use seatbelts? Do they text while they’re driving?” she said, citing other accepted public safety laws.
Wingert’s husband, Thor, posted her exchange with Lafer on Facebook, where his original post has been shared more than 200 times. Subsequent posts about the issue appear to have been made private or deleted, but had replies from several people who made vile remarks about Lafer, including one person who wrote “hang this b—h.”
Wingert, meanwhile, said she does not believe Lafer should be on council.
“My reason is because she is not trained on how to engage with citizens and business owners in regards to their concerns,” she wrote in a message to StateCollege.com. “A council woman should have the respect for citizens to graciously listen to their concerns and truly hear their opinions, even if she does not agree. Whether Democrat or Republican, we have a duty to live peaceably among one another, to genuinely listen to each others thoughts and concerns, and more than anything, to respond to each other with love and grace, especially during the tumultuous times we are living in.”
Wingert contacted Filippelli and Borough Manager Tom Fountaine about Lafer being disciplined or removed from council. Both responded that under the borough charter neither has the authority to take such action. Council can only vote to remove a member if he or she violates an express provision of the charter, is convicted of a crime or misses three consecutive meetings.
Lafer was reelected to a second consecutive term on council in 2017 and per term limits will not be eligible to run in 2021. She served one previous term on council from 2008-12.
“As mayor, I can assure you that State College Borough welcomes all responsible comments and opinions on matters of public policy,” Filippelli wrote in his reply to Wingert. “I personally regret the manner in which your letter was responded to. You have every right to express your opinions and I encourage you to do so in the future.”