A Republican leader in city politics apologized in part Tuesday night for a political ad that some people claim put Goshen College in a bad light.
Thomas Stump, who serves as a city council member and is a leader of the Goshen Republican Committee, apologized to a Democrat candidate who complained that the ad unfairly subjected his family for political purposes.
The ad, which ran earlier this week in The Goshen News, asks, "Do you think it’s a little spooky that most of the Democratic candidates are directly associated with Goshen College?" and then lists seven Democrats who have either graduated from, attended, work for or whose children attended the college.
The ad riled Democrats and some of the college community for what they thought was an attempt to disparage the college.
Daniel Grimes, a Democrat candidate for council, was among those listed in the ad. While most candidates listed had direct connections to the college, Grimes was listed because his children have attended Goshen College.
After Tuesday’s city council meeting, Grimes and others complained about the ad in front of the city council.
"Basically, the ad says ‘don’t vote for me because my children went to Goshen College,’ " Grimes said prior to the meeting. "I think they crossed the line."
With Stump seated in his council seat, Grimes expressed his displeasure and asked for an apology.
"I do not understand the logic. This ad is wrong on so many fronts," Grimes said.
Stump, while defending the point of the ad, said he didn’t think mentioning that Grimes’ children had graduated from GC was insulting.
"If that offended you, I am sorry about that," Stump said. "That might have been overboard."
He also said he didn’t think the ad disparaged the college.
Earlier in the day, Stump said the word "spooky" might not have been a good choice. He said "unusual." would have been better.
"It was just a play on words. I thought it was kind of cute, but people have misunderstood it, so I guess it wasn’t that cute."
"It’s certainly was not meant to slam Goshen College," Stump said.
Goshen College President James E. Brenneman, in a statement issued by the college, acknowledged the ad and a related video and reiterated the college’s policy of not engaging in politics.
Instead, Brenneman pointed out some of the ways the community benefits from the campus, including volunteer efforts and the economic impact that totals $36 million in the county.
Democrats, though, addressed the issue directly.
Mayor Allan Kauffman posted the ad on his Facebook campaign page, calling it distasteful, and an "ill-advised insult."
Within 22 hours, Kauffman’s post generated 101 comments, a large majority of which criticized the ad.
In addition to Grimes, others listed in the ad included Kauffman, incumbent council members Everett Thomas and Julia Gautsche and challenger Adam Scharf. Also listed were Nina Mishler, who works for the college, and Nathan Mateer Rempel who has taken classes at GC.
Grimes said the ad is another example of the divisive campaign Republicans have waged.
"People are tired of the poison in Washington and I think they’re trying to import that to Goshen," Grimes said. "We don’t want that in Goshen."
Stump said a video posted on goshengop.org Web site does a better job at explaining the party’s concern.
In the video, Republican council candidate Kelly Huffman profiles all of the council candidates, pointing out religious, educational and work backgrounds.
Huffman goes on to explain that too many council members with a similar background can lead to the existence of "group think," which she said causes people to "minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing and evaluating ideas."
In the video, Huffman continues, "We see this with this group all the time. They think the same and they can’t believe others don’t think like them. It ends up with faulty decision making and unrealistic and lofty ideas."
The video goes on to profile each of the Republican candidates and highlights what she contends is a broader range of experiences.
Several Republicans said they believe the election of more Democrat candidates would lead to a single mindset on the council.
Dale Stickel, chairman of the Elkhart County Republican Party, said unlike Democrats, Republican candidates offer a wide range of religious, educational and work experiences.
"The Republican party is really a diverse group of people," Stickel said. "When you bring together a very diverse group of people, you’re likely to get a lot better ideas."
Stickel noted that the Republican ticket includes people who are Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and non-believers. Goshen College is a Mennonite school that also attracts many followers of the Brethren faith.
Don Riegsecker, the Republican candidate for mayor, said he was aware of some concerns about the ad. He said his campaign did not pay for the ad and that he thought the use of the word "spooky" was a poor choice of words.
But he said he agrees with the crux of the ad — that the Democratic ticket is too heavily weighted toward Goshen College — and voters need to know it.
"It’s getting the facts out there. I don’t know how you can go wrong with stating the facts of the affiliation," Riegsecker said.
Stump said he was unsure how some of the larger philosophies embraced by the college might translate into local decision making that a council member would face if elected
The college has been embroiled in the past year in a debate over whether to play the national anthem at sporting events. The college had a long tradition of not playing the anthem, tried it for about a year and then discontinued the practice earlier this year, a decision that riled some conservatives.
"I think their philosophies go against the Republican philosophies," Stump said. "When you talk about not playing the national anthem, when you talk about not understanding the pledge of allegiance –—yes — I think some of those things don’t sit well with Republicans," Stump said.
In Brenneman’s statement, he closed by wishing all of the candidates the best in the Nov. 8 election and added, "I’m confident that our good working relationships with members of the City Council will continue regardless of the Election Day outcome."