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Townsend's 'Acid Attack' Comment Burns Rep. Hayworth's Re-election Campaign

Spokesman's 'Hurl Acid at Female Senators' Remark Implies Violence Against Women

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Townsend's 'Acid Attack' Comment Burns Rep. Hayworth's Re-election Campaign

Rep. Nan Hayworth

© Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Updated June 05, 2012
Originally published June 4, 2012

When Republican consultant Jay Townsend, a spokesperson for the Congressional campaign of incumbent Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY), casually suggested an acid attack against female Democratic senators in an online discussion group, he couldn't have known the hot water he was getting himself into...along with his client.

Since the story broke on Friday, June 1, calls for Townsend's resignation (under the hashtag #firejay) have reverberated across the Twittersphere and both bloggers and mainstream media have reported on the controversy. Full details from the ABC News website:

Townsend's comments (which have since been removed) were posted Thursday on a local Facebook discussion forum for New York's 19th congressional district. Townsend was responding to comments made by a commenter named "Tom" during an online debate over gas prices. Townsend wrote:

"Listen to Tom. What a little bee he has in his bonnet. Buzz Buzz. My question today ... when is Tommy boy going to weigh in on all the Lilly Ledbetter hypocrites who claim to be fighting the War on Women? Let's hurl some acid at those female democratic Senators who won't abide the mandates they want to impose on the private sector."

Townsend's comment referenced those female senators who have been in support of a Senate bill mandating equal pay for women but who allegedly don't compensate their female and male staffers equally.

Rep. Hayworth's response has been slow to non-existent. Taking a page from the disastrous playbook of the Susan G. Komen Foundation on how not to use social media to your advantage, her campaign manager Bruce Harvie issued a statement that was posted on Hayworth's Facebook page on Friday:

This is a manufactured controversy by a campaign operation that has, for months, hurled offensive rhetoric and imagery at Nan Hayworth on various Facebook pages....Only now have the media chosen to pay attention to this particular battlefield in the war against a woman who has the temerity to be a Republican Member of Congress.

The comment receiving the attention was not made on behalf of the Congresswoman or her campaign and was clearly not meant to be taken literally.

In response to this statement, Hayworth's Facebook page was flooded with hundreds of comments asking her to take action and, at the very least, reprimand Townsend; most of the opposing voices insisted she fire him. Within hours, all negative comments were removed.

Hayworth's reluctance to get in front of the controversy and publicly reprimand Townsend is surprising on several levels, especially with regard to the nature of the implied violence in his comment.

Acid attacks are a particularly heinous form of crime perpetrated against females of every age who oppose "traditional order" and work towards or speak out on women's issues. One of the most vicious attacks in recent years targeted teenage girls and teachers headed to school -- a cruel attempt to thwart the education of women. Acid attacks -- along with other threats of violence against women -- are commonplace in Afghanistan where the The Guardian reports that not even female politicians are immune.

The Afghan MP Shukria Barakzai receives regular death threats for speaking out on women's issues....In parliament, she says, she is often greeted with screams of "kill her" when she stands up to speak, and she has had no shortage of personal threats from fellow MPs.

As a female member of Congress, Hayworth is in the distinct minority. On average, only 16% of Congress in any given year is female. Many have regarded Hayworth's continued silence as particularly damaging in that it condones violence against women in an election year that has painted the GOP as waging a war on women. The freshman congresswoman's prior background in the medical field also makes her vulnerable to criticism; as a practicing opthalmologist for many years, she would be well aware that one of the unfortunate side effects of acid attacks is permanent blindness.

On Sunday, June 3, Townsend issued an apology on his own Facebook page which the Huffington Post reposted:

On May 26, I posted a stupid, thoughtless, and insensitive comment on a facebook page. It was stupid because my words were easily misconstrued...and insensitive because some have interpreted the comment as advocating a violent act.

To friends, associates, and clients I have offered my apology for the embarrassment I have caused, and do hereby offer it to the many who rightly found fault with my incendiary choice of words.

When the apology did little to stem the tide of criticism against Hayworth and Townsend, he stepped down from his role as spokesperson on Monday, June 4. Hayworth's campaign team issued the following terse announcement that afternoon:
Jay Townsend has offered, and I have accepted, his resignation from his position with my campaign. Now let’s return to talking about issues that really matter to families: job creation, spending restraint and economic development.
A constituent posting as Theresa hor complained online:
Are you kidding me? Do you think you can possibly get away with oh, he’s resigned so everything is back to "let’s get on with life as it was?"
The conservative political blog RedState also piled on with a commentary entited, "Today is the day Nan Hayworth lost NY-19 for us."

Neither her supporters nor detractors were satisfied with Hayworth's handling of what some have labeled Acidgate, and many believe this to be the death knell of her re-election campaign.

Rep. Hayworth has yet to speak directly to the issue in her own words.

Sources:

Bazzo, Anthony J. "Statement from Nan Hayworth." Pennysaver Community Town of Poughkeepsie, psctpok.com. 4 June 2012.

Chassay, Clancy. "Acid attacks and rape: growing threat to women who oppose traditional order." Guardian.co.uk. 21 November 2008

Freedlander, David. "Hayworth Doubles Down On ‘Acid Hurling’ Attack; Becker, Right Wing Blogs Pounce."Politicker.com. 1 June 2012.

Jeltsen, Melissa. "Jay Townsend, GOP Spokesman, Apologizes For Controversial Facebook Comment." Huffingtonpost.com. 3 June 2012.

Pfeiffer, Eric. "Republican spokesman: ‘Let's hurl some acid' at female Democratic senators." Yahoo! News at ABCnews.go.com. 1 June 2012.

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