Author Archive: Scott Weingart

Depressing trivia item of the day

Since 2004, four men have served the 31st district in the State Assembly. Three of them—Lou Manzo, Anthony Chiappone, and L. Harvey Smith—have been arrested on corruption-related charges this summer. The fourth? Charlie Epps, the slimy superintendent of Jersey City schools who has been criticized for pension-padding, shady hiring practices, and taking an expensive junket to London on the taxpayer’s dime.

Political Machines and Glass Ceilings

Latinos represent one of the fastest-growing segments of New Jersey’s population, and nowhere in New Jersey do they represent a greater share of the population than Hudson County. Yet relatively few major political officeholders in the county are Hispanic.

Curiously, Latinos are particularly underrepresented at the local level. Of the county’s twelve mayors, just one are Hispanic. Three of the county’s four majority-Hispanic municipalities have a white, non-Hispanic mayor. In total, somewhere between a quarter and a third of the other local local officeholders in the county are Hispanic.

Municipality White non-
Hispanic
Hispanic/
Latino
Mayor
Union City 13% 82% Brian Stack
West New York 15% 79% Silverio Vega
North Bergen 32% 57% Nick Sacco
Guttenberg 32% 54% Gerald Drasheff
East Newark 45% 48% Joseph Smith
Weehawken 50% 41% Richard Turner
Harrison 47% 37% Raymond McDonough
Jersey City 24% 28% Jerramiah Healy
Kearny 60% 27% Albert Santos
Hoboken 70% 20% Dawn Zimmer (acting)
Bayonne 70% 18% Mark Smith
Secaucus 70% 12% John Reilly (acting)

Latinos are similarly underrepresented in Hudson County’s state legislative delegation. Only twothree of the county’s nine state legislators, the two Assemblymen from the 32nd district, are Hispanic (again in bold; African-Americans are in italics).

District White non-
Hispanic
Black Hispanic/
Latino
Senator Assembly Members
LD-31 34% 28% 22% Cunningham Chiappone (busted)
Smith (busted)
LD-32 42% 5% 40% Sacco Prieto
Quigley
LD-33 31% 3% 58% Stack Ramos
Rodriguez
Total 36% 12% 40% 2 white
1 black
3 white
2 hispanic
1 black

Latinos fare somwheat better in county government, where they hold three of nine freeholder seats and the position of sheriff. On the federal level, Albio Sires represents most of the county in the US House, and his predecessor in that district, Bob Menendez, is one of the state’s two US Senators; both Sires and Menendez are Cuban. Still, less than one-third of elected officials from the County are Hispanic.

Latinos are not the only underrepresented group in Hudson County politics. Women are even scarcer among public officeholders than Latinos, even though they cast a majority of the votes in every election. Just two elected officials in Hudson County government and two of the county’s state legislators are women.A woman has never been elected mayor in a Hudson County municipality, and no woman even served as one until Dawn Zimmer was sworn in as Mayor of Hoboken following the resignation of Peter Cammarano earlier this month. Just 30% of all local officeholders in Hudson County are women, and only in Kearny do they hold a majority in local government.

Nowhere is the glass ceiling so shatter-resistant as in majority-Hispanic North Bergen and Union City, the political fiefdoms of the Hudson County’s two Senator-Mayors. Both are Walsh Act municipalities, and thus they are each governed by a five-member commission which elects a mayor each year. The “mayor” merely chairs the commission; he has no more executive power than the other four commissioners. In many Walsh Act (and Township form) municipalities, commissioners (alternatively, township committee members) will usually allow the title of mayor to rotate between members of the majority party from year to year. Yet in North Bergen and Union City, Nick Sacco and Brian Stack have hoarded the mayoralty for themselves for 18 and 9 years respectively. While the title of mayor isn’t necessary for either Sacco and Stack to continue manipulating the levers of power, it undoubtedly helps each maintain and maximize control over his town. There are women and Latinos on both commissions who are capable of chairing a commission meeting, but they stand little hope of becoming mayor as long as Sacco and Stack are around. Machine politics in Hudson County no doubt includes women and minorities in the process, but positions of leadership largely remain the domain of white men.

Grandstanding

Yesterday, Chris Christie rolled out his ethics platform at a campaign event in Paramus. While many of the ideas Christie proposes are good ones, in particular a full ban on dual officeholding and a statewide pay-to-play ban that would apply to local as well as state government, none of them are particularly new. Perhaps that’s why Christie decided to take a shot at Jon Corzine during the event, accusing the governor of “grandstanding” for speaking out against mayors who were rounded up in the recent corruption sting. Christie would know something about grandstanding, given that he spent the previous afternoon courting the support of a powerful Hudson County political boss who has fought against every plank of Christie’s ethics platform. Oh, the HypoChristie!

Tuesday afternoon, Christie walked around Union City shaking hands with voters and posing for pictures with Mayor-cum-State Senator Brian Stack, a Democrat who has not yet endorsed a candidate for governor. Christie hopes he can win the support of Stack’s powerful Union City political machine, or at least convince Stack not to mobilize support for Governor Corzine in November. While Stack hasn’t yet been charged with any corruption-related offenses, he perhaps better than anyone else embodies the systemic problems with government in New Jersey. In 2007, Stack was able to move up from the Assembly to the Senate despite a recently-passed dual-officeholding ban, because the law contained a grandfather clause specifically crafted to let him make the jump. In the last three years, Stack and his political action committee, Union City First, have accepted nearly $140,000 in contributions from businesses that have contracts worth a total of some $27 million with city or regional government entities.The Record recently reported that Stack’s PAC took $4,000 from an FBI undercover company linked with Solomon Dwek.

This isn’t the first time during the campaign that Christie has palled around with a dual-officeholder. In April, he attended a fundraiser for Ocean County Clerk Carl Block’s mayoral re-election campaign in Stafford. Block lost his local office, despite Christie’s help.


The Glass House Express stops in Union City en route to Christie’s ethics speech in Paramus. Grandstanding? It’s OK if you’re a Republican. Dual officeholding? It’s OK if you’re a Republican—or a Democrat thinking of endorsing one.

Stacking his Chips

Christie’s appearance gave Stack the opportunity to assume an air of integrity following news that his Political Action Committee, Union City First, took a $4,000 check from a “federal undercover company”. If he was involved in any criminal behavior, Stack argued, former US Attorney Christie would probably know about it and avoid appearing with the Senator. By appearing with Christie, Stack was able to change the story from his possible involvement in the king of all corruption scandals to the possibility that Union City’s Senator could be a Gubernatorial kingmaker.

Stack, perhaps the most powerful man in Hudson County politics, has not yet endorsed a candidate for governor. Hudson County was Corzine’s strongest in 2005 and he will need to carry it heavily this November if he wants to win. Corzine understands that the help of Stack’s Union City machine could mean several thousand votes in November.

Weekend News Roundup & Open Thread for August 1-2, 2009

Corruption

  • Peter Cammarano resigned as Hoboken Mayor.
  • Republican Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt also resigned on Friday.
  • State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack took a $4,000 campaign contribution from “an FBI undercover company” in August of 2007.
  • Education

  • Some 200 school districts in New Jersey are seeking federal stimulus money to fund special needs programs.
  • Newark

  • Newark is still the largest city in the state, according to the latest census population estimates.
  • Ridgefield

  • The state may take over the administration of Ridgefield Borough after Comptroller Matthew Boxer completes an investigation ordered by Governor Corzine.
  • Weather

  • Storms on Friday knocked out power to more than 60,000 people across the state. Some 8,000 people are still without power.
  • The summer has been among the wettest in recorded history in New Jersey.
  • Gypsy moths

  • Gypsy moths destroyed substantially less foliage this year, thanks to the rainy weather.
  • The Shore

  • The bridge between Ocean City and Somers Point has been closed for repairs.
  • News Roundup & Open Thread for Friday, July 31, 200

    Campaign roundup

  • Loretta Weinberg hits Chris Christie over the Salkind plea bargain, while Christie and his former spokesman claim that the former US Attorney had no idea what was going on within his own office.
  • Christie concedes that Jon Corzine is an “ethical and honest man,” which is more than we can say about him.
  • Christie returned $3,400 in campaign contributions from recently arrested Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt.
  • Democratic South Amboy Mayor John O’Leary will wait a few weeks before deciding whether or not to give up his bid for Assembly.
  • Corruption

  • Nineteen of the 44 arrested last Thursday could still receive state pensions and health benefits, even if they are convicted.
  • Prosecutors are reportedly trying to convince some of those arrested last week to turn state’s evidence.
  • Hoboken

  • Peter Cammarano will resign his position as Mayor of Hoboken today.
  • City Council President Dawn Zimmer will step in as acting mayor upon Cammarano’s resignation, and a special election to fill the office for the rest of the term will be held in November.
  • Taxes

  • Wine and liquor taxes will increase by 25% on Saturday.
  • Weather

  • Another tornado hit New Jersey yesterday, and this one did some serious damage.
  • Flash flooding continues to affect parts of the state.
  • Montvale

  • A local budget squeeze means Montvale Borough employees must kiss free coffee goodbye.
  • News Roundup & Open Thread for Thursday, July 30, 2009

    Christie’s skeletons

  • Developer Samuel Yarosh has filed a lawsuit alleging that Chris Christie let one of John Ingelsino’s friends get off easy on charges of tax fraud.
  • Democratic lawmakers want federal and state officials to investigate allegations by GOP Assemblyman Richard Merkt that Chris Christie tried to bribe him out of the Governor’s race.
  • Green energy

  • The Board of Public Utilities approved a plan to install solar panels on telephone poles that will double the state’s solar power generation capacity.
  • Corruption investigation

  • Solomon Dwek, the key cooperating witness in the recent corruption sweep, made more than $200,000 in political contributions to politicians across the state.
  • The investigation apparently isn’t over yet, and more politicians may be arrested in the coming weeks and months.
  • Assembylman John Wisniewski says he was offered him a bribe by a fellow Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, which Wisniewski declined.
  • Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts has suspended salaries and benefits to the three Assemblymen who are charged with corruption-related offenses.
  • The only people who seem to want Republican Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt to stick around are his Democratic opponents.
  • Jersey City

  • The Jersey City council voted down a no-confidence resolution for Council President Mariano Vega, who was one of those arrested last week.
  • Education

  • Ramapo College is increasing tuition and fees by 12%.
  • Judiciary

  • The State Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot waive Miranda rights without a lawyer present.
  • Weather

  • A tornado may have touched down in Sussex County yesterday, as much of the state was pounded by severe thunderstorms.
  • The Shore

  • Beach closures due to pollution increased in 2008, thanks largely to the Pennsylvania dentist who unloaded heaps of medical waste in Cape May County waters.
  • News Roundup & Open Thread for Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Campaign roundup

  • Assemblyman John Wisniewski wants his running mate, John O’Leary, to step aside in light of possible ongoing state and federal investigations into his insurance business.
  • Corruption

  • Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell is the first of the elected officials rounded up in the federal corruption sting to resign.
  • Meanwhile, in Hoboken, Mayor Peter Cammarano is stubbornly refusing to step down.
  • Jack Shaw, a Hudson County political consultant who was arrested last Thursday, was found dead in his apartment yesterday.
  • Ethics reform

  • The recent spate of arrests has brought attention to the state’s feeble ethics oversight and election law enforement mechanisms.
  • For Republicans, the sorry state of New Jersey’s ethics laws has become an obvious campaign issue.
  • Homestead rebates

  • New Jerseyans making less than $75,000 a year will receive Homestead Rebate applications in the mail over the next few days.
  • Merrill Lynch

  • The state is suing Merrill Lynch for misleading the state into bying $300 million in preferred stock.
  • Food

  • Farmers markets across the state attract consumers looking for fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • The arts

  • Arts organizations are seeing state grants evaporate.
  • Camden

  • Camden will require new applicants for jobs in the police and fire departments have lived in the city for at least three years.
  • News Roundup & Open Thread for Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Campaign roundup

  • Chris Daggett has picked Kean University administrator Frank Esposito to be his running mate.
  • Corzine’s LG pick receives applause from a Democrat who had previously been reluctant to support the Governor.
  • Corruption

  • Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez and Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano have lawyered up and refuse to resign, despite calls from party leaders to step down.
  • Daniel Van Pelt, a Republican Assemblyman arrested in last Thursday’s FBI sweep, is already facing a lawsuit alleging he abused the powers of his office.
  • Economic stimulus

  • Governor Corzine signed the state economic stimulus bill yesterday.
  • Joe Biden

  • Joe Biden is moving a planned press conference from Pennsauken to Philadelphia.
  • Transportation

  • An economic stimulus-funded project to replace a bridge on I-80 in Roxbury will begin on Wednesday.

    Housing

  • New home sales rose sharply in the Northeast last month.
  • Paterson

  • The city of Paterson is laying off 59 police officers.
  • White powder scare

  • The FBI is investigating 11 letters sent to govenrment offices which were stuffed with an unknown but apparently harmless white powder.
  • News Roundup & Open Thread for Monday, July 27, 2009

    Campaign roundup

  • Jon Corzine and Loretta Weinberg hit the campaign trail.
  • Gun Control

  • Governor Corzine wants stricter gun control laws, which his opponent, Chris Christie, is against.
  • DYFS

  • DYFS will no longer release reports for each child who dies from abuse or neglect while under the agency’s supervision.
  • Transportation

  • The state will ask a judge to dismiss a lawsuit which aims to block widening of the Garden State Parkway.
  • Weather

  • Severe storms pounded parts of New Jersey last night, knocking out power for more than 24,000 people.
  • At one point, a tornado warning was issued for parts of Middlesex, Somerset and Morris Counties.
  • Economy

  • Private golf clubs are finding it difficult to keep paying the bills during the recession.
  • The Shore

  • Beaches in Atlantic and Cape May counties cope with mussels and clam worms.
  • Princeton

  • Princeton had another gun scare yesterday.
  • Shaq

  • Shaquille O’Neal challenges a New Jersey resident to a game of horse.