Archive

Good Luck!

Today begins the effort to heal Trenton. I wish Mayor Eric Jackson, members of City Council, and all of the current and future municipal employees and appointees of the new Administration nothing but good will and good luck as they begin today to – hopefully – reverse not just four years of mendacity and disaster, but several decades of drift and decay. Their success will be our success, and their failure will be our failure. How, then, can we hope for anything but good fortune? We would be fools.

At least one voice has been raised to suggest that there are such fools in this city, describing the presence of “detractors [who] hope for monumental or minuscule missteps. Or even failure.” Where there is one person saying these things, there are likely others with the same thoughts unspoken.

What a sad, angry and confused sentiment! “Hope for failure?” What could possibly be the benefit of that? Nothing but infinitely more grief, that’s what.

No one living in this city today, who has lived through the last several years, could sanely want to see anything but improvement in the city. Neither the Mayor nor Council may be the people we preferred, but that’s how elections work. The voters have spoken, at least the ones who showed up to vote.

The new Administration and Council have the support and best wishes of every Trentonian who truly wants the city to prosper. That includes me.

Future successes will surely be acknowledged and applauded, in the hope that they increase in number. However, be certain that problems, too, will surely be acknowledged, in the hope that they be few in number, and quickly contained with minimal damage.

We have the sad example of the last four years to show us the folly of failing to appreciate that, as circumstance warrants, both support and criticism of their government – from Day One – are essential for engaged citizens.  Our public officials deserve no less.

Today does represent a new act for Trenton, of a play already well under way. Mayor Jackson and our Council members will hear both cheers and jeers for their actions, as each are earned. I wish them, and all of Us, Good Luck.

NJ's Long Con - A Peril to Trenton's New Administration

The Trenton Times has a good editorial today. Titled “N.J. $82M[illion] incentive to bring 76er practice facility to Camden is purely for show,” the piece uses the specific example of the aforementioned incentive granted to the Philadelphia 76er basketball team over the next 10 years to make a larger point about the worrisome trend over the last several years of massively increased subsidies and incentives paid to NJ companies in order to keep them in New Jersey:

[C]oaxing the team across the Ben Franklin Bridge showed New Jersey has what it takes to do attract a marquee sports name and its billionaire owner.

What it takes is simply money, and the state has spent far too much placating businesses that threaten to leave the state. Since 2010, New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority has awarded 252 companies more than $4 billion in subsidies — tax breaks and credits. That’s more than triple the amount awarded over the previous 13 years.

That expensive and preferential treatment extended to approximately 1 percent of corporations in the state is not paying off as well as it should. A study by the think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) finds the policy to be largely unsuccessful in boosting the state’s economy with the value of a job tied to a subsidy award rising to $48,000, “leaving companies on the hook for far fewer jobs on a per-dollar basis than ever before.”

The report to which the Times refers, prepared by New Jersey Policy Perspective, provides a great deal of information about the explosive growth of the state’s tax incentives and subsidies over the last several years under the Christie Administration. In the decade of the 2000s, the value of incentives granted to corporations totaled about $1.2 Billion. In the current decade, that figure is up to $4 Billion so far, and that’s for barely more than 4 years!

This total represents tax revenue lost to the state, contributing greatly to the budget crisis the state is experiencing. To make up, in great measure, for the tax giveaways to a mere 1% of the state’s companies, the Christie Administration has resorted to deep cuts in the state’s budget such as the huge reduction announced last month in the state’s pension payments for public employees.

As bad as the budget squeeze has been, this massive tax giveaway isn’t even benefiting NJ. According to NJPP, the state’s economy is still a basket case:

The unprecedented growth in subsidies, however, has so far done little to significantly improve the state’s economy. Four and a half years into the surge, New Jersey’s economic recovery remains far behind that of its neighboring states and the nation. Just 40 percent of the jobs New Jersey lost in the recession have been recovered (including only 48 percent of private-sector jobs); the state has the highest share of workers who have been unemployed for more than six months; and New Jersey continues to lead the nation in the percentage of homeowners (one in twelve) who are in foreclosure.

The NJPP paper points an accusatory finger at the “Economic Opportunity Act of 2013,” passed by the Legislature last year and signed by the Governor, as a major culprit  in its words of  ”opening the floodgates” of NJ subsidies:

[T]he law dramatically expanded the reach of New Jersey’s subsidy programs, increased the total subsidy amount any one company could receive, created more generous award amounts than the old programs provided for comparable projects and removed most caps on the subsidies (a $600 million cap is in place on residential redevelopment projects, but none exists for jobs-related subsidies or commercial redevelopment projects).

This major critique of the state’s incentives is bad news, then. What’s the Trenton angle?

First off, historically when New Jersey gets a cold, Trenton catches pneumonia. Anything which negatively impacts the state as a whole will hurt Trenton even more. The City’s economy is much more fragile than the state as a whole, and dependent on state aid to balance its books and provide needed services. When NJPP says “the state has the highest share of workers who have been unemployed for more than six months,” you know that the percentage of Trenton’s citizens is much, much higher than the rest of Jersey.

Even harsher, though, is the direct impact of the “Economic Opportunity Act of 2013.” The proponents of this legislation made a lot of claims about the great benefits of this law, claims that now look more than a little hollow. However, for Trenton and a handful of other towns around the state, the law was guaranteed to have a negative impact on the finances of this town.

Readers of this space will recall that I talked about this impact a few times several months ago. I quoted the official analysis prepared for the Legislature by the NJ Office of Legislative Services that explicitly stated the program “will result in significantly reduced property tax revenues” [Emphasis mine - KM] for Trenton and a handful of other towns, as the City will lose the benefit of local tax revenue from major new commercial development financed from these programs for most of 20 years!

So, to recap. A policy of massive tax gifts and subsidies to corporations that was supposed to boost the fortunes of the state is not helping, as New Jersey badly lags behind the rest of the country in economic recovery.

And this policy is also designed to lose Trenton money. for years to come.

I mention this because our City Council unanimously signed on to this program in December of 2013. Several members of Council expressed serious misgivings then on participating in a program that even at the time looked to be of dubious value to the people and fortunes of this City. This needs to be close to the top of the City’s agenda going forward for the next several years. Unless there are revisions to the terms of the City’s participation in the programs established in the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, we could be victimized yet again.

In the 1990’s and 2000’s Trenton saw a number of big programs and property developments that were supposed to boost the City. But after decades of things like Regional Contribution Agreements, Arenas, Hotels and Stadiums, we can see how all those turned out.

Many of the same individuals who at the time promised many great things for Trenton from these very things – including Doug Palmer, Robert Prunetti and Brian Hughes – are reported to be advising the incoming Jackson Administration during its transition into office next month. Their counsel frankly might not be the best to warn us away from the perils facing Trenton from this new program, based on past experience.

And with corporate beneficiaries of this program such as Robert Torricelli’s Woodrose Associates on board as campaign contributors and supporters of Mayor-elect Eric Jackson, there are more than enough players involved who might distract distract the City and its leaders from the best interests of Trenton’s citizens and taxpayers.

The Trenton Times and NJPP tell us today that the State is spending Billions of Taxpayer dollars on corporate giveaways of dubious economic value to the State as a whole. For Trenton, these giveaways might be little more than a long confidence game from the State, offering us more of the same snake oil we’ve been sold for decades, contributing to the City’s ongoing misery.

Paul Perez Interview, Part 3 of 3

Here is the final installment of my interview on June 4 with Paul Perez.

In this segment, Mr. Perez talks about his campaign, including the endorsement given to him by former Trenton School Board President Toby Sanders, about which I wrote on April 6, who is married to Paul Perez’s niece. That, and other family connections, are discussed.

Part 2, Paul Perez Interview

Here is Part 2, of 3.

Paul Perez Interview, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, after the May 13 election, I extended an invitation to both Eric Jackson and Paul Perez to each sit with me for an interview about the state of their campaigns and some of the issues facing the City of Trenton.

Through a campaign spokesperson, Mr. Jackson declined the opportunity for an interview, much as he has also declined any opportunity to meet with Mr. Perez for any joint debates before next Tuesday’s election.

Mr. Perrez accepted, and last night he met me at my house for an interview. Part 1 is below. I anticipate there will be two more segments, which will be available over the next couple of days.

Chilling About ICE

The full text of Trenton City Council Resolution #14-300, authorizing final payment in the amount of $52,918.49 to the Long Marmero and Associates LLP law firm is available. Council is scheduled to consider the matter at its meeting this evening.

According to the text of the resolution, the legal services provided to Trenton by Long Marmero covers a period from July 1, 2013 through December 12, 2013. According to those dates, there seems to be no obvious conflict with Trenton’s Pay-to-Play Ordinance involving a contribution of $8,200 made by a Political Action Committee (PAC) closely associated with the firm to the mayoral campaign of Eric Jackson on February 25 of this year, as I discussed a few days ago.

However, without knowing more about the Initiate Civic Empowerment PAC (also known as “ICE PAC”), it’s difficult to make any more authoritative statements about this PAC and its contributions. The sources of funding for the Committee are still unknown as of this morning, as are the recipients of any contributions from ICE PAC other than Mr. Jackson’s campaign. ICE PAC has failed to file any quarterly financial reports to the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) since the Committee first filed a Registration Statement with the Commission in July 2012. So a clear picture of the scope and range of the activities of “Initiate Civic Empowerment” is not available for examination in the way that other, similar groups who comply with NJ law are.

By the act of its February contribution to Mr. Jackson, Long Marmero may not be able to accept new business with the City of Trenton for some time to come. But it appears based on the language of the Resolution that Council will consider this evening, if there is to be any fallout from its donation 4 months ago it will likely be ICE PAC and its officers, a name partner and an employee of Long Marmero who will have to deal with it, not Mr. Jackson.

Campaign financing in New Jersey is often a very murky and messy affair.  It gets even murkier when participants in some of the more colorful and vivid events attempt to rewrite history, as a column in today’s Trentonian by LA Parker reminds us.

Cooper Levenson is the Atlantic City law firm that had a $50,000 contract for legal services with the city from 2010 to 2011. Prior to that contract, the firm had made a $7,200 donation on behalf of Tony Mack’s 2010 campaign to another local PAC, Partners for Progress. That PAC forwarded the money directly to Mack’s campaign, which became an issue with Trenton’s Pay-to-Play law.

According to a conversation between Mr. Parker and Lloyd Levenson, a name partner of the firm who also served as the Chairman of Mack’s inaugural ball committee, the firm sensed that “Circumstances pointed toward a mess and Levenson, chairman of his firm’s casino department, knew a not so promising hand had flopped. His firm checked out.” And later in Parker’s tale, “Cooper Levenson rescinded the contract as Mack moved on to criminal complications.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

I suppose it is nice for a guy like Mr. Levenson to tell the tale in a way that allows a little luster for his firm. As it happened, back in 2011, the Cooper Levenson firm did indeed withdraw from its contract with the City, on February 8. But that was a full week after the City of Trenton’s then-City Attorney MarcMcKithen voided the contract, first, on February 1.

It’s pretty well accepted to say that you broke up with your girlfriend a week after she dumped you. It’s ok to try and save face and retain a little dignity, I suppose. As long as everyone remembers what actually happened.

Was I perhaps a little hasty to suggest that the ICE PAC contribution to Mr. Jackson’s campaign, which I had first written about in April, might have violated the city’s law? Perhaps. As discussed above, there are still a lot of questions about the PAC and its activities, but they are not likely to affect Jackson.  Mr. Jackson’s campaign had a demonstrated series of other finance and reporting missteps in this campaign and his 2010 effort that put the ICE PAC donation in a suspect light, for me.

I’m not entirely convinced to put a Good Housekeeping seal on this transaction, but I don’t think any unanswered questions should hold up any Council action tonight to authorize the final payment to Long Marmero, nor do I think Mr. Jackson should return the ICE PAC contribution.

More Pay-to-Play Woes for Eric Jackson

This morning, the Trenton Times has once more given its opinion page to mayoral candidate Eric Jackson, who tells us that “Our city deserves better than the rampant crime, corruption and ethical mismanagement we have seen over the last several years.”

I could not agree more, but I question whether Mr. Jackson is the right person to deliver that message, and the right person to be Trenton’s next mayor. Mr. Jackson’s campaign has over the last several months through several actions and inactions raised several questions about the sources and accounting of his contributions and expenses. Unfortunately for him, one week from the runoff election there is strong indication that he may be involved in yet another violation of Trenton’s municipal “Pay-to-Play” ordinance.

In February of this year, Jackson’s campaign came under scrutiny after the local press reported that   it had accepted several donations that were in violation of both New Jersey regulations as well as Trenton’s municipal Pay-to-Play ordinance, which forbids current and prospective vendors of professional services from contributing to municipal candidates. As a result of those reports, in early March campaign attorney “[David] Minchello said the Jackson campaign has returned two contributions totaling $850 from city contractor McManimon, Scotland and Bauman, as a result of a dispute whether the donation was in violation of the city’s pay to play law. The contractor maintains that the donation was legitimate, but Minchello said the check was sent back to the city’s bond counsel today to ‘alleviate even the appearance of impropriety.’”

Mr. Jackson’s campaign now has another apparent problem with Trenton’s Pay-to-Play Ordinance. This time it is a much larger problem concerning a donation of $8,200 from an entity that is closely associated with a South Jersey law firm under current contract to provide legal services to the City of Trenton.

This space reported on April 23 that among contributors to Eric Jackson’s campaign is a Political Action Committee (PAC) called “Initiate  Civic Empowerment,” also known as “ICE PAC.” In a document filed with the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) in 2012, two individuals are listed as the Chair and Treasurer for this group. As their address on the ELEC form, both individuals use the location of the law firm Long Marmero & Associates LLP.  The ICE PAC Treasurer is a name partner of the firm, Albert Marmero.

In a report filed with the State Election Law Enforcement Commission covering activity in the first quarter of 2014, the Jackson campaign reported a contribution from ICE PAC on February 25 of this year in the amount of $8,200, the maximum amount allowed under State law from a PAC.

Long Marmero is currently under contract with the City of Trenton as one of the several law firms the City hires for its legal work. A resolution on the Agenda for this Thursday’s City Council session, Number 14-300, will authorize a final payment on their existing contract with the City for “providing professional legal services regarding general municipal and defense litigation matters.”

It seems to me that we have a situation here in violation of the City’s Pay-to-Play Ordinance, which forbids any business entity, or principal associated with that entity providing services to  the City from making campaign contributions to candidates for elected office in Trenton. That includes Mr. Jackson.

ICE PAC also seems to be in violation of ELEC rules. Since 2012, the PAC has failed to file any of the mandatory quarterly reports of its activities to the Commission. It is impossible, therefore,  to know what the source of the PAC’s funds might be, other than the Long Marmero law firm itself and/or its partners.

As of today, then, we are left knowing only that the Treasurer of a group that contributed $8,200 to Eric Jackson’s campaign is a name partner of a law firm under contract to the City of Trenton, and that the group’s Chair is also an employee of the firm.

Remember, back in 2011 then-City Attorney Marc McKithen canceled a contract that the Cooper Levenson law firm had with the City for legal services, after it was determined that a $7500 payment from a local PAC to former mayor Tony Mack’s campaign had in fact come from the law firm. In that case, there were no personal connections that Cooper Levenson had with the management of the “Partners for Progress” PAC of the sort that we see with ICE PAC.

As City Attorney McKithen found Cooper Levenson in violation of our Pay-to-Play law in 2011, Long Marmeo is also likely to so found.  Until the relationship between Long Marmero and ICE PAC is clarified, and the roles of Albert Marmero in both entities explained, City Council should pull the final contract payment to the law firm from its Thursday agenda, and Mr. Jackson should immediately return the $8,200 ICE PAC donation.

This is only the latest instance of a long series of questions raised about Mr. Jackson’s campaign and personal financial history that he has not yet managed to satisfactorily put to rest.

Over the last few months, I have raised several questions about Mr. Jackson’s less-than-full compliance with City and State campaign finance rules and regulations. I noted in March that Jackson had failed, up to that time, to properly and legally close out his prior 2010 campaign, nearly four years earlier. This observation was picked up by then-candidate Jim Golden in a press conference, as well as being reported on PolitickerNJ, and resulted in Jackson filing all of his overdue 2010 reports just one day after Golden’s press conference and the Politicker article.

Jackson didn’t really give any reason for the extreme delay in filing the reports, other than telling The Trentonian, “My mind was other places losing. You’re despondent… We did file the amended report and they got filed to ELEC late. I take full responsibility for that.”

It’s not as if Mr. Jackson wasn’t aware of his ELEC obligations. In an email sent to me in April 2013, Jim Carlucci wrote of a meeting he had with the candidate in which the subject of the tardy reports came up. Mr. Jackson acknowledged the problem, and said he and his campaign-treasurer sister were working on catching up on the reports. From April 2013 to April 2014, there was no activity, no filings, until the matter was brought up as a campaign issue by a rival. Why? We don’t know.

In my April 22 post I described other transactions of interest, including contributions to Jackson from former US Senator and local Trenton developer Robert Torricelli that exceed the maximum dollar amount allowable, another ELEC violation.

And last month another former mayoral candidate, Walker Worthy, introduced Jackson’s personal financial history as a campaign issue. In a press conference on April 20, Mr. Worthy recited a Jackson history that included “a bankruptcy filing, a foreclosure, state tax liens and a judgment for a debt to his college alma mater.”

Raising these issues apparently didn’t hurt Mr. Jackson’s campaign for the May election very much, since he finished first in a field of six, earning 30% of the vote. And raising these questions about Mr. Jackson didn’t do enough to boost Worthy and Golden, who finished third and fourth, respectively. Eric Jackson may very well be on his way to becoming Trenton’s next Mayor.

But for me, and surely for many other voters as well, it is very disturbing that this close to the run off – in the final week of this campaign – new and serious questions are still popping up about Eric Jackson’s campaign finances.

It’s troubling to me that it took him four years to close his 2010 campaign, and it’s a concern that his only explanation for that lapse was being “despondent” over losing.

It’s troubling to me that Mr. Jackson failed to voluntarily disclose his personal financial history. Especially during an election to replace a man whose desperate personal finances seriously compromised his entire term in office even before it began, and whose end we know all too well!

It’s troubling to me that his campaign finances this year are so shoddy and careless as to accept contributions in excess of the maximum allowable under state rules, as well as accept contributions that now represent multiple violations of Trenton’s Pay-to-Play law.

What I said a month ago is more valid than when it was written:

These latest campaign finance slip-ups come right after several weeks during which Mr. Jackson’s campaign has had to play catch-up ball with its reporting lapses for the 2010 campaign as well as this year’s pay-to-play problem. It appears that Jackson’s campaign is not getting its act together as the campaign has proceeded.

When viewed along with the disclosures made by Mr. Worthy about the candidate’s personal financial history, this portrait of Mr. Jackson as perhaps not the most buttoned-up person to take on Trenton’s money troubles has to be seen by voters as very troubling.

We went down this road four years ago with the last guy. Do we really want to do this again?

Me, I sure as hell don’t want to go down this road again!

I strongly agree with Mr. Jackson’s call to action this morning, when he says “we must clean up city hall by rooting out all vestiges of corruption from municipal government, restoring ethics and challenging residents to take more responsibility for our community.”

I simply do not believe, due to his many mistakes, lapses of judgment and unanswered questions  that Eric Jackson is the man to do that. However, barring any truly calamitous turn of events in the last week, Mr. Jackson is likely to be elected Trenton’s next mayor.

“Down this road again” seems to be where surely we are bound. Unfortunately.

Coasting

Would you be ready to marry someone after a courtship consisting of only a half-dozen speed-dates? I wouldn’t!

Yet, Trenton mayoral candidate Eric Jackson is ready to call the caterer and get measured for his tux. He’s done debating opponents for this current election, and thinks he’s done all he has to in order to tie the knot with the City of Trenton. He will still graciously deign to allow individual audiences:

“Paul Perez and I have participated in joint forums and question and answer sessions six times during the course of this campaign — far more than is typical during mayoral races,” Jackson explained in a statement. “In the last 10 days before the election, my priority is to talk to members of our community individually about my plan to reduce crime, improve schools, create jobs and restore ethics to City Hall.”

He apparently believes that there is a quota for such appearances, and that he’s reached it.  His campaign must believe – with some justification, it has to be said – that he is a strong favorite to win the June 10 runoff election against Paul Perez, and that at this point any further public debates or forums can only provide opportunities to make public mistakes. Better that he limits any further appearances to “individual” papal-type audiences, where he can tailor his message to each person he speaks with, and can be less concerned with communicating a consistent and coherent public message that he would be held accountable for.

His campaign strategy seems to be geared toward mistake avoidance, just planning on coasting from now until June 10. This lack of activity extends to his campaign website and Twitter feed. The candidate has messaged only twice since May 13’s election, once to announce recent endorsements and once to observe the passing of Maya Angelou. This seems to me to be a “Rose Garden strategy” for someone who isn’t even an incumbent!

To me, Mr. Jackson misses two important considerations. First, in his recitation of the six sessions in which he has already participated this election season – “far more than is typical during mayoral races,” in his words – he neglects to note that all that campaigning resulted in a voter turnout of only 26.93% of registered Trenton voters. The runoff is likely to bring out a number smaller than that.

Mr. Jackson is OK with that? In his position I think I’d want to campaign harder and more publicly in order to get the vote out, to engage more voters to show up at the polls. If the June 10 turnout is anything like this month’s, then the new Mayor of Trenton will be elected with only something like 14% or 15% of Trenton’s voters. It will be hard to govern like that. The new guy will find it difficult to claim any kind of mandate, or to be treated seriously by anyone with the State or New Jersey with pitiful election numbers like that. But apparently that’s not bothering Mr. Jackson. He’s content with the effort he’s made so far, figuring that should be just enough to get him over the top.

A second relevant factor to look at is the example of how Kathy McBride fared at the polls a few weeks ago. Her campaign strategy specifically avoided appearances at public candidate forums, because as reported in the Trenton Times, “she also has declined to participate in the forums because the people who will pull the lever for her do not attend candidate forums. She said she is pulling her support from the people in the community who know her personally and have seen her around.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

A candidate or his campaign manager shouldn’t have to ponder very long about how well that kind of strategy paid off. McBride’s deliberate choice to avoid candidate forums had to have contributed to her sixth-place finish out of the field of six.  Jackson’s stance of disengagement from further public debate is a poor choice to have made.

His new emphasis on individual meetings with voters hearkens back to another recent example that I doubt Mr. Jackson wants to be associated with, but it is inevitable.

Remember that long ago time in the Fall of 2012 when He Who Will Not Be Named embarked on a series of weekly “Ask the Mayor” sessions? Remember how, after only three of those meetings – held in a City Hall conference room and open to the press and all citizens – abruptly ended after the fourth scheduled event “erupted in protest this morning and drew police involvement after Mack barred the press and unexpectedly required residents with questions to meet with him one-on-one ?”

I’m sure Tony Mack also figured that individual meetings were a better venue to talk about HIS plan to “reduce crime, improve schools, create jobs and restore ethics to City Hall!”

Are these associations with Kathy McBride and Tony Mack the kinds of examples that Mr. Jackson really wants for his campaign? I can’t think of any possible reason why, but they are inescapable after this latest announcement.

He really should re-consider his decision to avoid further debates and public joint appearances with Mr. Perez.

Follow the Money

The stage is set for Trenton’s mayoral runoff on June 10. In Tuesday’s election, Eric Jackson (as generally expected) and Paul Perez (as generally unexpected) topped the field of six candidates. These two candidates claimed a little under 52% of the vote, while the remaining 4 shared the remaining 48%.

The results were pretty definitive, although the poor turnout – only 26.1% of the voters bothered to cast their ballot – can hardly be used by the winners to claim much of a mandate. Should the June runoff election see a similar turnout (as June 2010’s runoff  did) it is conceivable that our new mayor will be elected by a little over 13% of Trenton’s registered voters. Is this Democracy? Trenton style, I suppose.

The closing weeks of the election saw a great deal of mud being thrown against candidates. An incident two weekends ago, in which members of Eric Jackson’s campaign alleged a charge of assault against Paul Perez, threatened to run Perez’s campaign off the rails. Apparently, this was not the case, as Mr. Perez came in second by a very convincing margin. It remains to be seen, though, if reverberations from this controversy sparked on May 3 will continue to ripple to the runoff. We’ll see.

Another issue raised in the final weeks of the campaign likely did cause one candidate serious damage. News of an outside Political Action Committee (PAC) that independently paid for a direct mail and billboard campaign that specifically attacked Eric Jackson boomeranged on 4th place finisher James Golden. Golden was hurt by news that the principal funder of the “Better Education for Kids” PAC, David Tepper, had also made a direct donation to the joint campaign committee supporting Golden and his City Council slate. Further, published reports connect this PAC to support of Governor Chris Christie and the effort to further the growth of taxpayer-supported charter schools statewide, at the alleged expense of traditional public schools

It’s hard to estimate just how many votes that association cost Golden, but one has to assume it was damaging. According to the May 2 account by the Trentonian’s David Foster, he was taken by surprise by the billboard and attack campaign. “I’m not going to comment on it until I see the billboard and do a little further investigation. This is the first I’m hearing about this.”

This allowed the Jackson campaign to claim the high moral ground with great enthusiasm. Spokesperson Michael Walker enthusiastically contrasted the Jackson campaign and its financing with Golden’s. “Eric Jackson has the most grassroots support, the best vision, the best campaign organization, the most money, and he continues to connect with voters… It is unfortunate that Jim Golden has been caught red-handed accepting a campaign contribution from a billionaire hedge fund manager who does not mean our public school system any good.” Again, that surely had to hurt Jim Golden.

So, now that we are heading into the runoff, it is probably appropriate to look at connections that Eric Jackson is developing with his own group of Wall Street  hedge-fund managers, and the support they are providing his campaign. It is unclear what interest they have in Trenton’s affairs, and what prompted them to enter our mayoral campaign. However, I think if Michael Walker saw fit to raise questions about Jim Golden’s backers on behalf of the Jackson campaign, then certainly they should welcome attention paid to their own backers, and should be willing to answer questions about this support. It is quite illuminating when one follows the money.

On May 8, a “Report of Independent Expenditures” was filed with the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) from a group called “The Mobilization Project,” with a Washington, DC Post Office Box as an address. This report states that in May of this year, the Project spent $25,300 on Canvassing efforts in support of Trenton’s Mayoral Election. This money went to two firms, one also located in DC and the other in Virginia.

This is the first report filed by this group with ELEC, and there is no other information about it on the state website. However, further search into the group reveals that it was very active in the successful 2013 US Senate Campaign of Cory Booker, having spent over a Half Million Dollars in Independent Expenditures on his behalf  last year.  Press articles during the Booker campaign last year reported that the Mobilization Project was funded by a handful of Wall Street hedge-fund managers and corporate executives.

Among those executives is Andrew Tisch of Loews Corporation, who according to one report donated $50,000 to the Mobilization Project in 2013-14. Mr. Tisch has long been considered a one of Cory Booker’s “major”  financial backers. Among his many corporate interests is a company called K12, where he serves as a former Chairman and current Board member.

K12’s work is described by the New York Times:  ”The Company provides a continuum of technology-based educational products and solutions to districts, public schools, private schools, charter schools and families. Its products include Curriculum, Pre-K and K-8 Courses, Online School Platform-Learning Management System, High School Courses, Innovative Learning Applications, School Management Systems and PEAK12. Its managed public schools includes Full-time virtual schools and Blended schools, which includes Flex schools, Passport schools, Discovery schools and Other blended schools.

In other words, a for-profit company that, among its other services and products, owns and runs charter schools.

As for Senator Booker, the Washington Post reported in 2012, “[H]he has been an outspoken supporter of the school reform policies of the Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, which include an expansion of charter schools, the end of teacher tenures, and the use of student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.”

So, barely two weeks after Mr. Jackson’s campaign raked Jim Golden over the coals for being “caught red-handed accepting a campaign contribution from a billionaire hedge fund manager who does not mean our public school system any good,” we find out that Eric Jackson’s own campaign has accepted significant campaign support on his behalf from a Political Action Committee whose financial support comes from billionaire hedge-fund managers and corporate executives. Of those executives, at least one is closely associated with the exact same sort of support for charter schools that the Jackson campaign condemned when Jim Golden was connected to one.

Further, this PAC has up until now been exclusively associated with Cory Booker, also known as a big charter school fan. Mr. Jackson, and apparently some members of City Council, are becoming very closely tied to Senator Booker, as evidenced in this photo:

jackson-booker

Senator Booker has been the subject of a lot of criticism over the years for his ties to Wall Street and Silicon Valley, ties that he seems now to be extending to Mr. Jackson and his allies in Trenton.

Will Trentonians find these kinds of ties acceptable for Eric Jackson, when he just ripped Jim Golden for them?

Just a few weeks back, Jackson spokesperson Michael Walker was quoted in the Trentonian as saying,

“We need leaders who want to protect our public schools, not engage in cloaked efforts to destroy them. When Mr. Golden talked recently about blowing up the box, was he referring to our public school system? This revelation is troubling, to say the least.”

Today, the exact same critique can be leveled against Eric Jackson. For him this is also a “troubling revelation.”

Will he, and Mr. Walker, respond to these questions?




The Court of Public Opinion

Something happened last weekend, at a campaign event in Mill Hill Park hosted by mayoral candidate Eric Jackson. Something happened that involved another mayoral candidate, Paul Perez, and a few prominent Jackson supporters and members of his campaign. Something happened that led to Facebook posts and comments alleging Mr. Perez assaulted one of those supporters, Miriam Martinez, and which led Mr. Perez to file a defamation lawsuit in Mercer County Court, demanding Ms. Martinez and others to remove those posts and comments.

Yesterday, in a preliminary hearing in Judge Mary Jacobson’s courtroom on the matter, the Judge denied the candidate’s request for a temporary restraining order, and allowed the accusatory Facebook posts to remain, pending a full hearing at a later time that would allow both sides in the case to present witnesses and evidence and make their case fairly. First Amendment rights create a very high threshold for granting prior restraints on free speech, a threshold she ruled was not met by Mr. Perez and his lawyer. “There may be no relief in the court as far as prior restraints, but there is the court of public opinion,” the judge stated, leaving it to the judgment of Trenton’s voters to sort out the truth in the handful of days before Tuesday’s election.

So, something happened last week, the judicial truth of which we will not have a chance to hear for quite some time, if ever. After Tuesday, the whole matter is moot, and neither side will likely have much interest nor resources to pursue a matter such as this which can easily take years to settle. Something happened, and it is left to “the court of public opinion.”

Well then.

My first reaction to this story, and the wildly contradictory versions of what actually happened, was actually, “At this point in time, if something like this happened at a big public event, with hundreds of people at the event, and many in close proximity to what happened, and no one recorded what went down on a cell phone, then to me nothing happened.”

That may be kind of harsh, but I don’t think so. This wasn’t a random encounter in the middle of the night between two people and no witnesses, this was a major political rally in the heart of the city in the middle of a Saturday, involving several individuals who have long been more or less experienced (I was going to say sophisticated, but thought better of it) in all kinds of public events. Most of them, and the people around them who may not have been directly involved, have cell phones that were certainly capable of documenting what really went down.

Why did neither side produce any video that might bolster their case? This is a town when seemingly every little street beef ends up on YouTube. Enter the search term “Trenton street fight” and see how many videos show up! One video of an infamous diner battle has drawn close to a quarter million views. People in this town almost reflexively start to record anything of interest that happens, at any time and in any place.

This is the one of the few occasions in which I can actually refer to relevant personal experience. In entirely different circumstances, and with an entirely different cast of characters, I found myself in a situation where I thought it might be useful to make a recording in order to establish a public record of events. Turns out it was indeed helpful in satisfactorily resolving the situation, which also ended up in a courtroom.

So there is not a single piece of footage of this incident has found its way online? For all intents and purposes, then, it didn’t happen.

Still too harsh? Perhaps. The Times account by Jenna Pizzi on Thursday quoted one German Ortiz, described as a supporter of Eric Jackson, who witnessed the events in question in a way that seems to back up Paul Perez’s version:

Ortiz said yesterday [Wed May 7] he was speaking with Perez when the alleged assault occurred, but denied Martinez’s allegations.

Wearing a hat from the Jackson campaign, Ortiz said Martinez was yelling at Perez that he “wasn’t supposed to be there.”

Perez then went to go speak with Jackson privately, and Ortiz said he “didn’t see anything.”

“There’s no way he could have touched her,” Ortiz said.

Since this will not be settled in a court of law, and since rather surprisingly there is no recording of what happened, I will have to settle for trusting the version of events laid out by Mr. Ortiz. As far as I can tell, he is a disinterested observer in this situation. And he didn’t see any assault.

One other person who could shed some light on this incident is Eric Jackson, who was present at his campaign event. It’s unclear exactly what he saw. According to the Times,

Jackson declined to comment about the incident yesterday, but said that Perez, like all members of the public, was invited to the event. “It was an invitation that was open to the entire community,” Jackson said. Jackson said after the alleged incident he brought Perez to meet his family, to remove him from the situation.

I find it unfortunate that Mr. Jackson declined to say anything more on the matter. He should go on the record with what he saw and what he didn’t, what he said to Mr. Perez and what he said to his own campaign supporters who were involved, and what responsibility he feels in the matter. This was his sponsored event, after all. Hosts do bear some responsibility for the behavior of their guests.

In a larger sense, I would even say that Mr. Jackson has an obligation to speak out about what he saw, or didn’t. This is a town where one of the major obstacles in the investigation and prosecution of crime is a frequent refusal by witnesses to go on the record with what they see. “If You See Something, Say Nothing” is close to being the official Trenton Municipal Motto.

In this case, I think Mr. Jackson could have set a good example by making a clear and complete statement. By failing to do so, he is setting another example, and it’s not a good one. In his silence, as in his silence on so many other matters, he sets an example of passivity, lack of responsibility and lack of leadership. In the absence of any formal ruling by a judge or jury, perhaps that is to be the judgment of the Court of Public Opinion.