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.
Author Archive: Scott Weingart
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.
|Union City||13%||82%||Brian Stack|
|West New York||15%||79%||Silverio Vega|
|North Bergen||32%||57%||Nick Sacco|
|East Newark||45%||48%||Joseph Smith|
|Jersey City||24%||28%||Jerramiah Healy|
|Hoboken||70%||20%||Dawn Zimmer (acting)|
|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).
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.
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.
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.
White powder scare