A Republican candidate for Northampton County district attorney is facing fresh scrutiny over a 12-year-old incident for leaving a stuffed monkey at the desk of a black colleague, evoking a particularly hateful racist stereotype, a newspaper has reported.
The candidate, Tom Carroll, resigned his position in the Northampton County District Attorney’s office after the colleague, Constance K. Nelson, complained to her superiors, The Morning Call of Allentown reported Friday.
The newspaper reported that it had made repeated attempts “to discuss the matter with Carroll, but he has declined, leaving his motives a mystery. In a written statement, Carroll called Nelson’s account an ‘unsubstantiated allegation from over a decade ago,’ but did not address its veracity.”
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Nelson, who described her relationship with Carroll as cordial before the incident, said the monkey embarrassed and angered her, given the longtime racist trope of comparing blacks to apes. She said she made clear to Carroll that she found the toy’s message hurtful, and tried to explain to him why.
“F— you if you can’t take a joke,” Carroll told her, according to Nelson.
The Morning Call made multiple requests for an interview with Carroll for this article, offering to meet him at his earliest convenience at a place of his choosing or, failing that, to talk by telephone. In declining, his campaign cited his schedule. On June 20, Carroll released his written statement, and he did not respond to follow-up written questions that detailed the newspaper’s reporting.
“Constance Nelson is someone who I built a genuine friendship with during my time in the DA’s office, so I was surprised to hear of this story from her 12 years later, conveniently timed when I am running for district attorney,” Carroll said in his statement.
“My reputation as a prosecutor, in private practice, and in my personal life speaks for itself, and I will not let my political opponents distract from the real issues that matter to the people of Northampton County,” Carroll wrote.
Carroll is running to replace long-serving Democratic District Attorney John M. Morganelli, who is running for a county judgeship. A familiar figure in Pennsylvania political circles, Morganelli has made repeated, and unsuccessful, bids for higher office, including the Democratic nomination for state Attorney General in 2016, and Congress in 2018.
Morganelli declined the newspaper’s request to discuss the incident, labeling it a personnel matter. But Morganelli did tell the Morning Call that “his office ‘absolutely’ took Nelson’s complaint seriously, and launched an investigation in which witnesses were interviewed and ‘certain actions were taken.’”
Michele Kluk, a former Northampton County prosecutor now in private practice in Cumberland County, told The Morning Call that Carroll, who was by then in private practice, would often wear monkey-themed ties in the county courthouse in Easton.
Carroll declined the newspaper’s request to explain the ties. Kluk told the newspaper she believed it was a gesture of defiance.