On Friday, Former Bergen County Democratic Party Boss Joe Ferriero, finally reports to prison for racketeering.
However, a lot of Democrats in the Bergen County Democratic machine are still here. Like Dracula’s Renfield, anxiously awaiting the return of their master, they still think Ferriero is the bee’s knees. The rest of us, who like our government democratic and without a side of corruption, have a different perspective.
Renfield has me thinking about Ferriero’s most active protégé when Joe was at the height of his power. His name is Willie Ortiz. You may know him as the husband of the Bergen County Democratic Freeholder candidate, Germaine Ortiz who just won the blessing of the Bergen County Democratic Committee (DCBC), to the horror of reformers like myself known as the Real Bergen Dems.
Although there is a new captain, Lou Stellato, heading the DCBC, the old crew is still there. Ferriero, when he walks through those prison gates on Friday, will be walking in alone. Most of his minions are still walking around Bergen County, and active in politics.
Ferriero’s good friend, the man nicknamed “PACMan” by political insiders, Willie Ortiz, an unabashed supporter of Pay to Play tactics, used to form PACs for Joe Ferriero. Some shared Ferriero’s actual business address. They were often fronted by innocuous or progressive-sounding Latino names. Willie Ortiz was then often appointed Borough Attorney in towns where he had just helped Councilmen and Mayors finance their campaigns. This happened in several towns, the most infamous being Hasbrouck Heights.
The Hasbrouck Heights appointment caused quite a stir according to this article in the Bergen Record by Scott Fallon and Joseph Ax on 6/17/07:
In Hasbrouck Heights, the Republican-controlled council approved a stricter [anti-Pay to Play] ordinance in the fall. But a newly elected Democratic majority in January said the law was invalid because a copy had not been delivered to the state in a timely manner. Without the municipal law on the books, the council appointed Wilfredo Ortiz, a Democratic fund-raiser, as borough attorney at an annual salary of $72,930. Ortiz had served as campaign treasurer for three of the council members in the past few years. The council also granted contracts to several firms that had given money to Ortiz-connected political action committees. Those committees had donated funds to the candidates for whom Ortiz was working in 2006 — Anthony DiNanno and Stephen Altobelli. All of the appointments were made through the fair and open process. But Councilwoman Carol Skiba, a Democrat who is independent of the county Democratic organization, said a resolution approving the moves was sent out just hours before the deadline to submit applications — before the council had even received copies of all the resumes.“It was a ‘fair and open’ farce,” she said. “It was a bogus attempt to justify what the county organization and its operatives wanted to force on my community.” Ortiz was treasurer last year for DiNanno and Altobelli, who received $1,000 from Pascack Valley 1st, a PAC that Ortiz operates. The Northern Valley 1st PAC, founded by Ortiz’s law partner, also gave the candidates $5,000. The PACs received a total of $4,500 in 2006 from Lerch, Vinci & Higgins, which was given the borough’s auditing contract. Employees of Maser Consulting, which became the borough’s engineer, gave Northern Valley 1st $10,000 last year, while Campbell Lynch, the new labor attorney firm, gave $2,000 to Pascack Valley 1st.
Now the average voter is aware of just how PACs distort elections and funnel money around. But at the time, it was very much under the radar to most Bergen County voters. At the time, Joe Ferriero was trying to prevent reformer and then Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg from winning Byron Baer’s recently vacated Senate seat in 2005 so Ferriero could install his puppet Ken Zisa to the Senate. Ferriero failed and I was at the election for Loretta’s replacement to the Assembly which was won by Valerie Vaineiri Huttle. That election was tarnished with attempts to disenfranchise reformer County Committee members who had a vote. I was one of them. I shouted loud enough that they let me vote, and I shouted even louder when I witnessed Ferriero’s people pulling every African American CC member from Teaneck and Englewood out of line as well as members from Tenafly to challenge them because they were afraid they would vote for Valerie.
At that time also, in what looked like a favor to Ferriero, a group Willie and his wife were involved in called LADA, which appears to use Latino Democrats in Bergen County as human shields, but was a who’s who list of Ferriero supporters, tried to use a claim of racism to attack Loretta by accusing her of not “appointing” a Latino to her Assembly seat. LADALettertoWeinberg That was quite rich, because at the time, (as discussed above) Ferriero’s minions were trying to take away African American Committee members right to vote in the Committee election for that seat. There were no back room deals to replace Loretta in the Assembly. It was called an election, and Ferriero’s people were trying to steal it and deflect attention away from that fact by falsely accusing Loretta of same. Anyone who knows Loretta at all, will find a charge of racism or bigotry practically hilarious.
Well, history is repeating itself again, as LADA again recently attacked a Democratic Committee Chair with a charge of racism for not supporting Germaine Ortiz for County Freeholder even though it was because of Germaine Ortiz’s very close political ties to Joe Ferriero, who, as I’ve said, reports to prison this week. Committee members still remember vividly, as do I, efforts by Ferriero minions, dubbed Ferriero-crats, to disenfranchise African American members of the committee who supported Loretta, Valerie, and Gordon in District 37.
The biggest complaint I hear from CC members all over the County, from Bogota, to Emerson, to Hasbrouck Heights, to now Westwood, was the way Ferriero and his friends would not always support Democrats and often cut backroom deals with Republicans if it meant being appointed to a Borough Attorney or similar position and if it benefited them personally.
In Emerson, when Municipal Chair Willie Ortiz was given a whole slate of Democrats in Emerson to work with, he dropped out of the race himself and convinced the other two Democratic Council candidates to drop out, and even requested Mayoral candidate Lou Lamatina to drop out as well, nearly leaving the Republicans a complete cake walk. I convinced Lou Lamatina to run anyway without Willie’s help. He did. He walked the entire town three times and won over every vote the hard way. On his own. Despite Willie Ortiz, the Municipal Chair (you had one job, dude!) trying give away four seats in an election, Lou Lamatina won, running alone, with no slate in a Republican town. To my utter disgust, Willie Ortiz, like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise, crowed about Lamatina’s win in a Republican town like actually he had something to do with it. The town didn’t change, the Republican voters simply liked Lou better than the Republican candidate who was tainted by the recent scandal that decimated the Republican committee because both the former Borough Attorney and Republican Municipal Chair were arrested.
Most recently, in Westwood, the Democratic Municipal Committee appears to have been hijacked. Supposedly, a meeting was held, without 7 out of 9 legal incumbent members of the committee, to discuss replacing those 7 members of the committee. One incumbent found out they all had been replaced on the Municipal Democratic Committee line on the primary ballot when they went to file for re-election in the primary and were told that they were thrown off the line. There had been no legal Committee meeting with a legally required quorum to make changes and no changes were legally recorded at the County. Talk about a shadow government. Imagine you are a legally elected Municipal Democratic Committee member, now imagine your own Mayor secretly meeting with the County Party Boss to unilaterally replace your Municipal Chair and fill the ballot without the Committee meeting with a quorum or election. Then imagine a corrupt County Democratic Organization not only accepting said nonsense but colluding with a neighboring municipal Chair (like Willie Ortiz, who was a student of Joe Ferriero’s school of politics), to make it happen. According to my sources, those present at the alleged secret meeting were rumored to be Bergen County Democratic Chair Lou Stellato, Mayor Birkner of Westwood, and Emerson Municipal Chair Willie Ortiz, who does not even live in Westwood. Why you ask? The answer is rumored to be the elevation of Willie’s brother-in-law from Westwood District 2 (and brother of Bergen County Freeholder Candidate Germaine Ortiz), to Westwood Democratic Municipal Chair. Without the consent of or notice to 78% of the Committee he is supposed to chair, with the exception of his mom. Isn’t that sweet?
The shame of it is, Birkner, by refusing to appear with Democrats on any literature or campaign events, caused them to not give him their endorsement last year. A formerly popular Mayor, when news of his alleged treachery to Democrats in Westwood leaks and if it’s true that he would help a protégé of Joe Ferriero, I don’t know how highly folks will think of him. He would drop quite a bit in my estimation, that’s for sure.
The current legal members of the Westwood Municipal Democratic Committee were just informed officially today that Lou Stellato has thrown them off the Bergen County Democratic line. Just like Ferriero used to do to me and the other reform-minded Real Bergen Democrats. If Bergen County Party Boss Lou Stellato wants us to forget the name Joe Ferriero this week, he’s doing a terrible job.
The latest insult is the coronation of Germaine Ortiz by the Bergen County Democratic Committee at their convention, which is causing a lot of reformers in Bergen County a terrible sense of déjà vu all over again. The days of Ferriero are making a comeback even as the man himself heads to prison tomorrow. Should the Bergen County voters choose Willie Ortiz’s wife in November, I hope they realize they just invited her husband, Joe Ferriero’s “PACman”, back into County Government too. That ought to give anyone who is against Pay to Play, a bad case of the willies.