MAHWAH — A picture showing Councilman George Ervin posing with a Confederate flag has surfaced a week before the election — and days after the municipality was sued by the state for allegedly trying to keep Orthodox Jews from moving in.

Ervin says that while the picture "is being used to make certain inferences about my views," it was a picture taken with friends before he was a public figure and that it is not an expression of of his views. He said Wednesday that the picture shows him and friends on vacation holding a beach towel with the image of the flag.

"Deep within my heart and soul I never intended for this photo to infer any views," Ervin said. "Racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism and all that have no place in my heart nor my home."

While some consider the flag an innocent emblem of Southern heritage, many black Americans view it as a symbol of anti-black violence and racism.

The existence of the picture was first reported on by InsiderNJ.

According to the Mahwah Patch, Ervin was appointed to the council last year to replace then Freeholder-elect Mary Amoroso. The township has nonpartisan elections with Ervin running on the Committed to Our Community ticket. He is running against Victoria N. Galow on the Make Mahwah Stronger line to finish a one-year unexpired term.

Ervin said he did not remember who had initially posted the picture on social media, but said he had taken it down "well over a year ago." He says whoever was sharing it now is "trying to use that to create a smear campaign."

"All I can say is I have the character and integrity to serve this town well," he said. "By that I mean integrity, doing the right thing, each and every time, especially when not in the presence of others."

Even before the picture came to light, Mahwah was already embroiled in controversy after the council took steps to block and take down an Eruv that had been erected by an Orthodox Jewish group with permission of the utility company and the police. The state Attorney General's Office last week sued the council over the Eruv ordinance as well as another ordinance banning non-state residents form parks. State officials says the laws are aimed at discriminating against Orthodox Jews — a charge that municipal leaders and residents deny.

Since the picture was made public, Ervin said the support he has received has been "nothing but positive."

Ervin said looking back it's possible he would have done things differently, but had no regrets about what had been an overall good trip with good friends.

"This is way before anything in Charlottesville had happened or anything like that," he said, referring to demonstrations that turned violent and deadly when a white nationalist rammed his car into a woman protesting a group opposed to the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. "You pick something up, you don't think of it. Now maybe I could say yeah in hindsight we probably shouldn't have done that."

The Mahwah councilman is not the first elected official in New Jersey to be connected to the Confederate flag in recent months. Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman apologized after he was pictured with  a patch on his vest that included the Confederate flag.

Assemblyman Parker Space, R-Sussex, threatened to sue political opponents who he said harassed employees at his farm after he share a picture of him with a Confederate flag design at a country music concert.

Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-353-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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