Montco, Delco elected leaders react to violent insurrection at the Capitol Building

The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners virtual meeting turned into a heated exchange about racism after Capitol insurrection and summer protests.

A Montco commissioner meeting got heated on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 when Commission Chair Valerie Arkoosh called County Commissioner Joe Gale 'a racist.' (Zoom)

A Montco commissioner meeting got heated on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 when Commission Chair Valerie Arkoosh called County Commissioner Joe Gale 'a racist.' (Zoom)

The mood during the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners virtual meeting grew increasingly hostile as commissioners got into a heated exchange over the violent insurrection at the Capitol Building — and events from last summer’s anti-racism protests.

“I have consistently been a voice for law and order and spoken out against protests that devolve into riots, violence, and destruction,” said commissioner Joseph Gale, the lone Republican on the county board of commissioners. “For doing so, I’ve been smeared, censured, and physically targeted. Now politicians and the media are suddenly outraged, after having spent the last year justifying, excusing, and often ignoring the unrest and lawlessness that destroyed nearly every major city in the nation. This double standard is purposeful and appalling.”

Gale is no stranger to the spotlight. During the anti-racism protests, he called Black Lives Matter a “radical left-wing hate group” in a press statement which led to his censure. He was then the subject of a federal lawsuit after blocking his constituents on Twitter. His behavior has garnered widespread condemnation and calls for his resignation.

Since then, he has objected to certifying Montgomery County’s vote in the 2020 General Election and has thrown his support behind the GOP attempt to block certification of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

His Thursday statement on the insurrection prompted an immediate response from Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the county commissioners.

“Commissioner Gale, I have to clarify one aspect of your statement. You are a racist and you were censured by this Board of Commissioners, because you used county letterhead to publish racist statements that left the employees of our county government, and the 22% of your constituents who don’t look like you, uncertain about where this county commission stood on matters of race,” Arkoosh said.

Gale fired back with a response of his own challenging the semantics of Arkoosh’s rebuttal.

“Commissioner Arkoosh, I would like to thank you for clarifying that it was in fact, my letterhead Joseph Gale county commissioner letterhead, not the official word of Montgomery County Commissioners, it was my letterhead,” Gale said. “So that’s a desperate attempt to peg me as a racist which people know I’m not.”

Arkoosh responded with further clarification of her remarks.

“To be clear Commissioner Gale, it was your use of the county seal that prompted the censure,” Arkoosh said.

Prior to the sparring session, both Arkoosh and Kenneth Lawrence Jr., vice chair of  commissioners, reacted to the violent events at the Capitol.

“I joined with many others who have expressed outrage, dismay, and sadness at this insurrection, and at the ‘seditionist’ president who called for it. My heart goes out to those who were injured, lost their life, or otherwise traumatized during this horrific event,” Arkoosh said.

Lawrence expressed support for Congress for continuing to do their work into the night.

“I’m very proud of Congress for going back in to do the people’s business, to do their constitutional duty of certifying the Electoral College results,” Lawrence said. “And I just want to thank our local representatives, led by Madeleine Dean, and just so many who went back in to do that.”

Delaware County Council released a joint statement this morning addressing Wednesday’s events.

“Our country allows everyone to freely express their beliefs and protest peacefully. However, what we witnessed in D.C. was not an expression of peaceful protesting. Violence is unacceptable,” Delco council said in the statement. “The election may not have delivered the result sought by some, but that doesn’t entitle one to make up baseless allegations of fraud, which are repeatedly refuted with actual evidence, and then turn to violence because they are not getting the result they desire.”

“Democracy, our Constitution and the rule of law need to be more important than a demagogue,” the council said. “This behavior is shameful. The message to those who choose to behave this way: Act like our children are watching. Because they ARE.”

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal