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. Jackson – and 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.