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.
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.
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:
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?
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.”
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.
Candidates are making their final pushes and pitches for next Tuesday’s elections in Trenton. Expect more speeches, rallies, caravans and hand-grabbing in the next five (!) days, as each incumbent and challenger will attempt to seal the deal by making their best arguments about their vision and qualifications to tackle the City’s immense set of problems. The Road to Recovery will begin on Tuesday when voters will have a chance to put an “X” beside their name. Here we go. Unfortunately, given the experience of the last couple of months, not many of the candidates will acknowledge, let alone really address, one of the biggest immediate impediments to any new Trenton Administration. Without even talking about the Elephant in the Room, most (not all) of the candidates are failing to level with Trenton’s voters, and creating expectations and making promises they will not be able to keep.
To illustrate, let me take yesterday’s Opinion piece in the Trenton Times by mayoral candidate Walker Worthy. Mr. Worthy lays out a bold plan for “Immediate Action” for his first 100 days as Trenton’s new mayor. Among his promises: “appoint a cabinet of qualified, dynamic diverse and dedicated professionals who understand the challenges facing Trenton as well as the necessary solutions. Each of my cabinet members will abide by the highest standards of performance and ethics.”
The trouble is, it may not even be possible to get rid of the current set of Department Heads and Directors in 100 days, let alone “appoint a new set of qualified, dynamic, diverse and dedicated professionals.”
In the new (and as of yet, unsigned) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)between the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the City of Trenton for this year’s Transitional Aid Award, the State insists that any termination of a senior city appointee or employee – even those whose terms are up by City Ordinance because of the end of the term of the preceding Administration – will require State DCA approval, which might not be given until a suitable (to DCA, that is) replacement can be found.
That means that Mr. Worthy will probably not be able to put his stamp on city management in his first 100 days.
That means that “Acting” Mayor George Muschal’s current lawsuit against City Council and all his current directors is even more ridiculous and frivolous than first thought, and that is saying something!! Rather than argue over the meaning of the phrase “unexpired term” or how much power an “Acting” appointed Mayor has, the real argument should be over how Trenton’s home rule is slipping away to a State agency. And slipping away to a state agency that in the last few years has demonstrated that it is too under-funded, under-staffed, over-worked, distracted, and generally ill-prepared to take on this kind of responsibility without accountability.
DCA’s prior experience in personnel recruitment and oversight during the Mack Administration saddled us with several of the problems that the City is still dealing with, including Business Administrator Sam Hutchinson and Fire Director Qareeb Bashir. According to the terms of the MOU – which signed or not pretty much represent the terms and conditions of the new relationship between the City and State, unless they are re-negotiated – a new Mayor Worthy, or any other, will have to deal with a BA Hutchinson and Director Bashir, and all the rest, for a good part of their new term.
This means that as of July 1, a new mayoral administration will be saddled with a whole team of department heads and directors not of their choosing. City agencies and departments will have to work under managers who are lame ducks, not appointed by the new mayor, and who cannot be dislodged from their desks until new replacements can be recruited, vetted and hired. No one knows how long that will take. And when new people are finally hired and installed, their loyalties may not lie with the Mayor who hired them or the Council who confirmed them, but with the state Agency who vetted them for this job, and who they may rely upon for their next one.
Mr. Worthy did not acknowledge any of this reality in his Times Op-Ed. He hardly mentions the role of the State in the City’s governance anywhere in his platform on his website at all, other than to call for a renegotiation with the State to restore a permanent dependable Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) from NJ in recognition of its huge physical and tax-free presence within our borders.
Eric Jackson fails to acknowledge the role of the state, other than a few nods to its role in providing public safety resources and funding to supplement the city’s Police. Paul Perez talks extensively about his future hiring and recruitment policies on his website, but fails to mention the folks on the other end of State Street.
Jim Golden is the only mayoral candidate to acknowledge in his platform the need to negotiate the city away from Transitional Aid, by developing a plan for permanent and stable funding from the State based on specifically-designated funding sources. This is good. But he, along with the other gentlemen discussed above, fails to acknowledge the drag on his new administration that DCA will be.
The only candidate to draw attention to the elephant in the room, to his considerable credit, has been Council At-Large Duncan Harrison. He seems to be the only candidate, to my knowledge, who has read the MOU, and who understands the implications to the City of the burden placed on the city’s management and any new Council and Mayor.
As he made clear in comments posted on Facebook and reported to the Trenton Times, he fully understands what this means.
Why is Mr. Harrison the only person talking about this? Every candidate for Mayor, and every other Council candidate, should be talking about how they think the City should be dealing with the State. To me, that relationship has to be addressed on two levels.
The first is the reality of the current situation: how we should deal with an agency that is surely too small, under-staffed and over-worked to devote the time and quality of care to the affairs of this city that we need. And moreover an agency of a state Administration that is fast becoming overwhelmed with budgetary, ethical and political crises of its own that are distracting it from attending to the desperate needs of citizens of Trenton and other cities like it.
Second is what we want that role to be in the future. What is the proper relationship of the City of Trenton with the State of New Jersey in a post-Transitional Aid future? A future in which the State has, at least for much of the next 20 years, mortgaged away a lot of Trenton’s potential future tax dollars in an attempt to lure commercial development? A future in which the state continues to occupy huge swaths of the city’s real estate without facing up to an obligation to support the city on an ongoing basis.
The State of New Jersey is the elephant in Trenton’s living room that few of the candidates are paying any attention to.
I thank Duncan Harrison for drawing our attention back to it. In the last days of the campaign, I hope you demand that other candidates talk about it as well.
“[Nineteen year-old Cagney] Roberts was shot to death April 9 in the area of Saint Joes and Girard avenues. Two other men were wounded. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office said today that shooting remains under investigation and no arrests have been made.
“Roberts did not belong to the Galilee congregation, nor did most of the hundreds of attendees of the service, [Reverend John] Harris said. The reverend wanted Roberts to have a funeral and wanted attendees who did not regularly attend church to have an opportunity hear a sermon, he said.
“‘When I got to the sermon,’ Harris said. ‘Shots rang out.’”
An unselfish act of charity and inclusiveness was paid back in madness and violence that makes no sense yesterday, at Trenton’s Galilee Baptist Church. In a city that’s become genuinely hard to shock – sadly becoming accustomed to this kind of random violence on street corners, city roads, stores, gas stations and private homes – the shooting that marred a funeral yesterday and sent several people to the emergency room (thankfully there were no deaths) did just that. Shock and dismay flooded around Trenton yesterday.
Much of the shock came from the fact that a sacred (and, before yesterday, what was considered a safe) place was violated. And dismay, from the sad realization that to have thought that any place in a town so plagued with a senseless and endless cycle of violence, retribution and revenge as ours might be still sacred and safe is probably a fool’s hope.
So finally, perhaps, we may come to see that if no place in this town is safe, then we can have no doubt that this is a situation that calls on all of us to respond to make things better. If no place can truly provide Sanctuary, then we can no longer shrink from the obligation to struggle to restore that in our city, to give Mutual Aid.
Days like yesterday show that what Benjamin Franklin said at the outset of another life-and-death struggle – and that certainly is what is out on the streets of Trenton today, a life-and-death struggle – is still true for Citizens today: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”
The Trenton Police Department responded splendidly yesterday, it has to be said. Two of the department’s valuable and few patrol units were stationed in the church parking lot, so they were able to react quickly after gunfire broke out. They immediately detained and arrested a driver leaving the scene, who was found to be in possession of a loaded weapon With that quick arrest, investigators got a good head-start in searching for what is alleged to be additional shooters.
The police did a great job in their initial response, so it is sad to say that the city’s political leadership failed in theirs.
There is an ongoing leadership vacuum in Trenton that is a madness of its own. Although, to their credit, Acting Mayor George Muschal and several Council members and candidates either went to Fuld Hospital or made statements of support for the victims, their families, and all the mourners who attended Cagney Roberts’ funeral, on the whole yesterday represented a major failure of our so-called “leaders.”
How did they fail? What should they have done? The best narrative of that is from Darren “Freedom” Green, one of Trenton’s true citizen leaders, who was at the church for the funeral. Here are his words, as posted last night on Facebook, and used with permission:
Let me illustrate how important LEADERSHIP IS. TODAY a small population of Trentonians showed that they have NO morals and anything is possible, they opened fire inside of a church. Now, what should happen now? Don’t people have questions….wouldn’t U like to have an update on all that transpired today…..wouldn’t U like to know what we as a community are going to do with this CRISIS we are in?
Lets examine what should be occurring. The Acting Mayor should have a press conference with the Pol Director and all of his Adm. We as a community should be updated on what occurred today at Galilee. We should be updated on all events, injuries and arrests. We should be updated on where they are at in the investigation, of course without jeopardizing the investigation. Next, the ENTIRE COMMUNITY should be challenged to look at where we are. We are and have been in a CRISIS and we need to work with our Mayor and elected officials to “POLICE” our city. The police officers CANNOT do this alone and we have to communicate and work with them. Now, guess what will happen……NOTHING. Yet, guess what message is sent when NOTHING is said or done, how about that TODAY is the NORM. That its ok for people to violate churches, families, and communities. That its ok to have NO regard or respect for HUMAN LIFE. Ill repeat this again and again PROBLEMS don’t solve themselves, LEADERSHIP, the PEOPLE, and the POLICE must work together to solve them. This next election is either the life or death of our future.
The Baby who was with me today said do me a favor Free, I asked what….he said DONT go back out today. I promised him I wouldn’t. He makes me check in from the house phone…..Love Him.
I can’t find fault with anything that Mr. Green says. Police Director Rivera was on the scene at Galilee Church yesterday as he briefed the media. But yesterday was so shocking and so violent, and so shattering of remaining any illusions that we are making progress in reducing last year’s unprecedented pace of murder and other violence, that the occasion did demand an address to citizens by the Acting Mayor and Council leadership, an address that did not occur. With that failure to do so, Mr. Green feels our leadership sent a message yesterday that, as tragic and shocking as yesterday was, is not as extraordinary as we feel it is, but part of a new normal.
Instead, the Acting Mayor and Acting Council are engaged in a feud of their own, a feud that has proceeded to the point where Acting Mayor Muschal has filed suit against his Council colleagues, a suit that demands that, among other things, requests Judge Mary Jacobson to rule, in the words of the mayor’s brief that “there is no substantive difference between a successor mayor appointed by the City Council and a successor mayor elected by popular vote.” The Acting Mayor wants, among other things, the court to validate his assertion of power regrading personnel moves such as the ones he took last week against the city’s Law and Fire Directors.
It is profoundly sad and unfortunate that things have gotten to this point. It is conceivable that Mr. Muschal may win a narrow ruling that could affirm his formal authority, while doing nothing to earn the political capital from his Council colleagues and from citizens to back whatever initiatives that may be desirable and possible to take before his regency ends.
I have come to firmly believe that the role of Mr. Muschal should be exactly opposite to the path he has chosen to take. He has acted, and is seeking to act, in ways that intend to make major personnel and policy changes, and leave them as done deeds for his successor in July. His actual ability to do any of this may be very limited after last week’s events, but this does seem to be his intent.
What I think he should be doing is to be more of a calm and steady hand after the chaos of the last four years. In the aftermath of blatant incompetence and criminal corruption, he should quietly and calmly set an example of honesty, integrity and simple (but vastly important) basic competence. As well, he should prominently and quickly come forward in times such as yesterday, to inform the city, reassure its people and express resolve. The very sort of thing that Mr. Green called for last night.
And, for damn sure, he should drop that stupid lawsuit. Today.
Instead, Mr. Muschal and what passes for city leadership are in a pissing match while the city is torn up. Madness.
As I mentioned above, the city is in a leadership vacuum, from the top down. But, like Darren Green, I think that yesterday’s horror shows that we must demand more from our city’s Leaders than what they are giving us. We are a crucial part of this solution. We have to lead our leaders and drag them into action and engagement.
The best way we have before us right now is to select the best possible city leaders we can in next month’s elections, and give them a proper mandate to take the kind of meaningful action that needs to be taken.
A Mayor selected by seven Council members can not possibly have such a mandate.
A Mayor and Council elected by only a quarter of registered voters can not have such a mandate.
It’s hard to see how problems of the sort that plague this city can be solved if only a handful of the people care to take the most basic essential action to engage in seeking solutions; that is, Vote.
There is a direct line between the poor civic engagement we have demonstrated in this city, to the kind of leadership we have settled for over the last decades as a result of this poor engagement, to the totally inadequate actions taken by this leadership that contribute to sustaining the environment that produces what we saw happen yesterday at Galilee Church. And that will happen again if we don’t work to change things.
Freedom’s right. This next election is a matter of the life or death for this city’s future.
But only if we can put this Madness behind us.
Trenton’s Municipal election is three weeks from today. It’s the home stretch for candidates to make the case for themselves, as well as kick dirt on their competitors. Mayoral candidate Walker Worthy kicked a lot of dirt on Eric Jackson yesterday, on the subject of Mr. Jackson’s personal financial history.
Mr. Jackson’s personal history may or may not be relevant, taken on its own. But considered along with a history of difficulties with campaign finance regulations and reporting – which extend to his most recent report filed just last week – I think it is fair to look at all of the existing evidence and ask whether Eric Jackson is the right choice to lead Trenton out of the very, very dark place it has been in for far too long.
Mr. Worthy, currently the Mercer County Deputy Clerk, held a press conference yesterday to reveal a string of personal financial difficulties experienced by Eric Jackson over several years. These include a personal bankruptcy in 1996 discharged in early 1997, and several more recent liens, judgments and foreclosures, the most recent occurring in 2007.
According to the Trenton Times, Mr. Jackson responded with a statement attributing his 1996 bankruptcy to financial difficulties during one of his two divorces. He did not address the more recent occasions, and according to the Times “did not return calls for further comment.”
To raise this kind of history is certainly appropriate and relevant. As we so unhappily saw over the last four years, the considerable smoke surrounding the Felonious Former Occupant of Trenton’s Mayor’s Office – that was well known before his 2010 election – proved to be caused by the raging financial fire in the life of Tony Mack that set this entire city ablaze. Had voters paid more attention to these suggestions that all was not well in the personal financial dealings of the candidate four years ago, we might have ended up with someone who might not have been tempted to augment his income through graft and bribery.
I want to be clear I do not accuse Mr. Jackson of any similar impropriety. I simply want to say that his financial history – given our recent history in this town – is extremely relevant. I am disappointed that he failed to voluntarily disclose any of this information himself.
I will leave discussion of his personal finances here. I am more concerned today, as I have been for several months, with Mr. Jackson’s campaign finances, and the slipshod and careless way in which he has complied with campaign financing and disclosure requirements as laid down in New Jersey election law.
Last month I wrote about how Mr. Jackson had never closed out his accounting and reporting for his 2010 mayoral run. And I remarked in February on the story broken by the Trentonian about a donation accepted by Mr. Jackson for his campaign this year from a city contractor, the City’s bond counsel McManimon Scotland, in violation of Trenton’s strict Pay-to-Play campaign financing law. These campaign problems raised the question for me as to whether Mr. Jackson was living up to the high standard he set for himself as the only candidate prepared to run his administration with a “zero tolerance for corruption” and high ethical standards.
To be fair, over the last few weeks, Mr. Jackson and his campaign corrected some of these lapses. On April 1, his campaign filed with the State Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) the financial reports required to close out his 2010 campaign, four years late. And in his most recent report sent to ELEC, the 29-day Pre-Election document filed on April 17, he disclosed that his campaign returned the $850 McManimon Scotland contribution that violated Trenton’s pay-to-play law.
So far, so good. However, Mr. Jackson’s 29-day pre-election report raises new questions of sloppy reporting and, it appears, contributions that exceed legal limits.
ELEC regulations clearly state “A partnership, a limited liability partnership (LLP) or a limited liability company (LLC) may not make contributions as an entity.” Instead, those contributions must be recorded as contributions from the owners, partners of members of those entities. ELEC is quite emphatic about that. The bold print I use above for the quotation from the official Compliance Manual for Candidates is used in the manual.
Considering how emphatic and unambiguous ELEC is about not accepting contributions from these types of entities, it is surprising to see no fewer than four LLC’s listed as contributors on Jackson’s April 17 report. “Brookfield Construction LLC” gave $500. “Capital Telecom LLC” also gave $500. “Bail Bonds of America LLC” donated $1000. And “Woodrose Properties CWA LLC” gave $1000 on 3/25/14.
This last entity, Woodrose, is interesting because it is one of the companies owned by former US Senator turned Trenton property developer Robert G. Torricelli. Mr. Torricelli is listed as the only member of that LLC, meaning all contributions from that company should be counted as coming from him.
On the same April 17 report, Mr. Torricelli is listed under his own name as having given a $600 donation; this goes along with a 12/24/13 donation of $2000. All together, then, Mr. Torricelli has given Jackson’s campaign $2600 under his own name, and $1000 under his LLC, totaling $3600
Since the maximum donation allowable from any one individual for a campaign is $2600, Mr. Torricelli has exceeded the legal maximum by $1000. Mr. Jackson now has to refund an excess of $1000.
While he is at it, Mr. Jackson should also revise his reports to properly reflect the individual owners of the other LLC’s reported on April 17. Je should probably also look at doing the same for the other LLP’s and LLC’s previously reported in January of this year.
Jackson’s ELEC report of April 17 also shows that his campaign is drawing the interest and support of other entities around the state. Some of these are somewhat curious. The report discloses a contribution of $2600 from the Bridgeton Democratic Organization on February 25. I’ve been the treasurer of the Trenton Democratic Committee and have some familiarity with those finances; a contribution to another county candidate of $250 is a major expense, I can tell you. That a Cumberland County town of barely 25,000 can support a contribution of $2600 to a non-partisan mayoral candidate in Trenton is remarkable.
I tried to find out more information about the Bridgeton Committee, for a clue as to where that money came from, but that committee has not filed an ELEC report of its own since 2008. That report showed total revenue for the entire preceding year of 2007 as $7300. So unless the finances for that committee improved tremendously in the last six years – and we don’t know since the committee has filed no reports in six years – the Jackson donation might represent something like a third of their annual revenue.
Curious, isn’t it?
Also curious is a donation of $8200 made on 2/25/14 from an entity listed as “ICE PAC” in Woodbury NJ. ELEC’s records list that name as a PACronym for an entity called “Initiate Civic Empowerment,” which has been listed as a statewide Democratic-affiliated organization since 2012. ICE PAC has, like the Bridgeton Democratic Committee, filed no financial reports with ELEC since the earliest year reported, 2012. So I could not find any more information about the source of that donation to Mr. Jackson.
In 2012, ICE PAC did file a form listing its Chair and Treasurer as being associated with a Woodbury law firm having the same address as the PAC. Long, Marmero is a law firm that according to its website does a great deal of ts work in municipal law and local land use. Among its listed clients is the Bridgeton Zoning Board.
South Jersey’s interest in Mr. Jackson’s campaign is certainly remarkable, further evidenced by a $7200 donation from State Senator Stephen Sweeney’s campaign fund. It is matched by interest from North Jersey, too, including a $8200 donation from the Jersey City Democratic Committee, which strikes me as a very sizable donation, the maximum allowable, from a local municipality far away. Its interest in local Trenton affairs is fascinating.
Apart from the Torricelli donation, I don’t see anything that is obviously problematic, although some donations are probably worth a further look. But the Woodrose/Torricelli donations do certainly appear to be over the legal limit, as is the reporting of donations by LLC’s and LLP’s in violation of ELEC rules.
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?
At last night’s meeting, City Council voted to reverse the hasty and administratively improper decision of Trenton’s Acting Mayor George Muschal to terminate the employment of Fire Director Qareeb Bashir. Mr. Bashir was restored to his position for the remainder of the current mayoral term at the end of June.
Most of the Council members present – all except Mr. Muschal – objected to the fashion in which the Acting Mayor cashiered the Fire Director in violation of City Ordinance 2-9. This Ordinance, covering the Removal process of Departmental Directors, specifically directs that termination of a Director can occur no less than 20 days following written notification by the Mayor (or Acting Mayor in this case) to the employee in question and to Council. Mr. Bashir was terminated last Friday, well before 20 days.
Since I believe the Acting Mayor exceeded his authority and his mandate in this matter, Council was entitled to take the action they did last night.
However, not being content with that action, a number of Council members threatened to take retaliatory action on Mr. Muschal for his attempted removal of Bashir, by promising to remove Mr. Muschal from his other official position as City Council President.
I don’t think they have that power, according to City Ordinance.
Tempers were apparently very high at last night’s meeting. According to theTrenton Times account by Bridget Clurkin this morning, “Several council members said they thought the dual roles Muschal is holding gave him too much power and they mentioned that they ‘have the option’ to strip him of his council president responsibilities, saying that the vote may happen at next week’s meeting. ‘There will be a new council president,’ Councilman Zachary Chester said. ‘We won’t have that vote tonight, but we will have that vote.’
Trouble is, Trenton’s Ordinances do not provide any mechanism for removing the Council President.
Here is what the relevant Ordinance, A316-2, Rule IV A, has to say about the process of electing a Council President:
A. Election and Duties. The presiding officer of the Council shall be the President, who shall be elected at the organization meeting.
The “organization meeting” is held at the beginning of Council’s term. The Ordinance is silent on the topic of rotating, or removing the President. This Council elected George Muschal as President at its org meeting in July of 2010. Their practice of rotating the position each year to different members, and their practice of electing a Vice President – a position not authorized by City code – was done in violation of Ordinance.
Similarly, this Council would be in violation of City Ordinance were they to remove Mr. Muschal in advance of the next organization meeting. The only provision our Ordinances allow is the selection of a President pro tem, but only in the specific instance of the absence of the duly-elected President from a particular Council session.
These members of Council demonstrated last night once again that they have learned precious little over their four years in office about the proper exercise of their authority over the City’s affairs and over the administration of their own body.
It is very ironic that Mr. Chester and his colleagues threaten Mr. Muschal with punishment for his improper exercise of authority – by promising an improper exercise of their own authority.
I’m afraid to say that Council is stuck with Mr. Muschal as their President until July 1.
Just as we are stuck with these sorry-assed excuses for Council members until that same date. I can’t wait.
After watching the “Acting” Mayor this week, and Council last night, I have to ask one more time, “Can’t ANYBODY here play this game?”
“He is no longer an employee. If you are no longer an employee you cannot come in there.”
– “Acting” Mayor George Muschal, on the events of April 16, 2014, during which Trenton Police Officers were called to Trenton Fire Department Headquarters after Fire Director Qareeb Bashir showed up to work after he was terminated from his position.
“It’s a disgrace City Hall’s got to do this and have this publicity right now.Everybody is upset by this. She served in the city all these years very well, and then to turn around and basically trash the lady and drag her out. What did she do so wrong to humiliate her like this?”
– Councilman George Muschal, on the events of August 4, 2010, during which Trenton Police Officers and Mercer County Sheriff’s Deputies were called to City Hall after Deputy City Clerk Cordelia Staton was terminated from her position.
“At worst, our temporary mayor gave a criminal order worthy of Vladimir Putin to our police department to have director Bashir escorted from the Trenton Fire Department headquarters.”
– Councilwoman Kathy McBride, on the events of April 16, 2014
” [crickets] “
– Councilwoman Kathy McBride, on the events of August 4, 2010
So, someone please tell me, What Exactly has Changed in Four Years?
Several years in the past – less than four, although they seem an age ago – I felt something positively Shakespearean in the drama then unfolding in Trenton’s City Hall. Looking at the man who had after years of planning and grasping for the job had finally achieved the office of Mayor, I felt echoes of the title character of the Scottish Play in his administration. Better suited as a candidate than an incumbent, Tony Mackbeth brought a whole cast of almost theatrical villains into office along with him, and proceeded with his four-year long drama. No, “villains” isn’t quite right. To observe some of them in action, I think the Bard would have cast some of them as Fools.
In any case, the curtain came down on that particular play, as Birnam Wood (in the unlikely form of a State Street parking lot) finally tripped them all up. Exeunt Stage Left.
After Mack’s resignation, I had thought that the intervening months between that event and the inauguration of a new Mayor and Council would have been mostly uneventful. I had thought that Acting Mayor George Muschal would have his hands full with catching up with unopened mail and unpaid bills, and turning over rocks and seeing what scurried away. I had thought things would be mostly calm for a few months, quiet other than whatever entertainment the mayoral and Council campaigns might provide.
Oh, I was wrong.
Instead of a peaceful interregnum, we now have an updated version of “King Lear.” Minus the daughters, of course.
No, really! Listen, all Lear had to to do at the end of his reign was to peacefully arrange for his succession. He might have waited until he died, but being son-less there was no obvious successor. In that event, he could have simply named his eldest daughter, or another, his heir after his death. He could have then carried on as King, secure in the fact that he knew that he would leave his kingdom and his people in peace and prosperity.
Had he done that, of course, there would have been no play.
Instead, he had the bright idea to divide his kingdom up among his daughters, according to how much they would say they loved him.
You can guess how that turned out: “[A]ll’s cheerless, dark, and deadly.
Your eldest daughters have fordone themselves, and desperately are dead.”
Everybody’s dead! Lear, all his daughters, lots of other characters and nodoubt thousands of innocent civilians killed in a war that didn’t have to happen. All because Lear’s plan of succession failed, miserably. The Single Big Thing that Lear had left to do, what many kings before and after him had done without a problem, pass his kingdom along peacefully, he screwed up.
You follow me now?
George Muschal was not elected Mayor by the people of Trenton. He was appointed by his colleagues on Council, in accordance with New Jersey law and Trenton City Ordinance, the “Acting” Mayor. He is in office only to fulfill the remaining weeks in the term that had been Tony Mack’s. He leaves office at Noon on July 1, as Tony Mack surely would have after his one and only term. His main job is to hand off the City, peacefully, to the next guy, hopefully no worse off than when he took it on two months ago.
He has no mandate for drastic action, no legitimacy to enact major changes. And, to be fair, neither does this lame duck City Council.
Apart from several important tasks facing him – as mentioned above, catching up on City business too long ignored by a hapless and distracted Mack, Muschal’s main role should have been as a trusted caretaker, doing as little as possible to rock the ship of state, just sailing steady and back on course. Instead, “Acting” Mayor Muschal has presided over much drama, most of which was avoidable, and a good deal of it of his own making. At the same time he seeks to take on so much in the few weeks he has remaining to him, Muschal has succeeded mostly in tripping over his own feet and burning through whatever good will he had from citizens that accompanied him into office.
We saw last month the farce regarding candidate petitions for office that threatened to postpone the scheduled May election. That snafu was primarily the responsibility of City Clerk Richard Kachmar, who owned up to his error. In the midst of that problem, Mr. Muschal was quite forgiving of Kachmar’s mistake.
Of a situation a special attorney hired (shortly after, fired) to clean up the mess that he characterized as “the first mistake of its kind in state history,” Mr. Muschal called it “a minor setback.”
While several Council members called for the Clerk’s resignation, Kachmar was ok by Muschal: “He owned up to [the petition snafu]. I respect him for saying ‘George, I made a mistake.’”
No harm, no foul for Mr. Muschal, I suppose. Many candidates, and several citizens were upset that Muschal failed to press Kachmar for his resignation, or even to publicly discipline or criticize him.
In fact, the “Acting” Mayor actually had the arrogance of attempting to deflect criticism from the City Clerk, suggesting that certain private citizens had known about the problem with petitions in advance of city officials, and through their failure to notify the city “created a major problem here that should never have been a problem.” Shamefully, the “Acting” Mayor has never apologized or retracted those groundless accusations.
All of this makes his abrupt actions this past Friday to dismiss Law Director Caryl Amana and Fire Director Qareeb Bashir from their positions hard to comprehend.
There may well be matters and issues regarding both department directors that may have led to their dismissal. But Mr. Muschal did not make that case for either of them, and now cites the confidentiality of personnel issues to explain that he will not do so.
There are also proper procedures for terminating the employment of heads of departments, as required both by City and State laws and regulations as well as the additional terms and conditions agreed to in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Trenton and the NJ State Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
But Mr. Muschal has failed to observe those as well.
During last night’s Council session, several members objected to the dismissal of Ms. Amana and Mr. Bashir, claiming that Muschal failed to provide advance written notice of his intentions to Council 20 days before the dismissal as provided by City Ordinance.
And DCA rebuked the “Acting” Mayor for violating the terms of the MOU, at least regarding the abrupt dismissal of Ms. Amana. Curiously (at least to me), DCA had no problem with Mr. Bashir’s dismissal. In a letter to the City, DCA Local Government Services Director Thomas Neff stated “The division has no role to play in Director Qareeb Bashir’s termination”, even though they had a lot to do with his hiring back in 2011. To some extent, it sometimes seems that DCA is making up a lot of stuff as they go along. But I digress.
The uproar over Ms. Amana and Mr. Bashir is entirely of George Muschal’s own making. He has only 76 more days in office. As egregious as their perceived faults were, if Mr. Muschal was willing to forgive Kachmar’s sins, then he certainly could have lived with Bashir and Amana until the next mayor – the next duly-elected mayor, that is – takes office and has opportunity to build his or her own Cabinet.
Mr. Muschal claims that he did things by the book. He is quoted in today’s Trentonian as saying, “Following the direction of the law, which I rely on, the information was given to me from law that the firing of Mr. Bashir is legal and to the point,” Muschal reiterated Tuesday before the meeting ended abruptly due to a medical emergency. “I have to rely on the law department to lead me in this direction.”
But, remember. that is the very same Law Department whose Director he is trying to sack, and who, among recent items, submitted a legal brief on the election snafu that the judge hearing the case found “deficient” and called by the Trentonian “riddled with errors.” I’d take any counsel and advice from them with a grain of salt.
Muschal has a lot of good instincts, but often exhibits questionable judgment. His charges against private citizens was one recent example. His quite bizarre accusation a few years ago that Tony Mack’s brother Ralphiel drove by his laundromat business in order to photograph the Councilman, uh, well, there’s no other way to say this, “pleasuring” a dog, was another memorable one.
Likewise, some of Muschal’s other announced initiatives would be better left to be considered by the new Council and Administration. At the beginning of the week, he suggested that he would work to have City Council reverse the 1999 voter referendum that created the position of civilian Fire and Police Directors in favor of restoring Chiefs for both departments, selected from the ranks of those public safety departments. And a few weeks ago, he announced that he is working to re-open the city’s four neighborhood branch libraries, closed since 2010 by order of the previous Administration.
Mr. Muschal would be well advised to avoid both moves, as well as any other similar over-stretch. As much as I would love to see the neighborhood branches re-opened, Mr. Muschal has not presented any financial analysis to show that the City can afford to re-open the branches and keep them in operation. Surely that case has to be first made.
And his plans about the police and fire directors positions sound positively anti-democratic. Even though these positions were created by voter referendum, Muschal wants to bypass the voters and let Council vote to abolish the Director positions. “There’s no reason to let the voters decide when council can decide. The council is put there for checks and balances to make the right decision.” [Emphasis mine - KM]
Perhaps. Perhaps if Muschal were a duly-elected Mayor, who ran on a platform to abolish those positions, and if Council members were elected on the same basis – openly discussing the pros and cons of the matter and promising to work for that goal if they are elected – then and only then would I feel comfortable to say that in that case the Mayor and Council had a mandate to take the action themselves.
But Muschal was elected only as the Councilman for the South Ward. He was not elected Mayor. And none of the seven council members, including Mr. Muschal, ran on a platform that promised to restore the Chiefs.
I think the issue is a valid one to discuss. As important as public safety is to this City, and how dire it has become, I think it entirely appropriate to ask candidates what they think of appointed civilian Directors versus uniformed Chiefs. I hope we hear more on the issue.
But Muschal has to drop the matter for now. He is an appointed Mayor. He has no mandate for this kind of action, despite his possession of awesome executive power, on paper. He has enough to do with just running this city without wrenching it in new directions that the citizens of this town will not follow.
Lord knows I believe that this City needs bold action and decisive decisions. But those have to be taken by representatives duly elected by the people to do their specific jobs. Which won’t be done until next month.
I know that must be aggravating to the man. His intentions are good, and dedicated towards improving this City.
But he simply has no moral authority, credibility or mandate to take any major action in the short time remaining to him, other than what he may be compelled to do by events. All the “cheerless, dark and deadly” drama swirling around him and this city this week proves that. Most of this is of his own doing.
The end of this drama, or at least a great reduction, can also be his own doing, should he choose it.
He could do the City a great service if he just steps back from the bully pulpit a bit, tinker around the edges and let the heavy lifting be done by a new Mayor and Administration.
After four years, I have frankly had enough of Shakespearean drama and petty soap opera!