NEWARK — At the entrance of the Timberlane manufactured housing community in Newark, several lawn signs can be found displaying the message, “Rep. Wilson-Anton, where is the apology?”
Despite these lawn signs and further requests for an apology, Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, D-Newark, has stood her ground.
These requests stem from a feud that ignited June 8 at the House’s Manufactured Housing committee meeting, during which Rep. Wilson-Anton verbally confronted Reybold Group Executive Manager Jerome Heisler Jr. for the closure of the Timberlane manufactured housing community in July 2021.
Since then, the incident led to Mr. Heisler’s call for an apology, while also drawing both concern and praise from lawmakers on the committee.
At the conclusion of the public comment portion of the June 8 committee meeting, Rep. Wilson-Anton responded to Mr. Heisler’s public comment, in which he expressed his support for Senate Substitution 1 for Senate Bill 9, which establishes requirements for rent increases in manufactured housing communities. The bill was the only item on the agenda and was later tabled at the conclusion of the meeting. The bill was later reintroduced under a new number, SB 317, and has since been passed and signed by Gov. John Carney.
Rep. Wilson-Anton took particular issue with one portion of Mr. Heisler’s testimony, where he said, “I think Rep. Anton-Wilson knows what will happen when you can’t raise rents, she has that in her district now.”
Rep. Wilson-Anton responded, stating that Mr. Heisler was alluding to the closure of Timberlane, which she now represents. She noted that Mr. Heisler used her name incorrectly and said his public comment would not sway her vote, criticizing him for his role in the community’s closure.
“I don’t care how much money you donate to Planned Parenthood or whatever nonprofit, you displace families, you exploit people and you think you can make light of it,” said Rep. Wilson-Anton during the meeting.
Rep. Wilson-Anton referred to a letter posted on the doors of Timberlane residents on July 30, 2021, that stated in part, “In light of the continued legislative restrictiveness effecting the condition and the operation of our community, we can no longer provide services to adequately meet the standards that Reybold has provided through the last decade.”
Rep. Wilson-Anton concluded her response and said she does not respect Mr. Heisler and wanted her response on the record.
House Manufactured Housing committee member Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, said that she and Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna, had simultaneously commented during the end of Rep. Wilson-Anton’s statements in effort to stop the response. She said the verbal attack was unsettling, and said the incident spoke to a larger issue with public comment during the 151st General Assembly.
“It was generally uncomfortable, I did express concern to leadership afterwards because that is not the way we go about public comment,” Rep. Briggs King said. “There were a lot of issues this year where I felt committee meetings weren’t held with the same decorum and respect for public comment, and this was in other committees too. We have a procedure to follow for committee meetings and they should be consistent regardless of what the committee is.”
As a result of the exchange, Mr. Heisler emailed Rep. Wilson-Anton, copying each legislator in the House and Senate on the message. He apologized for mis-ordering her name, but also stated an apology was in order for the comments made with an “air of rudeness and hostility” toward him. Mr. Heisler wrote that, although she may disagree with him, it does not warrant the treatment she delivered to him at the hearing.
House Manufactured Housing Committee Chair Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, responded to Mr. Heisler’s email, criticizing him for working against manufactured housing legislation he introduced along with Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, and for forcing negotiations on SS 1 for SB 9. Rep. Kowalko said Mr. Heisler’s interests are not with the residents of these communities.
“For the 16 years I’ve worked with Jerry Heisler, I have always applauded his ability to be a formidable representative of Reybold and the interests of the landowners. I’ve never seen him, ever, give fair or due consideration to homeowners’ interests,” Rep. Kowalko said.
Mr. Heisler was not available for comment.
Just before Rep. Kowalko’s email response, Rep. Wilson-Anton responded to Mr. Heisler’s email with a message of her own, stating in part, “Jerry — You’re delusional. I will not be apologizing to you. I guess your idea of ‘professional’ and ‘necessary’ is displacing hardworking families and senior citizens on a fixed income and making a political statement out of it? This is what you were invoking in your public comment.”
Mr. Heisler responded to Rep. Wilson-Anton, stating that he was disheartened by her “lack of regard for civil discourse and demonstrated deficiency of legislative temperament,” adding that he is always willing to have constructive dialogue.
Since the June 8 meeting and ensuing email exchange, the lawn signs requesting an apology from Rep. Wilson-Anton have appeared throughout the Bear and Newark area, many on Reybold property. Rep. Wilson-Anton said she will refuse to give in to special interests and continue to prioritize the interests of the community that elected her.
“I’m never going to apologize for standing up for my community and taking on bullies. I’ve been in office two years, and the folks that don’t like me are the ones supporting special interests and want things to stay the way they’ve been. They don’t want change,” Rep. Wilson-Anton said.
“I’ve always stayed true to myself and true to my community, and that will not change.”