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Montgomery County Commissioners Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh conducts the county commissioners meeting with distance from Commissioner Joe Gale, right.  

NORRISTOWN — Tensions flared during Thursday’s virtual Montgomery County Board of Commissioners meeting as legislators reacting to Wednesday’s unrest in the nation’s Capitol reopened old wounds locally.

In his opening remarks, Republican Commissioner Joe Gale recalled the criticism he received from a June 2 statement he issued about “looting, violence and arson” surrounding protests in Philadelphia following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

In the statement, Gale called Black Lives Matter a “radical left-wing hate group,” as his racially charged comments sparked widespread backlash throughout the Montgomery County area.

“For doing so, I have been smeared, censured and physically targeted,” he said.

“Now, politicians and the media are suddenly outraged after having spent the last year justifying, excusing and often ignoring the unrest and the lawlessness that destroyed nearly every major city in the nation,” he continued. “This double standard is purposeful and appalling, and I will be praying for our nation more than ever because God knows we need it.”

After a brief pause, Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh, a Democrat, responded to Gale’s words.

“You are a racist, and you were censured by this Board of [Montgomery County] Commissioners because you used county letterhead to publish racist statements that left the employees of our county government, and the 22 percent of your constituents who don’t look like you uncertain about where this county commission stood on matters of race,” Arkoosh said.

“So, you can say what you want about the other issues, but I do want the public to understand clearly that it was your use of county letterhead to publish racist statements that led to your censure.”

To that, Gale fired back at Arkoosh, stating “it was in fact my letterhead, Joseph Gale, county commissioner letterhead, not the official Board of Montgomery County Commissioners.”

“It was my letterhead,” he continued. “So that’s a desperate attempt to peg me as a racist, which people know I am not. I spoke the truth, and I had the courage to speak the truth throughout the entire year, and many more elected officials should have stepped up and done the same.”

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

The trio of county elected officials addressed Wednesday’s events in Washington, D.C., as supporters of President Donald Trump and others stormed the U.S. Capitol building while politicians conducted the counting of Electoral College votes.

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

After the interruption, legislators in the House of Representatives and Senate returned to continue the process, which continued into the early hours of Thursday morning, and eventually certified President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the nation's new leaders, who will take office on Jan. 20.

Along with Arkoosh, Montgomery County Commissioners’ Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence Jr. reacted candidly, praising lawmakers on their conduct.

“It was a very long day yesterday. It was a very long night. I was up until probably about 2 in the morning watching the congressional proceedings,” Lawrence said. “You know all what I want to say about yesterday is 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…”

As much of the nation reels from Wednesday’s events, Arkoosh encouraged those in need of services here in Montgomery County to reach out to the county’s mobile crisis unit by calling 855-634-HOPE.

“I also want to recognize for many of us watching yesterday and this morning has been difficult,” she said. “Nonetheless, we are here today to carry out the county’s business.”

@rachelravina on Twitter

Rachel Ravina is a journalist covering news and lifestyle features in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Blue Bell and graduated from Penn State. She's also a news enthusiast who is passionate about covering topics people want to read.

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