Hampden Township Commissioner Al Bienstock says his oeuvre of close to 5,000 “right-wing limericks” were intended to “point out silliness by being silly,” despite his opponents’ criticism of the political poems being offensive.
The Hampden Township Democratic Club used social media posts and sent emails to local media groups Monday to publicize a selection of the limericks by Bienstock, a GOP incumbent in this year’s municipal election, which Democrats say “reveal serious questions about his judgment and ability to lead the township.”
Bienstock’s writings make light of racial issues and use of the full spelling of a racial slur for African-Americans, albeit as quotes of other political figures such as Al Sharpton and Robert Byrd.
In next month’s general election, there are candidates seeking state, county, municipal and school board positions across Cumberland County.
Other poems also appear to support the racial profiling of Muslims, including the lines “say, with pride, you profile/remember with whom we are at war,” although Bienstock said in an interview he never intended to suggest “all Muslims are bad.”
“I was careful, just as George Bush was careful, to say it’s not all Muslims. It’s Muslim terrorists ... that’s who I was talking about,” Bienstock said.
Hampden Democrats culled the poems from a Yahoo Groups page that Bienstock ran from Aug. 17, 2000, through the last posting on Dec. 27, 2013.
The final post from Bienstock states that, over 13 years, he had published 4,951 limericks through the group.
In an interview Tuesday, Bienstock said he had been working on a friend’s political campaign when he wrote a series of limericks criticizing his friend’s primary opponents. Others on the campaign suggested he create a group to regularly share his political satire.
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The group had 1,145 members by its end, according to Yahoo records. The front page of the site promises a new limerick every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“I did it three days a week for 13 years, but I got tired of having a deadline,” Bienstock said.
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Some of the assertions being floated about his poems are being taken out of context, Bienstock said.
For instance, one poem includes the phrases “gay men are thin” and “lesbians are fat.” But this is not his own assertion, Bienstock said, since the poem starts by referencing a study funded in part by the National Institutes of Health about the traits of different sexualities.
“I was citing an NIH study,” Bienstock said. “It had nothing to do with them [homosexuals], it had to do with the silliness of spending taxpayer money on a study like that.”
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Likewise, Bienstock said, none of his poems ever used a racial slur outside of a quote from a political figure who had used the word.
“By using a euphemism, it doesn’t get across the same ways. So I quoted them, and it was used in quotes,” Bienstock said.
Many of the poems reference the hot-button racial issues of the post-9/11 era. In one, Bienstock jokes that if Buckwheat were to convert to Islam, his name would be “Cereal Killer Kareem of Wheat.” In another, Bienstock suggests that Sikhs wear “just a hair net” to avoid having their turbans searched at airports.
When asked if he found the suggestion to be demeaning in retrospect, Bienstock said “in all honesty, no I do not.”
Bienstock and fellow GOP incumbent commissioner John V. Thomas face challenges in the Nov. 5 election from Democratic opponents Ryan Argot and David Fish.
“People have to know that their elected officials will treat them with the dignity and respect they are due, and not have to worry that behind their back they will be mocked or called names,” Hampden Democrats said in a news release.
“I think they are desperate because they don’t have anything to run on,” Bienstock said, citing the township’s ability to operate many community amenities, including a swimming pool and golf course, while keeping property taxes flat.