PAWLING —The supervisor of this Dutchess County town posted racist memes featuring gorillas on his Facebook page the year before he was elected.
James Schmitt posted the two memes on May 31 and June 1, 2016, according to screenshots of the posts, a year before he ran unopposed for town supervisor on the Republican, Conservative and Independence party lines. The posts remained up during his tenure as supervisor and through his two re-elections, only disappearing from his page sometime this summer.
Schmitt said Tuesday he was “absolutely not” racist, adding that he did not realize that “people could have perceived this in a negative light” when he posted it.
Both memes are references to the killing of Harambe, a gorilla who was shot in May 2016 at the Cincinnati Zoo after a young child fell into its enclosure.
The first post features the image of a white gorilla seeming to give a sardonic smirk. “Pretty sure the white gorilla would just have been tranquilized,” it reads. “Too soon?”
The second meme features the image of a black-furred docile gorilla with an infant gorilla seated on its back. “If I throw my baby on stage at a concert,” the meme states, “will they shoot Kanye?”
The second meme on Schmitt’s wall had 70 reactions, all positive.
Pawling Republican Chair Jamie Piccone said he had “no idea” about the memes, then added he had heard someone “dug all that up.” He characterized the situation as “when people go after someone for their own benefit.”
Schmitt, when contacted Tuesday, began to respond to questions until the line abruptly went dead, after which he did not pick up repeated calls. About a half hour later, Schmitt texted, agreeing to respond to questions only in writing.
Schmitt wrote that he did not realize the meme could have been perceived in a negative light when he posted it and that he received no pushback about it, online or elsewhere. He eventually took the post down “out of respect for our community,” he said.
According to screenshots of comments below one of the deleted posts, a man wrote that the meme was “straight up disgusting and racist,” to which Schmitt replied, “How is this racist?”
No fellow Republicans in the area discussed the gorilla memes with him after his election, Schmitt wrote Tuesday.
“I am proud to come from a diverse family and community here in Pawling. This shared post was not meant to be received in a derogatory manner at all,” Schmitt said. “Unfortunately, we live in a society where people are actively looking to cancel individuals based on differences in beliefs, rather than working together to find common ground and solutions to problems. If anyone took offense to this post, I truly do apologize, but this appears to be politically motivated, rather than looking out for the people of our community.”
Pawling Town Board member Coleen Snow, who was elected in 2019, said she couldn’t comment, “only because this was something, that, it is my understanding, was posted long before I was a member of the town board.”
Pawling Town Board member James McCarthy said he was unaware of the memes, as he was not on social media, while board members Corinne Musella-Pitt and Phillip DeRosa did not respond to emails. Dutchess County Republican Committee Chair Michael McCormack did not supply comment before press time.