The remark by Jim Coughlan, the Dutchess County controller and a candidate for New York state Senate, was directed at Melissa Harris-Perry in response to remarks she made about child-rearing that upset some conservatives.
Coughlan said he had no idea that Harris-Perry is Black and denied the comment had racist undertones, saying he simply repeating a “well-known quote from the ‘Planet of the Apes.’”
“I don’t watch MSNBC,” he said. “I don’t know about their stories or their journalists.”
But Democrats ripped his online behavior — and even some fellow Republicans distanced themselves from him.
“This is irresponsible,” said Dutchess County legislator Gwen Johnson, a Democrat. “As an African-American woman, I find this very insulting and appalling.”
She said that even if Coughlan didn’t know Harris-Perry was Black, “If you’re a public official and you’re running … you should know what you’re tweeting about and who you’re tweeting about.”
Some Republicans said they fear his Twitter history could keep them from regaining a Senate seat they long held until two years ago.
“Jim Coughlan is toxic,” said one. “The Democrats are dying to run against him in November because they know he’s the best chance they have of keeping this seat in Democratic hands.”
Harris-Perry, the host of a Sunday morning MSNBC show, has been the target of conservatives after recording an ad for her program in which she expressed the idea that communities must take collective responsibility for children.
“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have,” Harris-Perry said, “because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children: ‘Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility.’”
She added, “We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”
Coughlan, who calls himself “very conservative,” chimed in on Twitter after someone else tweeted, “Unless you’re my wife don’t call them ‘our’ children.”
Coughlan subsequently suspended his Twitter account after some people told him that some of his tweets could be considered inappropriate.