Archive

If a Candidate Can't Follow Campaign Finance Law, Shouldn't That Tell You Something?

The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) last week filed a complaint against Hoboken Council Member Beth Mason, alleging several violations of the state’s campaign laws dating back to her 2011 election campaign. That complaint, and the nature of the charges, should be of concern to current Trenton Mayoral candidate Eric Jackson and his campaign.

It’s also a matter that should be of concern to Trenton voters who are being asked to vote for Mr. Jackson based on a presentation of the candidate as being the most professional, the most ethical, honest and transparent of the eight candidates running. The conduct of his election efforts in both 2010 and this year – at least in regard to their observance of state campaign finance laws, suggests far less than conscientious compliance.

The State ELEC filed a complaint against Ms. Mason and her husband (who was her 2011 campaign treasurer), charging the council member with six counts of late and incomplete reporting, all in connection with her 2011 council campaign. According to the Hudson Reporter, In all, ELEC alleged that Mason’s campaign failed to report a total of $126,199 on time, with the information submitted anywhere between 98 and 276 days late. The amounts should have been reported on reports that were due beginning in October 2011 and April 2012, but were not revealed first until July 2012.”

According to the account in PolitickerNJ.com, the Councilwoman and her treasurer husband have the option of contesting the charges at a hearing, or they can accept the the determination of the Commission and likely end up paying fines. Although not spelled out in either of these articles, the amounts of such fines can easily total thousands of dollars. Last year, for instance, the political action committee for Union City Mayor and State Senator Brian Stack was fined $68,725 by ELEC for late campaign filings dating from 2003 to 2005.

That’s some serious money, for serious campaign finance violations.

So, what’s the connection with Eric Jackson?

Jackson’s current 2014 campaign has been in the news over the last few weeks for a few campaign-finance related irregularities. One involves an alleged violation of Trenton’s Pay-to-Play Ordinance by a current contractor with the City of Trenton. The second concerns the failure to properl;y account for and disclose the identities of the donors of nearly $2000 in cash donations given to the Jackson campaign in December of 2013. These two instances cover only the ongoing 2014 mayoral effort by Mr. Jackson.

Where Eric Jackson shares some exposure to charges by ELEC, similar to Beth Mason in Hoboken, is from his prior mayoral campaign, in 2010.  Beth Mason is facing charges from filing several of her reports very late . Eric Jackson’s prior campaign failed to even file many of his required reports.

In connection with his 2010 campaign, Mr. Jackson filed 4 reports with ELEC. As required, he submitted both a “29-Day Pre-Election report” and an “11-Day Pre-Election report” prior to the May 11, 2010 election, which detailed all of his donations and expenses up to the point at which the reports were submitted. As of his latest report, the “11-Day Pre-Election report” filed on 4/30/2010, Mr. Jackson had raised a total of $45,371 for his campaign, and had spent only $16,517.

And there the story ends. No further reports were ever filed by Mr. Jackson for his 2010 campaign.

He failed to file a required “20-Day Post-Election report” itemizing all of the income and expenses from his campaign as he incurred them before and after Election Day.

He failed to file Quarterly Financial Reports for the periods ending March 30 and June 30, 2010.

He failed to file any “48-hour” notices of expenses or donations in amounts exceeding $1400, as he would have been required to. Now it is possible that his campaign may not have had any donations or expenses that exceeded those amounts; but given how busy his campaign got toward Election Day, and immediately after when he contested his very tight 3rd-place finish alongside Manuel Segura, that is somewhat unlikely.

And, perhaps most importantly, Mr. Jackson failed to file any reports to formally close out his campaign committee after it had ended the 2010 campaign.

By law, any unspent balance in his campaign accounts would have either had to have been transferred to his 2014 campaign, or returned to donors. If he never formally closed his 2010 account, he would have been liable to file financial status reports at the end of every quarter from 2010 up until now.

Mr. Jackson’ s campaign filed no reports from April 30, 2010 until July 15, 2013, over three years later. That July report, which can be viewed here, is the first for his 2014 campaign, and begins all balances for his new campaign from zero.

According to his last report filed, Mr. Jackson had a balance of $23,770.94 in his account. He has never filed a report, as required by law, to disclose what he did with that money after the 2010 election was over. As far as NJ ELEC and state campaign finance law is concerned, the fate of that $23,770.94 – plus any additional 2010 campaign donations and expenses since April 30, 2010 – is unknown and way overdue to be reported.

Back to Beth Mason. According to the article in PolitickerNJ, she has been formally charged with violations and is now subject to fines for reports that were late by 276 days, 276 days, 184 days, 184 days, 98 days and 98 days.

How late are Mr. Jackson’s reports? One of them, the report for expenses through and including the quarter ending June 30 was due on July 15, 2010. That was 1,334 days ago. Many of his other reports are even more overdue.

Will Mr. Jackson be held liable by ELEC for any of this? I don’t know. But given the examples cited above, Councilwoman Mason and Senator/Mayor Stack, he certainly is vulnerable.  And his campaign could be exposed to pay significant penalties and fines, should he be charged.

To me, though, these disclosures are relevant and important for several other reasons.

In reaction to press reports about the pay-to-play violation and the mis-reported cash donations, both the Jackson campaign and the candidate himself have seemed pretty dismissive of the problems.  As quoted by the Trenton Times, Jackson attorney David Minchello denied any violation of ELEC law. “There definitely hasn’t been any violation of the ELEC law,” he said, ”but we will make sure that the cash contributions are reported with names as required by law.”

Mr. Minchello’s denial of an ELEC violation is kind of  undercut by what he said after “but:”  We didn’t violate the law, but we will make sure we will follow it in the future! Hmmm.

Mr. Jackson himself sounded rather dismissive of the problems in his current campaign reporting. According to the Trenton Times, “Although he has to sign the reports before they are submitted, Jackson said he is not solely responsible for any inconsistencies. ‘I don’t see every check that is coming in,’ he said.”

He sounds somewhat less of the hands-on, dedicated professional manager who is the best qualified to bring ethics back to Trenton that his campaign is making him out to be, doesn’t he?

Mr. Minchello and Mr. Jackson could possibly afford to take this kind of position, as long as the conversation was just about one or two minor violations and discrepancies in his current campaign, isolated instances in an otherwise well-run campaign.

But, when viewed in the context of several omissions, oversights and violations conducted by not one but two of his mayoral campaigns four years apart, these isolated instances begin to look more like a pattern of repeated behavior, doesn’t it?

Eric Jackson failed to properly report on, disclose and close out his 2010 mayoral campaign. He has already admitted to violations in campaign record-keeping and reporting in his current one. He admits as well to a certain distance from day to day operations – “I don’t see every check that is coming in” – in a campaign for which he is ultimately responsible.

Does this suggest to you that, as far as observing campaign finance law is concerned, Eric Jackson may be a little less than dedicated? Does he and his campaign believe that there will likely be little chance of being held accountable by ELEC, or the voters, for his campaign reporting lapses?

Perhaps Hoboken’s Councilwoman Beth Mason felt the same. As of last week’s charges against her, I’m sure she feels differently now.

Should all this concern Trenton’s voters? I think it definitely should. Eric Jackson’s unfinished business from his 2010 campaign should certainly be relevant to voters in 2014 as they consider who to elect Mayor to repair Trenton after the past four disastrous years.

Last summer, I wrote a piece that discussed the continuing problems with timely ELEC compliance that several sitting Trenton City Council members were having. What I felt then, I still feel now, and I will finish today with a reprise from that piece.

[A] candidate’s – or office holder’s – record of compliance with the commonly-known and pretty easily-followed ELEC Rules of The Game is a pretty good way to predict how conscientious that person will be to following the rules in office… If [candidates] can’t handle their own campaign finances properly, can we expect them to do so for Trenton’s?




A Casino in Trenton? A Bad Idea! Kill it Dead!!

Yesterday I discussed the poorly thought-out and argued “Plan for Jobs & Economy” released this week by Trenton mayoral candidate Walker Worthy as a central element of his campaign platform for the May election.

Altogether I find it very unconvincing, on several levels. Yesterday I selected only four of his points for any kind of discussion, and I found them all seriously wanting in terms of credibility, feasibility, and lacking estimates of potential benefits to Trenton and its citizens.

Although I could easily discuss some more of Mr. Worthy’s proposals, instead I would like to drill a little further into just one of his ideas. One of the main planks in his economic platform is “developing the city’s waterfront as a tourist draw, including a casino.”

As I wrote yesterday, I thought the proposal of a casino in Trenton sounded like a bad idea. I put my comments in the context of what I suggested may be a saturated market of too many Northeast casinos chasing what may be a limited number of gambling dollars. I also suggested that online gambling, legalized just last year in New Jersey for state residents, might further damage the prospects for a Trenton gaming establishment.

After some further thought and reading, I find that my notes yesterday were too focused on the business prospects of the casino, on the impact of a new entrant into an industry in which it would be hard-pressed to compete.

On reflection, I think that – although I still agree with all of the points I made yesterday – I did not address what probably should be the main reasons that a casino would be a singularly bad idea for Trenton.

Apart from it being a major component of Mr. Worthy’s campaign platform and of his economic development philosophy, I want to make the case that a casino is such a horrid idea for Trenton so strong that no other candidate for Mayor or Council will be tempted to pick up the idea for their own campaign. I  don’t want any other candidate to say “A casino is a good idea. Let’s do it!”

Because gambling in Trenton would be an utter catastrophe.

There has been a lot of research and a lot of press on the impact of gaming on urban environments lately, in the midst of what has been over the last 20 years an explosion of gambling throughout the US.

Not all of it is good. Let’s start with this article about casino development in nearby Philadelphia, in which Dan Keating, the project manager for Wynn Philadelphia, a huge project proposed for that city’s Fishtown neighborhood, was quoted.  Speaking about other proposed casinos suggested for Philly, he was reported as saying “while the Market 8 and Provence casinos [the other projects] are looking to create jobs and development in their neighborhoods, Keating said that they shouldn’t ‘no one should plan on a casino to bring about urban renewal,’ because that’s not what casinos do.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

If that’s the case, as admitted by a casino developer, then what benefit would such a business bring to a place like Trenton, and why in the world would a candidate suggest it in the first place?

But wait a moment! That quote came in an article written a few months ago in September 2013. Could Mr. Keating’s admission be considered sour grapes, or a rather unpolitic tactless admission of an inconvenient truth known by those inside the gambling business but never admitted in public?

Perhaps it is sour grapes. Because in November 2013, just two months after Keating’s quote, Wynn Resorts abandoned its plan to expand into Philadephia. Oh, well then.

But there is more! As reported in November on Philly.com the main reason that Wynn canceled its Philadelphia casino is, as included in a printed statement

“The board [of Directors] took a host of factors into consideration, including the Philadelphia market performance over the past year and the competition which will result from the recent approval of gaming in the State the [sic] New York. Consequently, the company will withdraw its licensing applications in Pennsylvania.”

Translation: There are already too many casinos in the region, and there will soon be more in New York. Wynn won’t make any money in Philadelphia. See ya!

So, where is any possible rationale for a Trenton casino?? Nowhere, that’s where!

But, I am sidetracked. I went off on another business argument. Back to “no one should plan on a casino to bring about urban renewal.”

Here is another article, titled “Top Urbanists Agree: Casinos Ruin Cities.” The arguments here cover a range of city experiments in gambling, citing examples ranging from well-off towns like Toronto to desperate contracting communities such as Detroit. From this article, let me just include this one statement by leading urban economist Richard Florida:

“Toronto’s business leaders like to think that they are helping to build a great global city, but casino building is city-ruining of the highest order. Virtually every serious study that has ever been done of the economic impacts of casinos shows that their costs far exceed their benefits and that they are a poor use of precious downtown land.”

“City-ruining of the highest order.” Keep that in mind in case you hear anyone in Trenton say that a casino might be a good idea!

I leave for last one more nail in the coffin.

Last year, the New York-based non-partisan Institute for American Studies released a 56-page, highly-sourced and footnoted paper on the economic and social impact of modern casinos. Titled, “Why Casinos Matter: Thirty-One Evidence-Based Propositions from the Health and Social Sciences,” this paper (you can download it here’ Press “Read PDF”) should be required reading, if the proposal of Trenton casinos takes on a life of its own apart from Mr. Worthy’s campaign. Which I hope to hell it doesn’t!

This post is long enough, but I think it is important to list each of this report’s 31 propositions, just in summary form. For full arguments and the footnoted sources backing them up, as well as the names of the scholars who wrote the study, you can go to the report itself.

I don’t think it will take much imagination when reading some of these to imagine the particular damage some of these propositions would cause, were they to come about in Trenton!

  1. Casino gambling has moved from the margins to the mainstream of American life.
  2. Today’s regional casinos are different from Vegas-style resort casinos.
  3. The new American casino is primarily a facility filled with modern slot machines.
  4. A modern slot machine is a sophisticated computer, engineered to create fast, continuous, and repeat betting.
  5. Modern slot machines are carefully designed to ensure that the longer you play, the more you lose.
  6. Modern slot machines are highly addictive.
  7. Modern slot machines are engineered to make players lose track of time and money.
  8. Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.
  9. Living close to a casino increases the chance of becoming a problem gambler.
  10. Problem gambling is more widespread than many casino industry leaders claim.
  11. Problem gambling affects families and communities as well as individuals.
  12. Young people are viewed as the future of casino gambling.
  13. Working in a casino appears to increase workers’ chances of having gambling problems.
  14. Working in a casino appears to increase workers’ chances of having health problems
  15. The benefits of casinos are short-term and easy to measure while many of the costs are longer-term and harder to measure.
  16. Casinos extract wealth from communities.
  17. Casinos typically weaken nearby businesses.
  18. Casinos typically hurt property values in host communities.
  19. Casinos are the creation of state government and its public policies.
  20. State regulation of casinos creates a conflict of interest, in which the state is charges with protecting the public from the very business practices that generate revenue for the state and which the state is co-sponsoring.
  21. States are typically failing to protect their citizens from the harms of state-sponsored casino gambling.
  22. States are typically failing to provide adequate help for the treatment of problem and compulsive gambling.
  23. Some states are propping up failing casinos.
  24. Over time, casino expansion within a state and in nearby states can create a downward economic spiral of market saturation, sluggish state revenues, and failing casinos, marked by an ever-growing competition in which each state tries to lure other states’ citizens into its casinos.
  25. Regional casinos are a regressive source of revenue for the states.
  26. Research on gambling is largely funded by the gambling industry.
  27. Research on gambling funded by the gambling industry focuses overwhelmingly on the individual pathology and pharmacology of gambling addiction while avoiding research into machine design, player profiling, and other industry practices and technological innovations that foster gambling addiction.
  28. State sponsorship of casinos is a policy contributing to patterns of inequality in America.
  29. State sponsorship of casinos raises troubling ethical questions about fairness and equal treatment of citizens.
  30. Encouraging people to put their money into slot machines has historically been viewed as unethical.
  31. Encouraging legal gambling as “fun” entertainment and an all-American pastime is a historically new development.

Whew! After all these (and remember, for more detail on these propositions and citations on sources, you can go here) points, who all wants a casino in Trenton? Please raise your hand.

I thought so.

Walker Worthy is kind of tied to his proposal at this point. He only released it this week, and he can’t exactly abandon it now. He has to run on his plan, and be judged on it. Which doesn’t bode well for his chances, in my opinion.

I do hope, though, that I have at the very least raised enough of a concern, and created enough doubt about this, that no other candidate for Mayor or Council will touch the idea of legalized gambling in Trenton with a ten-foot pole.

After so many words on the topic, perhaps I could have summarized things much more succinctly:

If you liked the experience with Trenton’s Hotel, then you’ll love having a Casino!

I think that a casino would be even more disastrous for Trenton and its people than the hotel has been, hard as that is to believe.

This is a really, really, really bad idea! Let us not speak of it again, OK?

Finally, a Plan! But, Don't Get Your Hopes Up!

One of Trenton’s octet of mayoral wannabe’s is rolling out his policy platform this week. Deputy County Clerk Walker Worthy released on Tuesday his “Plan for Jobs & Economy: Focus on Development and Opportunities.” After anxiously waiting for something like this from the various campaigns, I have to say I am not impressed.

The “Plan” is little more than a set of objectives and wishes, with no real road map for getting there, nor have any criteria or scoring been provided to estimate the benefits to the City of Trenton that these objectives will provide.

Let me explain, by quoting just a few of Mr. Worthy’s objectives, and my reactions to them.

“Worthy’s plan for Trenton includes developing the city’s waterfront as a tourist draw, including a casino…”

This is the proposal that is gaining some attention in the media this morning, and it’s what alerted me to the fact that Mr. Worthy released his “plan” in the first place.  This strikes me as poorly conceived and thought out. Why a casino? Where would it be? With Trenton surrounded for hundreds of miles by other gambling meccas in Bucks County, Philadelphia, New York, the Poconos, Maryland and Connecticut – not to mention Atlantic City, whose position as New Jersey’s hub of gambling and entertainment has been badly damaged by the competition from these other locations,  what would be the draw for a Trenton casino? Who would be the target market, when all of these other locations are located in closer proximity to larger populations?

Would the State allow a casino so close to AC, when its fortunes are declining? And in a state that legalized online gaming last year, what is the future for brick-and-mortar casinos? In January of this year, the state issued a report on gaming revenue results for December 2013.  As reported by NJ.com, this report was the first to include results for online gaming as well as casino.

This report showed that in-casino gambling declined 7.6% from December 2012 to December 2013. That is one month’s example, and one can’t derive long-term conclusions from one month’s numbers.

But that report does suggest that legalized online gambling has the real potential to cannibalize market share from existing casinos in the state of NJ. These results suggest that the market for gaming in NJ has a ceiling; it will not expand along with the expansion of opportunities to put $100 on new craps tables. It is what is called an inelastic market. Not good news for Atlantic City, let alone a prospective casino location such as Trenton.

With that in mind, what does Mr. Worthy think the prospects of a Trenton casino might be? What kind of numbers does he forecast for this casino?

We don’t know. His “plan” doesn’t say. He didn’t even cite any positive results or examples from other casino towns to bolster his case. Like so many statements from the candidates and his supporters, he expects the benefits from his “plan” to be self-evident without any arguments nor evidence in favor.

Fail.

“Worthy is also calling for the creation of a redevelopment authority in the city that will help speed the process for developers and identify critical areas of opportunity for building and growth.”

What’s wrong with the departments and agencies we already have? The City of Trenton has the Department of Housing and Economic Development. The State created the Capital City Redevelopment Corporation with exactly the same mission for which Mr. Worthy calls for a new agency?

Why? What is the case for starting a new authority? Sure, there are many criticisms one can offer up for the city’s H&ED department and the CCRC. But, before calling for a new agency, shouldn’t a candidate first make the case for scrapping the existing ones? I think so.

Fail.

“Use my experience and relationships with key state and county officials to create public/private partnerships and promote the benefit of doing business in Trenton.

Hmm, Mr. Worthy only talks about his ”experience and relationships” with public officials in the state and county. OK, I will grant him that he might be able to leverage those connections into something of benefit to Trenton.

But relationships with public officials, as good as they might be, are onlyone-half of any possible “public/private partnerships.”

What kind of ”experience and relationships” does Mr. Worthy have with those in the private sector, and how might they be relevant to developing future opportunities in Trenton? If he has few or none in the private sector, then wouldn’t that require him to be dependent on those “key state and county officials” to gain him entree to the private sector? And will those officials have Trenton’s best interests in mind?

I doubt it. Mr. Worthy’s experience is substantial in public service, on the county level at least which explains why the Mercer Democratic establishment (most of whom reside outside of Trenton) is supporting him so strongly. But he has shown he has no depth of  ”experience and relationships” of the kind in the private sector that could benefit Trenton. So,

Fail.

“Ensure all pending and future development provides a long-term benefit to the city.”

How does Mr. Worthy plan to ensure this? Over the last year or two, we have seen only activity on the development front that singularly fails to provide direct, long-term benefits to the city.

For example, the acquisition by Thomas Edison State College of the Glen Cairn Arms site on West State Street. The only tangible direct benefit to the City was a one-time $300,000 payment in lieu of taxes to the city. The project was touted by the City and County as having the potential of some positive spin-offs to the city: opportunities for nearby retail establishments serving the student body and faculty of the new school being built there, and the educational and professional opportunities to be offered to Trenton residents. But those benefits are intangible, in the future, and anything but assured. In the meantime, one of the prime parcels of Trenton waterfront real estate was taken off the city’s tax rolls, with the active basking of the City, County and State.

The State is also crippling Trenton’s future revenue opportunities, for at least the next 20 years, under the terms of the “New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013,” the State has created a program of tax incentives and credits for preserving existing commercial development and  jobs in the state. But the Act does so by exempting projects developed under this Act from all state and local taxes, including municipal taxes, for a period of up to ten years, and allowing for deep discounts on those taxes for up to another ten.

In the official Legislative Fiscal Estimate prepared for the State Legislature last year before passage of the bill, the impact of this program on towns such as Trenton was predicted as follows:

The Garden State Growth Zone (GSGZ) property valuation exemption will result in significantly reduced property tax revenues for the cities of Paterson, Passaic, Trenton and Camden to encourage potential development which may not occur without GSGZ incentives. [Emphasis mine - KM]

Given this context, and the environment under which the City will function over the next two decades (at least), how can Mr. Worthy – or any candidate – claim he can ”ensure all pending and future development provides a long-term benefit to the city.”

He can’t. He doesn’t even acknowledge the tremendous roadblocks put in place crippling the City and any new Administration. I’d like to see him, and any other candidate, discuss their plans for the economic future of Trenton in the context of that horrible Act of 2013, and hear their plans for objectives for amending it or otherwise limiting the damage to Trenton from the guarantee of “significantly reduced property tax revenues.”

Unless and until Mr. Worthy can speak to the realities  and restraints that these and other handicaps to our development impose upon Trenton, I have to consider his promise as little more than bluster, and therefore a

Fail.

I’m glad to think that this election process is finally getting to the point when campaigns are starting to talk about substance. But I am entirely disappointed by Mr. Worthy’s proposals, at least as released today. I am convinced that his candidacy for mayor of a City with whose affairs  he has little relevance is ill-considered. I am further convinced that the massive support he enjoys from the County Democratic establishment is being provided for purposes other than the benefit and best interests of the citizens of Trenton. What might those purposes be? I have no idea.

But I do know it’s  not because he will be the best person to be Mayor of Trenton.

What Exactly Are You Trying To Say, LA?

There is an odd and confusing column by LA Parker in today’s Trentonian. It is rather odd because Parker, a professional writer and reporter, criticizes local bloggers and Facebook posters as ineffective do-nothings. His is a bold call for Action: “We need more hands on deck instead of mouths that roar about every penny, position, or publication.”

Yeah, like I said. Real Odd, coming from a guy whose supposed profession is to report (”roar” is reserved for opinion-writers, after all!) about “every, penny, position, or publication.” That’s called Journalism, LA.

It’s kind of confusing, for a lot of reasons. The first is… I kind of think he may be talking… at least a little… about me! But I can’t tell!

It’s very hard to tell exactly who the target(s) of his criticism might be. You see, he names none of the bloggers he finds objectionable (Irresponsible, maybe?), nor does he cite any examples of any posts on blogs or Facebook or any social media that have led to his particular outburst.

Parker follows the example I cited yesterday of mayoral candidate Eric Jackson’ Trenton Times column, similarly free of names, dates, facts, or any specific arguments intended to back up whatever argument he is making.

However, I suppose Parker felt some ingrained need to provide some specific names and dates to support his claims, because he does provide a few examples. But he must have pulled them out of his ass, because they don’t have anything to do with the matter at hand. Weird, right?

Catch this: “In Trenton, people would rather blog about a real-time murder occurring just outside their window instead of stopping the crime. They are cut from the same cloth as those who allegedly watched or listened as Winston Moseley plunged a knife into Kitty Genovese.”

When, exactly, did someone in Trenton “blog about a real-time murder occurring just outside their window instead of stopping the crime.” When?

And these anonymous individuals are “cut from the same cloth” as those who stood by when Kitty Genovese was murdered?!?!?!?

What the Fuck, LA?? How do you take that jump? Are you serious?

I’m afraid he is. Because from Kitty Genovese (and, for the record, LA, in March 1964 when she was murdered in Queens, NY, I was 8 years old in San Francisco. And blogging wasn’t invented yet), he jumps to nearby Hamilton in 2013.

Parker mentions the unsolved July 2013 murder of Shakir Williams, shot at a house party where none of an estimated 100 people reported any details or leads for a suspected murderer to police.

What in the name of Joseph Pulitzer does this have to do with bloggers and Facebookers? I have no freaking idea!

He proceeds from these gruesome examples – which, again, have nothing to do with his thesis – to state that Trenton needs people to DO Things, and not just talk:

We constantly hear from disillusionists, obstructionists, and Facebookers. This is an open invitation for those who know that building strong communities requires a house-by-house, block-by-block effort.

Trenton needs more alliances and less [sic] liars, more builders and less bureaucracy, less [sic] politicians but more people involvement.

I think LA Parker needs fewer (not “less,” LA, fewer!) weekly columns, and more editing!

Overall, this column reads as something slapped together around the barest nugget of an idea. He spun off a few paragraphs, realized they were too short, so he kind of threw in the stuff about Genovese and Williams to plump it out.

What a mess!

As I said at the top, without having any idea what is raising Parker’s bile, who the undistinguished – entirely unnamed – and do-nothing bloggers and Facebookers might be who are the subject of this anonymous attack, this cannot be taken at all seriously.

So, why do I even bother to take note of today’s piece? After all, this column is pretty typical of Parker’s work. Why does this one rankle?

Because I can’t help thinking that, in some degree, LA is talking about me. Over the last week there has been a lot of Facebook and Twitter activity. What with the final ejection of Tony Mack from office, the initial flurry of brooms cleaning City Hall under the direction of Acting Mayor George Muschal, and the (finally!) heating-up of this spring’s elections, a lot of people have a lot to say. And Facebook and Twitter is where people go to say a lot of it.

But there have been relatively few old-fashioned political “blog” posts in the last few weeks. Dan Dodson has written a few times. Ditto Mr. From the Front Stoop. Pat Stewart, may she rest in peace, has passed. Robert Chilson and Michael Walker have been pretty quiet lately. And what Dodson and Mr. Stoop have been writing about has been pretty unobjectionable.

But me? I have to say that, after several months when I have been largely quiet, I’ve been a little busier. Over the last ten days I’ve written three columns about Eric Jackson that have been fairly critical. It’s not that I have anything personal against the man, but he and his campaign have been the most active lately, and have been taking several steps that I find questionable.

His campaign has been involved in a violation of the City Pay-to-Play Ordinance, he accepted a dubious endorsement from Ewing pastor Johnnie Vaughan who personally benefited from an allegedly no-show patronage job under Tony Mack.

Both of these moves I criticized for violating the spirit of his self-proclaimed “zero tolerance” policy toward corruption.  He reiterated this policy in a remarkably fact-free Trenton Times op-ed yesterday, about which I had some rather emphatic words to say.

(I suppose this is turning into my Fourth Jackson column, then!)

Hmmm… I published that blog post yesterday morning. And LA Parker publishes his incoherent rant against “some upstart city blog, another one of the countless websites in Trenton manned by people who think criticism makes them a community activist or clairvoyant” online last night at 8:57 PM.

Could there possibly be a connection, you think? Possibly, possibly. But of course, there would never be any way to know for sure.

But it is some coincidence, don’t you think?

So, even granting a possibility that there is not one word in Parker’s screed that is directed my way, is there anything in his column that I can take to heart.

No, not really. I started this blog four years ago when I ran – very unsuccessfully, I will add – for City Council. That run was after several years serving Trenton in such ways as sitting on the city’s Zoning Board for a dozen years; attempting to help the Trenton Library by attempting to establish a Foundation, raising tens of thousands of dollars in the process until blocked by the Library’s then-Chair and former Mayor Doug Palmer; and serving as a Democratic Committeeman and member of the city’s Democrats’ Executive Committee until work commitments forced me to resign.

My blog started as a result and an offshoot of the other work I was doing, not as a replacement. And that has been true of  other social media commentators in this town. It’s true of Mr. Stoop, Dan Dodson, and was true of Pat Stewart.

So, to read criticism from the likes of LA Parker that refers to me and my brethren – however indirectly – as “disillusionists, obstructionists, and Facebookers” pisses me off.

Unless, of course, I read his rant as a direct response to the piece I wrote yesterday. Which means that I must have pressed some buttons, touched some nerves, and made some people angry.

In which case, I say I must be Doing Something Right!!!

But, as I said, I will never know for sure. LA didn’t bother to name any of his targets, so I will just ignore the criticism and continue to do what I do.

There is one line in which I find myself in complete agreement. His last line in today’s column.

“It’s put up or shut up time in Trenton.”

Indeed. “Put up” has to mean saying what you mean: naming your subjects, making your arguments with facts and evidence, stating plans and platforms with specifics and not warm & fuzzy appeals to emotion. And meaning what you say.

It’s put up or shut up time in Trenton, Candidates!

It’s put up or shut up time in Trenton, Press. That means you, LA!

It’s put up or shut up time in Trenton, Voters!

It’s put up or shut up time in Trenton.

Yup.

You First, Mr. Jackson!!

What a remarkable op-ed in this morning’s Trenton Times by mayoral candidate Eric Jackson!

The title of the piece is “Trenton needs leader with ‘zero tolerance for corruption’” and lays out several objectives and standards that a new mayoral administration – presumably that of Eric Jackson’s – will pursue. But the piece is amazing in that it seems to have been written in a vacuum. There are NO references to any people, issues, and events experienced in the City of Trenton over the last four years! The article is misinformed and ignorant of current city laws and systems already in place to provide for the ethical conduct of Trenton’s city government. And the article is ironically silent on Mr. Jackson’s own ethical lapses.

Where to start? How about at the beginning? The piece opens by proclaiming, “Cronyism and corruption. These are not words that should ever be associated with public service and yet, too often, they are. Politicians elected by their fellow citizens to improve the quality of life for their constituents too often end up taking advantage of their office for personal gain. Taxpayers who believe their hard-earned money is going toward improving schools, roads and public safety instead learn that it is being spent to line the pockets of the connected few.”

Do Tell!! Are there any particular examples you have in mind, sir? We don’t know. Less than one week after the convicted felon serving as the previous mayor was ejected from office by a Superior Court Judge, the name of Tony Mack appears nowhere in this piece. In fact, no names appear in this piece, at all!

I find that pretty striking. The opening paragraphs in this piece read as something so abstract, so hypothetical, so conditional, an uniformed reader would have no trouble believing this article described just about any community anywhere in the United States. Even the one bland description of “the mess” left to the new mayor could have been spoken by any candidate in any jurisdiction, at any time, arguing his or her candidacy.

This blandness and lack of specificity extends to Mr. Jackson’s prescriptions for “cleaning up” the undescribed “mess.”

Mr. Jackson wants to create a new position of “independent inspector general.” We read that this new person  will “have full and unfettered authority to investigate corruption, fraud and dishonest practices throughout city government” in all agencies and departments.

Why? We are never told. In an environment where a level of oversight of the city – imperfect and inconsistent, yes, but it is a fact of life, which Mr. Jackson fails to even acknowledge, let alone discuss – by the State’s Department of Community Affairs, why would we need a new Inspector General?

Mr. Jackson does not say. To him, this important first step apparently speaks for himself, since he says no more about this.

Next, Mr. Jackson proclaims “Second, the mayor and council must adopt a strong ethics code that will be binding for all elected and appointed officials.”

Good Idea! A very good one! In fact, so good we already have one!!!

Here is the Ethics Code of the City of Trenton, as adopted by the Trenton Ethics Board in November 2013, a body that was created by Ordinance in August 2012, and whose members were appointed in August 2013.

Isn’t it odd that a mayoral candidate in 2014, running on a strong platform of ethical reform, would not know that of the current existence of an ethics code, or apparently of the Trenton Ethics Board?

Yes it is. Very odd, indeed.

The absence of any references to any specific ethical lapses, or any specific individuals  during previous Trenton Administrations – note the plural, here!!! – critically weakens the argument of this piece. Without acknowledging where the lapses have been, it is impossible for a reader to judge if Mr. Jackson’s prescriptions, bland and redundant as they are, will work. Or, whether existing systems and mechanisms already available to us might be more effective.

Let me describe one specific example, something that eludes Mr. Jackson in his op-ed today.  One of the main failures of the Mack Administration, and one of the main opportunities for corruption was in contracts oversight and administration. Remember, for instance, “Cooper Levenson,” “Five Star Auto Detailing,” and  “SR Development“? Mr. Jackson doesn’t.

Contracting and purchasing has been the opportunity for much of the corruption in government, and not only in Trenton. Seems to me that, as I suggested three years ago, that the City may want to actually constitute the “Board of Review” that is already contained in our Ordinances (here it is) to review decisions of the city’s purchasing agent and hear appeals from bidders who may feel their experience was tainted or unfair.

This Board, consisting of two citizens and a City Council member, is already on our books and ready to go. I think that this may be a significant improvement to the honest administration of city purchasing. We should give it a shot.

Does Mr. Jackson? I don’t think he is even aware of its existence.

It is bad enough that a leading mayoral candidate such as Eric Jackson can reveal such shocking ignorance of Trenton’s current municipal structure, and can be so lazy in a major op-ed piece as to speak in vague generalities without reference to ANYTHING that has happened over the last several years.

But for him to go on and state as his central premise “Most important, the next mayor has to lead by example. Municipal government is only as strong, ethical and transparent as its leader. The mayor must make it clear to every employee working for the city and its independent agencies that there is zero tolerance for corruption, personal enrichment or dishonesty.” [Emphasis mine - KM.]

A few weeks ago I asked, “So let me ask: Mr. Jackson, in the context of today’s news story about an apparent Pay-to-Play violation in your campaign [by City Bond Counsel McManimon Scotland Baumann LLC] , what exactly do you mean by ‘zero tolerance?’”

Jackson replied in a way, on Feb 25, by denying he had a problem. “’This issue is really not with my camp,’ Jackson said Monday. ‘I feel as a candidate I want every vendor who supports me to be within the boundaries of our local pay-to-play policies.’  Jackson said his campaign will “absolutely” return the donation if requested by McManimon’s firm. ‘We have a check on standby ready so we don’t hold up the process,’ he said.”[Emphasis mine - KM]

So, “zero tolerance” actually means “some tolerance,” and a tainted contribution will be returned only if the donor asks for a refund?!?!?!?

Sounds like a pretty relaxed attitude to me. Same with Mr. Jackson’s acceptance last week of an endorsement by the Reverend Johnny Vaughan, one of a large group of Trenton clergy who publicly backed Mr. Jackson last week. Apparently this group – whose endorsement was apparently given without any other mayoral candidate having an opportunity to seek it – didn’t have a problem with including Mr. Vaughan in their number, and neither did Mr. Jackson have a problem with accepting it. Mr. Vaughan, about whom I wrote two weeks ago, accepted a patronage job working in the Mack Administration in its early years, a $40,000 per year job that has attracted criticism for being a no-show job with no defined job functions or responsibilities.

Mr. Jackson’s acceptance of Mr. Vaughan’s support, despite his policy of “zero tolerance for corruption, personal enrichment or dishonesty” has picked up some more attention in the media, as in this Sunday piece by LA Parker in the Trentonian. Glad you picked up on this, LA.

But these two instances are relatively minor in the overall context of Eric Jackson’s mayoral campaign. His candidacy is based primarily on his resume of public service, including several years in Trenton as Director of Public Works in the Administration of Doug Palmer. As such, there are many open questions and concerns that Mr. Jackson and his campaign have failed to address. On the basis of today’s fact-and-name-free op-ed, he apparently has no intention of addressing them on his own.

This is not acceptable, if he expects to be seriously considered as a leading candidate to lead this city away from the wreckage of the previous Mayoral Administrations of Tony Mack and Doug Palmer.

This morning, he writes, “I am challenging all of our residents to take responsibility for our community, to help me clean up City Hall and to root out corruption. As citizens, we must take ownership of our government and not leave it up to others to do.”

You challenge us to “take responsibility” and “take ownership,” sir?

You first!

Rather than re-cover the same territory, let me extensively quote from a December 2013 piece. Since none of the questions have been answered, and all are still highly relevant, why not?

Jackson claims that he attempted to discipline the corrupt [at Trenton Water Works] internally. In today’s article, Alex Zdan writes, “Jackson put together a discipline hearing, where he was expecting testimony [against convicted felon and Mack brother Stanley Davis] from witnesses who never materialized. ‘We had the attorneys there, ready to take it to administrative law and the witnesses did not want to come forward,’ Jackson said.

This internal approach to solving the problems at the Water Works has been described by Eric Jackson a few other times in the last few weeks. Giving testimony last week at an Office of Administrative Law trial involving two Water Works employees,  he said he implemented policy changes that reduced massive overtime charges, the padding of which was a principal method of stealing from the Water Works.

And two weeks ago another article in which Alex Zdan reported that a Grand Jury in 2011 had looked into allegations of corruption and theft at the Water Works both during Mack’s term and before – that is, during Jackson’s tenure under Mayor Palmer. In that article, Jackson again described and defended his actions: “Jackson said he had received some information that employees [such as Davis] were hooking up water to customers without authorization, but did not obtain enough information to make a case against anyone. ‘There were allegations we investigated, but not corroborated,’ Jackson said. As director, Jackson said, he inherited staff and procedures, but worked to increase accountability even as some of the employees tried to counter with other ways to perform illicit activity.”

According to this December 11 article by Mr. Zdan, there were many serious problems at the Water Works over the years. In addition to payroll padding, there were several thefts of equipment including incidents in 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008. A lot of incidents.

Mr. Jackson’s response each time, as stated in these three separate news accounts? Investigations, disciplinary hearings and administrative findings. All internal.

What I would like to know, after all these stories, is whether Mr. Jackson ever called in the Trenton Police or talked to county prosecutors about this rampant corruption?

We know that there was criminal activity at the Water Works; that’s why Muscles Davis is serving time. Equipment was walking away, and individuals were falsifying time cards. Did any of this lead Mr. Jackson to involve law enforcement? If not, why not? Why did the only criminal prosecutions stemming from corruption at the Water Works occur after Palmer and Jackson left City Hall, if the situation was similar back then?

I think we also need to Mr. Jackson to explain what other measures he put in place to reduce problems at the Water Works. We read he cut down on overtime abuse. Were additional security cameras installed to control equipment walking away? Were inventory controls and equipment sign-out procedures revamped? Did TWW management exert more effective oversight of their staff?

While we are at it, why [was] maintenance of the suburban assets of TWW allowed to slip in the run-up to the 2010 referendum, and why were so many staff openings for service technicians left open during that period, leaving the Water Works short-handed as the Mack Administration started up?

For me, if Eric Jackson cannot show that he at some point in his tenure brought in law enforcement to investigate the situation at TWW, that will sink his candidacy. He cannot be seriously considered as a potential Mayor if he allowed a culture of corruption to survive unchecked at the utility without trying to call in the cops.

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.


It's Been A Slow Start. But We Are Off! And Jackson Stumbles Out of the Gate!

Trenton’s 2014 Municipal Election season got off to a very slow start, almost two years ago. This week, less than 3 months before the May poll date, things seem to be picking up. I am not encouraged by what I see.Today that means the news about Eric Jackson and his campaign.

In today’s Trentonian there are two stories involving Mr. Jackson, both written by David Foster. In the first, Mr. Foster passes along the announcement from Julie Roginsky, a political consultant with prior experience on other recent New Jersey Democratic campaigns who has been hired to assist Mr. Jackson’s effort.

That article was noted approvingly by Jackson on his Twitter feed:

However, Mr. Jackson fails to note as approvingly, or even at all, the appearance of the second article by Mr. Foster in the Trentonian. This piece describes how a contribution of $500 at the end of 2013 to Mr. Jackson’s campaign by the firm acting as the City of Trenton’s bond counsel, McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, LLC, may be in violation of Trenton’s Pay-to-Play campaign law.

This law, passed by public referendum back in 2006, prohibits companies providing professional services to  the City from making any contributions to the city’s political candidates. A violation such as the $500 contribution to the Jackson campaign may lead to the cancellation of any city contract for that firm.

Now this story is in its early stages, and there will likely be more information forthcoming soon from our city’s media about this alleged campaign finance violation.

But I find it curious that we have heard no statement as of yet from Mr. Jackson. It is very probable that he saw the story: it was posted online last night one minute before the story about Ms. Roginsky that Eric Jackson gushed about on Twitter. Mr. Foster also writes that “Jackson did not respond to several calls for comment.”

It is also curious that we have heard no comment as of yet since Mr. Jackson prominently features this issue on his campaign website, and takes a stance that sounds to me to be even more severe and stringent than the City’s own Ordinance.

In the “Issues” section of his website, on a page titled “Ethics,” Mr. Jackson states “As Mayor, I will put in place a series of ethic reforms including an open process for all director positions, pay-to-play contribution protections, and limit political influence on zoning related issues.”  [Emphasis mine - KM]

What might those “pay-to-play contribution protections” be, and how would they differ from the City’s current Ordinance? Weaker? Stronger? In the context of today’s news, what does Mr. Jackson think about our Pay-to-Play law?

Eric Jackson wants to make sure that we know he takes the issue of Ethics very seriously. In his “Issues” section, he lists only “Public Safety,” “Education” and Ethics. There are no tabbed sections for Trenton’s Finances, Taxes, Residential or Commercial Development, Unemployment, Infrastructure (including the woeful Trenton Water Works), or any others.

Just Public Safety, Education and Ethics.

To underscore his commitment to an ethical Administration, he declares

“Let me be clear, I have and will maintain a zero tolerance for any unethical behavior or actions. A true leader does not look to personally benefit on the backs and taxes of the residents.”

So let me ask: Mr. Jackson, in the context of today’s news story about an apparent Pay-to-Play violation in your campaign, what exactly do you mean by “zero tolerance?”

What does that mean in this instance? What will be the consequences of your zero tolerance policy inside your campaign, or with McManimon, Scotland & Baumann’s future with the City of Trenton under a Jackson Administration?

What does today’s story tell us about a future Jackson Administration? Also, while I have your attention, there are still several unanswered questions I raised a few months ago about your prior service to Trenton that I think it would be helpful to discuss.

You may choose to use some other medium than Twitter to reply. Sounds like you may need more than 140 characters to answer.

Oh, and Congratulations on your new consultant! Seems like she got here just in time.

Dear Mr. Mack

Bounding down the steps to the first floor, Mack, with a smile on his face, continued to ignore questions. Once outside, Mack gave one buoyant response:

“E-mail your questions,” he said, gripping the rear passenger door of his waiting city SUV, flashing a thumbs-up, and getting in.

Ok, then!

As e-mailed, Wednesday, February 19, 2014, to mayorsoffice@trentonnj.org, with cc’s to aroberts@trentonnj.org and MHERNANDEZTORRES@trentonnj.org:

Dear Mr. Mack:

Don’t you think it is a little late to rely on an insanity defense?

Your behavior since your conviction on all of the six criminal charges of which you were indicted and tried in District Court makes no sense to me, except in the context of a defense strategy that is kind of, you know, not going to work. Because your trial is over. You are guilty.

Do you think there is any possible outcome to your court hearing next week other than your removal from office?

Had you been convicted of a felony in a New Jersey court, your position as Mayor would have been automatically forfeited on the same day you were were found guilty. It’s only because of a bug in New Jersey law that this extra judicial process is required.

You will still lose your office, your salary, your pension, and any future public life in New Jersey.

Do you have any doubt this will be the inevitable outcome of this process?

Why did you show up at last night’s Council meeting? I guess you correctly figured that none of the “bewildered council members on the dais,” in the words of Trenton Times reporters Jenna Pizzi and Alex Zdan, would call you out for your appearance and shameful refusal to leave office before you are kicked out. They are, all of them, just as inexplicably intimidated by you in your last days as they were four years ago. For the life of me, I just cannot figure out why that is.

Wasn’t your departure last night a tad embarrassing? The Times reports “When approached by reporters, the mayor fled from the room and down a back stairwell.” Or is that kind of flight from the building second nature by now?

Don’t you think Judge Michael Shipp will take all this into account when you next appear before him at your sentencing?

Yes, this is your first conviction and all. But you were found guilty of some pretty serious crimes. In order to reduce your time in prison, I would suppose the judge would want to see some demonstration that you show some remorse for your actions, some actions that show that you realize what you have done and take some personal responsibility.

Don’t you think that your actions over the last two weeks – hanging on to your title by your fingertips, refusing to resign, insisting on your police-assigned official driver, generally acting like nothing has changed – may lead the judge to throw the book at you?

Why are you acting in ways that will probably extend your time in prison? Don’t you think your family will miss you during the extra months or years you will be kept from them?

Do you think these extra few weeks in office are worth it?

Why?

Has any of this made an impact on you? Do you know how badly you have betrayed yourself, your family and the people of the City of Trenton?

Sincerely,

Kevin Moriarty

Hanging On

This week, Trenton has once again achieved a World-Class ranking!

Upon his Friday conviction on federal charges of extortion, bribery, wire fraud, etc. the travails of Tony F. Mack were featured on this week’s “Corruption Currents” page on the Wall Street Journal’s website, a summary of the Global Leaders in Bribery, Cybercrime, Money Laundering, Sanctions, Whistleblowers and – since one size cannot fit all types of wrongdoing – “General Anti-Corruption.”

This is the Convicted Occupant of Trenton’s Mayor’s Office second recent appearance on the weekly rundown. This space noted back in December his first inclusion among the World’s Crookedest along with compatriots in places as far afield as India, Guinea, Algeria and Wall Street. The December ranking was based on anticipation of his then-upcoming January Federal trial.

With the jury verdict of guilty on all charges, the Convicted Extortionist makes it back to number 2 on this week’s Corruption Rundown, sandwiched between an unnamed “former Greek defense ministry official [who] took so many bribes that he can’t remember them all. (NY Times),” and “Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone [who] expects to be cleared of bribery charges. (BBC).”

Elsewhere in the weekly summary of global sleaze are reports that “[a]nother Turkish member of parliament quit, marking the ninth since a massive graft scandal broke in December,  (Hurriyet) [and] an Israeli mayor was suspended for nearly a year as he fights corruption charges. (Haaretz)”

It kind of makes you feel that It’s A Small World After All, doesn’t it, that Trenton’s Own can be considered on the same page as such a real world-class jerk as “The former head of Brazil’s state-owned bank, convicted for his role in a corruption scandal, was arrested in Italy after three months on the run. (Irish Times)?”

Of course, by this point in our local story, I had long expected to be speaking of of our Convicted Bribe-Taker and Conspirator in the past tense. I had not considered that the wheels of post-verdict justice would have continued to grind so slowly so as to allow the fraudster convicted by a jury of his peers on all the counts on which he was charged to still retain the title he shamelessly clings to.

Yes, the Convicted Federal Felon remains, in name only if not form, the mayor of the city of Trenton. The legal process by which he would be removed from office is a longer one than anticipated, and the man so far refuses to take the same action that neighboring Hamilton’s former mayor John Bencivengo took one day after his conviction on federal graft charges in 2012: that is, compose a short note resigning his office to allow the town he served to move on to recovery and healing without any unseemly delay.

By doing so, he leaves his city and himself twisting in the wind, for no constructive purpose whatsoever. Whatever he thinks he is doing by refusing to resign, we are told in today’s press accounts that “His [eventual] removal [by court order] will be retroactive to the day of his conviction, meaning any executive actions by him can be immediately reversed by his successor.” This means also that any salary due to him will also end on the say of his conviction, meaning last Friday. So it’s not as if he is going to see another dime in income from this job.

When he returns to the federal courtroom of Judge Michael Shipp in May for sentencing, the judge will not look kindly on the way the convicted thief had to be forcibly ejected from his office. When a judge passes sentence, they customarily like to see some evidence of contrition or remorse from the convict, some sense that the enormity of their acts has reached him finally, leading him to make some attempt at amends before being called to begin paying his debt to society.

Who knows, a prompt resignation such as Bencivengo’s might result in some consideration at sentencing for Mack.  In that case, the ex-Hamilton mayor could have received five to six years if the federal prosecutor’s request had been granted. Instead, US District Judge Anne Thompson handed down a sentence of 3 years and 2 months for his official crimes. Despite the gravity of the crimes found to have been committed by him, expressions and actions showing remorse will probably have a moderating influence.

However, those actions and expressions have to be made in order to be considered!

So far, four days and counting after the verdict, there has been no resignation, nor any kind of statement from the man. He remains, in title if not in any kind of meaningful real way, the mayor. Which means Trenton continues to lack any leadership from that office, as it has for the last several months if not years.

It also means something else. Over the weekend, as Trentonians heard Friday’s news and pondered its impact, I read and heard from several folks who reflected on the personal consequences of the conviction on the lives of his family and loved ones. “Think of what this does to his wife and children!” was a common sentiment when reflecting on the imminence of federal prison time for the man and his brother, also convicted on the same day. This is, sadly, a real and personal tragedy that will impact the lives of several innocent individuals. And yes, I do consider their position and feel bad for them.

But only to a point. By his unexplained pigheadedness and refusal to take the one final honorable and graceful action available to him, a prompt and timely resignation, Tony F. Mack is proving yet again that he is valuing not the best interests of his family, but his own greedy, selfish vanity.

With each new hour that passes without news of a resignation note he shows the world that he is NOT “thinking of his wife and family,” that their continued shame and embarrassment matters not a whit to him, and that beyond that, he does not give a damn about the other 85,000 souls in this City who have to wait – again – to finally move on and start to build a post-Mack Trenton.

I should have guessed that the manner of his leaving would be no different in his self-centered narcissism than the four years that came before.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that he is as much of a coward after his conviction as he was before.

But I am. This story is likely to have at least a few more twists and turns in it before it staggers to its inevitable conclusion, sorry to say.

But, going forward, please, please spare me any more anguished concern for his family! If the man himself can’t be bothered to do this one thing on their behalf, uselessly hanging on to his job to no possible productive end, I for one will shed not a tear for them, nor for him.

Aspire to Be Boring

trenton year zero

Moving On.

I look forward to a day when Trenton is a wholly-unremarkable small city on the Delaware River.

A day when you don’t even notice that there’s nothing in the newspaper or on TV about the place. Again.

A day when police officers punching in to work wonder – in a good way – how they’re going to make it through another day when hardly anything interesting ever happens, and that kind of day just drags on forever, you know?

A day when parents kiss their children as they head off to school, slightly concerned as always that the schools are giving their babies so much homework, but mostly happy that they do so. “They must know what they’re doing, because graduation and college placement rates are always so good!” is what they tell each other.

A day when homeowners are visibly annoyed (but secretly happy) that they can hardly even go out to pick up their mail without hearing from visitors in front of their homes asking if they know of any houses for sale in their neighborhood. “We’ve always wanted to live in Trenton, but there’s almost never anyone moving out!” Well, that’s what happens when kids finish school and choose to stay in town to work. The job opportunities are all here, and the cost of living is so reasonable.

A day when having to wait for a red light to change at an intersection doubles your morning commute time walking to work.

A day when you think that it’s kind of a shame Gordon Ramsay will probably never have to visit Trenton to fix a restaurant here because they’re all pretty good and all doing pretty well. You wonder if you’ll ever have a chance to find out if he really is as much of a son of a bitch as he seems to be on TV. Say, speaking of which, where should we go tonight? So many to choose from.

A day when the tax bill comes in the mail and it’s down again for, what is it, the 7th, 8th year in a row? And you wonder how the City can manage to keep doing this year after year? The City keeps doing more and more, and it’s costing less and less. “The mayor and city council are sure earning their pay this year” you think.

A day when you have to think hard to remember who the mayor is, anyway, and who the folks are on city council. They do their work so quietly and competently, it’s  easy to forget that there’s someone down in City Hall taking care of things. It all seems to run itself without any drama.

This is a day a long, long way away from any Heaven or Earth that can be dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.

But it is one day closer, today.