Lewis Spears Jersey City

Imagine my surprise when I was asked by the Jersey City Times to submit proof of my vaccination status because of Team Fulop’s latest attacks on Frank Gilmore, independent candidate running for City Council in Ward F.

Although I fundamentally disagree with the premise of “you should tell everyone if you are vaccinated if you wish to run for public office,” I submitted my vaccination card as proof of my status because this is not the hill on which I wish to die.

Let me be clear. I understand the importance of vaccines. But even I had questions for my wife, a doctor, about the vaccine. In the end because she stressed the importance of protecting our family and community, I became vaccinated because I didn’t want to put my sons or the elders in my family at risk.

Black and Brown people in this country have many reasons not to trust the public health system. Anybody with an ounce of empathy or genuinely interested in understanding where vaccine hesitancy is coming from can find readily available information about the Tuskegee experiment, the history of the study of gynecology on Black and Brown women’s bodies, and the forced sterilization of Hispanic women for generations, including most recently in detention centers.

With mistrust built over decades, some people simply do not trust our public health system. And I believe the responsible way to address vaccine hesitancy in our communities is to address people’s fears respectfully. The city should sponsor a multi-lingual public information campaign designed to inform people about why becoming vaccinated is so important.

We need more people to share their journeys publicly, like Frank Gilmore.

Which is why I was so appalled to see both Mayor Fulop and Jake Hudnut call Frank an anti-vaxxer on their social media platforms. Having this kind of vitriol shared from people who wish to lead this city is just downright embarrassing and unnecessary. Are we trying to have a public conversation on the importance of vaccines, or are we weaponizing public sentiment with finger pointing and public shaming to win an election?

Frank Gilmore’s public journey to becoming vaccinated has probably helped people in Jersey City to decide to do the same. He said he had questions. He said he was scared. He never told anybody else not to be vaccinated.  When he did get the vaccine, he shared his experience just as publicly as he shared his concerns. He bravely shared his journey in the public eye, as he always has.

Since then, ugly, and quite frankly, racist rhetoric about Frank’s past has been plastered around the city. What is the mayor’s team hoping to accomplish here? Frank is unapologetic about his past and his redemption, and he’s worked hard to represent the people he already serves in Ward F. Is this what Team Fulop thinks about Ward F, where many in the community are formerly incarcerated? That there can be no road to redemption? That nothing you’ve done since you served your time matters?

The mayors in Trenton and Newark have improved their vaccination rates, fighting vaccine hesitancy by going into communities, meeting residents where they are, and answering their questions with dignity and respect. The mayor of Jersey City is currently running a Facebook ad accusing Frank Gilmore of being an anti-vaxxer.  Our mayor would rather create controversy based on half truths and innuendo to win an election than take the time to address residents’ fears about the vaccine in any meaningful way.

I fully understand that we need everyone to become vaccinated as quickly as possible to win the fight against Covid-19. But I also understand that getting vaccinated is a personal decision. And if we want people to decide to do what is best for all of us, we will never win them over by attacking their choices.

We should demand and expect better from people who wish to hold public office in this city.