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Endorsements Work Both Ways, Mr. Jackson

Trenton Mayoral Candidate Eric Jackson scored a major political coup yesterday. News reports relate that over two dozen clergy, representing several faiths and congregations inside and beyond Trenton publicly endorsed Mr. Jackson’s candidacy.

Those who spoke at yesterday’s endorsement event at the downtown Lafayette Yard Hotel echoed the candidate’s emphasis on a renewed commitment to ethical leadership in office, as was discussed in this space yesterday.

“’Eric Jackson’s vision of restoring ethics in municipal government and his work on behalf of our school children, our families and our community makes him the best person to lead Trenton,’ said Reverend Keith Marshall, Pastor of the Macedonia Baptist Church” as quoted in PolitickerNJ.com’s story. “’Eric Jackson’s commitment to reducing gun violence, bringing more jobs and economic development to Trenton and improving our schools is as important as his demonstrated record of ethical leadership,’ said Reverend Mark Broach, Pastor of the Trenton Deliverance Center.”

Now, I am not that involved in any of Trenton’s faith communities. I attend church only occasionally and cannot number myself among the faithful of any of the clergy on this list. I am sure they are fine people, dedicated to the precepts of their creeds, and devoted to their parishioners.

That being said, I will note that of the 26 individuals named by Politicker, five also endorsed Tony Mack for his election in 2010. At that time, one of those five, Pastor Wayne Griffith of the West Ward’s Lighthouse Ministries, stated

“We have intently followed the mayoral race from its inception, and have carefully listened and prayerfully watched all of the mayoral candidates. Our communities of faith, friends and families are an integral part of the fabric of Trenton. Trenton is where we worship, live, work and join in fellowship. Thus, we collectively share in the future of this city and we believe Tony Mack is the best person to lead us.’’

I suppose that we all have past statements we’ve made that we regret in later years. For these five clergymen, this may be among theirs!

However, over these last four years, I can’t recall any statements from these five gentlemen in which they may have ever stated that regret, withdrew their endorsement, or otherwise expressed any displeasure or disagreement with their emphatic endorsement of Trenton’s now-Convicted Federal Felon Chief Executive.

On that basis alone, I would look upon any new endorsement by these five with no small measure of skepticism.  One more point: knowing that back in 2010 the pool of mayoral candidates that these same five ministers all “carefully listened and prayerfully watched” included Mr. Jacksonand that they still endorsed Tony Mack! – is enough for me to personally discount yesterday’s endorsement, at least from those five.

Elections have consequences, gentlemen. So do endorsements. If you choose to lend your moral approval to a candidate, your prior track record on that matter is wide open to review.

For his part, Mr. Jackson was glad for yesterday’s backing from Trenton’s ministerial community. He said, “Each and every single one of these community leaders represents the diversity and strength of our great city. I thank them for their faith in me and for endorsing our platform of safer streets, better schools, more jobs and ethical leadership.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

There’s that pitch about ethical leadership again! I suppose if you can’t be in a room of two dozen ministers and reflect in their collective ethical leadership, when can you?

Please note, though – as I emphasized above – that Mr. Jackson was proud to accept the endorsement from “each and every single one” of the ministers on that list. Even the five who preferred Tony Mack to him four years ago.

But from what we know about one of those five, I would suggest that Mr. Jackson may want to re-examine – or at least explain to the public – his acceptance of support by one specific member of those five.

Johnnie Vaughan, Jr. is pastor of Calvary Fellowship Ministries which is actually in Ewing, not Trenton, as well as in Belvedere Delaware according to his website.  As I said before, not being a member of any faith community in Trenton, I know nothing on which to base any knowledge of Mr. Vaughan’s service in ministry. I won’t have a word to say on that.

However, Mr. Vaughan’s close relationship to Tony Mack and the Mack Administration is indeed relevant to today’s discussion, and to his role in yesterday’s endorsement of Mr. Jackson.

As you may recall, upon the beginning of the Mack Administration in the summer of 2010, Mr. Vaughan was hired as an Aide to the Mayor, on top of his ongoing responsibilities to his ministry. He took a job with the Executive after his own race for the West Ward City Council seat in May 2010 was unsuccessful (as, full disclosure, my own race for that seat was, too).

From the beginning of his term there, his precise job responsibilities were unclear, as was his actual attendance at his City Hall job. As reported by Erin Duffy in the Trenton Times on July 22, 2012, “A lengthy lawsuit filed by a former recreation worker last October codified many of the complaints of political patronage in the Mack administration, including allegations that Mack ally Johnnie Vaughan Jr. was hired for a nearly $40,000 no-show job.”

Mr. Vaughan was the subject, along with fellow City Employee David Tallone, of an inquiry regarding how his work time for the City was spent. The inquiry was filed as an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed in 2011 by active citizens Jim Carlucci and Robert Chilson. This inquiry became a lawsuit when the Mack Administration, per its usual management style, ignored the OPRA request.

After suit was filed, it was revealed in a letter by the City’s outside lawyer Goerge Saponaro that no timecards existed for either Mr. Tallone nor Mr. Vaughan, therefore no records of time spent on the job for either gentlemen. Documentation of that case is available on Mr. Chilson’s website, here.

David Tallone, you may recall, was a former City Public Works employee and union president who faced his own criminal charge. He was indicted in 2012 of defrauding the City of thousands of dollars over a period of several years, dating back to the Palmer Administration. His charges were dismissed in 2013 after a key expected witness, Tallone’s sister, failed to testify.

No such charges have ever been filed against Mr. Vaughan, nor has it been suggested that he was involved in any of the activities for which Tony Mack or his co-defendants were charged and convicted.

But the suggestion that his job for the City, which ended in March 2012 when he was laid off along with most of the other numerous mayoral aides,  was – at the very least – extremely light in terms of duties and very undemanding in terms of his attendance has never been satisfactorily explained.

Mr. Vaughan’s support of Mack at the time extended into other areas as well. On June 4, 2010, the day before Vaughan and his colleagues endorsed Mack for election, Vaughan accompanied Mack to a party in Atlantic County attended by several high-profile people from the worlds of  New Jersey business and politics. As described by Alex Zdan in a Trenton Times article in 2012, it was one of those events where those worlds came together.  “The attendees of the June 2010 party included about 50 elected officials and others involved in politics, another participant said. They included Lloyd Levenson, a lawyer whose firm later won a contract with the city but withdrew after being accused of violating the city’s campaign finance rules.”

Although FBI agents, according to Mr. Zdan, looked into this party during its investigation of Mr. Mack, none of the charges on which the mayor was eventually indicted were connected to this event and any attendee.In the article, Vaughan defended his attendance as being entirely innocent. “I didn’t know [the party] was a fundraiser. I was just in the mix, talking to people, that’s it… There were people around him, conversing. I wanted to make sure he was safe, basically. I always kept my eye on him.”

Mr. Vaughan is quoted extensively in this Alex Zdan article about his relationship with Mr. Mack and his City Hall job.

About his job, the article states, “Vaughan is named in a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former city employee Maria Richardson last fall, in which she alleged Vaughan essentially had a no-show job. ‘I don’t know where they got that from,’ Vaughan said. Vaughan said the job was legitimate, but he spent much of the time caring for his ill father, who died in July 2011.”

On his relationship with Mack, “Vaughan spoke of the mayor as a friend he knew from childhood days when they attended the same church. ‘Tony, I know he’s a good guy at heart,’ Vaughan said. “I know this probably won’t resonate with your readers, but he loves the city.’

We all know how that’s turned out. The same guy who “is a good guy at heart,” and who “loves the city” is disgracing himself, his family and this city by refusing to face the inevitable sad conclusion to his mayoral career by honorably resigning from office. Instead, he will cling to his job until the final moment  Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson will eject him from it.

So what does all mean for Eric Jackson?

To me, this means that he gratefully accepted an endorsement yesterday from someone who, upon giving his endorsement to Tony Mack four years ago, accepted a job  in the Mack Administration. A job which lasted two years and still carries suggestions it was an undemanding, unproductive little- or no-show job he received as a perq of his endorsement  and long-time friendship with Tony Mack. A job that is a significant part of the allegations contained in the still-active Maria Richardson lawsuit against the City of Trenton as it works its way through the courts.

Eric Jackson accepted Johnnie Vaughan’s endorsement yesterday. Such actions work both ways, and this implicitly also entails an endorsement by Mr. Jackson of Mr. Vaughan and his record taking a job with the Mack Administration after endorsing the man.

As I wrote yesterday, Eric Jackson is basing his candidacy as being the one person best suited to bring honor and ethical behavior back to City Hall. He promises “zero tolerance for any unethical behavior or actions.” Yet he accepts the endorsement of a man who was rewarded for his endorsement four years ago with a patronage job working directly for Tony Mack.

What does this mean for Eric Jackson the candidate? What might this mean for Eric Jackson as our Mayor?

For someone promising a fresh ethical start for the City and its citizens, this endorsement along with yesterday’s tale Mr. Jackson’ silence in reaction to a campaign finance violation on the part of a contributor sure provokes a sense of deja vu.

Here we go. Again?? I sure as hell hope not. But it’s not looking good.


9 comments to Endorsements Work Both Ways, Mr. Jackson

  • Robert Chilson

    Yea, and after Sapanaro said their were no time-sheets for Vaughn, Steve Glickman and Anthony Roberts went on the record via video to Times reporter Matt Fair after the whistleblower allegations came out, stating they have his time-sheets right here as Glickman held a stack of papers and our lawyer had to get them and they were obviously forged. They lied to the Judge and us and got caught doing so.

    Slowly but surely I am becoming torn, on one hand I know EJ is the right man for the job, on the other, I do not like who he is surrounding himself with. I am guessing he is making sure he doesn’t lose by such a close margin again and is only using these people.

    Once in office, the sketchy people better disappear. Also I missed Vaughns name on the list. I have been off kilter lately. Glad you’re on top of things.

    I have to ask though, you keep going after EJ, you are going to vote, if EJ is not the man for the job, pray tell……who is?

  • Kevin

    Thanks. Bobby. I don’t have anything against Eric per se. It’s not personal. But he keeps doing these things that I have to call him out for. Since he is running as the Ethical Anti-Mack, by his own choice, when stuff like this happens I have to raise the questions. With these and other outstanding questions dating back to his time with Public Works unanswered or even unaddressed by him, I just wonder why he is ducking these.

    Along with the endorsement event yesterday, it really seems he is playing with the same old playbook, and the same old playmakers, that we’ve seen for years.

    Not much new to see here, so far.

    As to who I do favor, I don’t have a person I can endorse yet. A couple of years ago, I was thinking that a race that came down to Jackson vs. Golden would make me happy. Now? I have my doubts about Eric – and his status as the presumptive front-runner perhaps raises his profile as the likely person to examine most intensively – and I have not yet been bowled over by Golden. He is the most substantive that I’ve seen so far, but his campaign is slow to get into gear. I hope to see better. Golden got behind the recall earlier than many others, and that counts for a lot.

    I still don’t get what Paul Perez offers except his biography. I don’t yet get that he knows Trenton – now – and its problems well enough to be the best guy to get the gig.

    The others? Worthy is the pick of the County Democratic Party – the part that doesn’t live here. Not that those folks have had any type of tall profile with what’s been going on here for the last four years.

    Patrick Hall? Nice guy, seems to be. First to declare.Totally Invisible.

    McBride? Uh, No.

    Wiley Fuller? Bucky Leggett? Seriously? Seriously?

    It’s going to be a tough choice. I just want to do my part to raise some of these things now so that we don’t have to be surprised during the next four years by what should have been right in front of us.

  • We looked the other way when sketchy people started surrounding Tony before the 2010 election. This included Jo Jo.

    We need to err of the side of pure this time around.

    And, as I’ve said many times, I tried to talk at least one of the pastors out of supporting Tony based on the fact that was already dealing with Jo Jo and had taken a $20,000 contribution that was illegal. That pastor would have none of it and instead supported Tony because he was sure he would win.

    Pastors carry sway in Trenton so we can not consider them ordinary citizens. But when those pastors themselves make decisions that show a lack of regard for human decency (aligning with a sex offender) and ethics (taking illegal campaign money) then we are right to not only call them out, but the politicians that seek their support.

  • ed w

    It has always bothered me that these “churches” pay no taxes, but somehow feel that they have a right to influence ours. I wonder how many murders during last years killing spree would have not occurred if these “ministers” were out saving souls instead of playing politics??? can you say 501-c

  • Robert Chilson

    Intelligent threads and valid points, that’s why I love this blog.

  • Judy L. Winkler

    Jackson has based his campaign on three issues: public safety, education, & ethics. I have a HUGE concern that economic development is not one of his core values. I am even more concerned that Jackson, who professes that he has “zero tolerance for any unethical behavior or actions” has accepted funds in clear violation of the pay to play laws. Worse, since this information came out a couple of days ago, he has chosen not to publicly, and loudly address a violation of core values.

    I supported Jackson in the last election. There is no way I can support him now. It is simply unethical. Golden is my choice.

  • ed w

    I wonder how “dirty” this election is going to be.

    Peace

  • James E.

    Eric is doing what it takes to win. As questionable as this is, it works. The majority of the voters in this city are poorly informed and, frankly, unwilling to change that. So they go on who was popular in high school, who has name recognition, who is the same color, who can get them excited (hot air will do just fine. actual substance is optional), and who their pastors – the “guiding light of the city” (ugh) – tell them to vote for.

    It worked for Palmer for decades. Eric was paying attention then, and sure as heck paying attention now. So here we go again – the man is doing what it takes to get elected and we’re supposed to “trust” him that the end will justify the means.

    And it seems the pastors are also lining up behind the winning horse. Four years ago Tony’s name was the most well known amongst the voting public – even though he was unsuccessful in ‘06, that lawsuit helped keep his name in the papers. Jackson being a close 2nd – which was reflected in the votes. Today? Jackson stands well ahead in the category. And everyone is lining up.

    And frankly, these glimpsed of what may lie ahead just don’t amount to anything. As exacerbated as this city is with unethical political bullsh*t – it’s not the actual eradication of said bullsh*t that matters – only the perception that it is being eradicated. So EJ (or any candidate for that matter) will continue business as usual, but preach the loudest at the podium about how he’s “cleaning house” and “zero tolerance” – and the people will just gobble it up. If Tony Mack can take an illegal $20k loan for his campaign and get elected on “street cash” – then do you really think people are paying attention? You are, your friends, your associates, your readers, – of course! But we’re not exactly swinging this election (as much as I hope we can).

    Unless you got someone on film burning an American flag – which even the staunches supporter has to realize it’s time to distance themselves from their candidate – I doubt this will blip most radars.

  • Kevin

    Well, James – We may not be able to prevent history from repeating. But at least if and when people start wailing about “We never had any inkling this could happen with {Insert Name Here}, we can say “Umm, yes we did, and we pointed it out.”

    Cold comfort, but it’s something.