Thursday, January 28, 2010

The early line

Interesting twists and turns on the road to the May 11 Trenton elections.

Wednesday marked the formal announcements of Freeholder Keith Hamilton for Mayor and South Ward resident Christine Donahue for Council At Large.

Hamilton, who apparently moved back into Trenton specifically to run for Mayor, has had a relatively undistinguished tenure as a County Freeholder.

Donahue is little known outside of the South Ward where she worked to help get George Muschal elected in November’s special election to fill the vacancy left by Jim Coston. She was also involved in some of the work to halt the sell off of part of the Trenton Water Works to NJ American Water.

At the same time as Hamilton is officially adding his name to the list of Mayoral wannabes, Wiley Fuller has dropped out of that race and opted to run for one of the three Council At large seats. Fuller ran for Mayor in 2006 and had a rather poor showing.

These moves bring the total of candidates to ten for Mayor and eight for the three Council At Large seats.

Doug Palmer has not signed up to endorse any candidate yet. He's no doubt waiting so he can play the role of "king maker."

The Trentonian reported yesterday that there is a move afoot to reduce the number of black candidates in the mayoral race. We here at the stoop are wondering why only the black candidates for mayor are being scrutinized when they all need serious vetting.

Some early handicapping

Let’s face it; this year’s cohort of candidates is pretty weak in the qualification department.

We have two current council people (Pintella and Segura), both of whom were elected largely due to outgoing Mayor Doug Palmer’s long coat tails and fat checkbook.

To be fair, Segura did have some strong financial support from North Jersey businessmen and his Dominican ancestry garnered political help from Democratic Party bosses who are salivating at the specter of getting a Hispanic mayor elected in Trenton. (Anyone remember the roll call of Dem biggies from then Senator Bob Torricelli, Representative Rush Holt, and on down through State Senator Shirley Turner, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora and various elected county officials present at Segura’s 2002 headquarters opening?)

Pintella has always been Doug’s water carrier on council and Segura has played along for all but the last 18 – 24 months of his two terms. Why would we want either of them to serve as Mayor? They should both drop out, now.

Outgoing West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue has long had her eye on the mayor’s office. Now she’s making her move. As a member of council for the past 12 years, she shares some accountability for the many blunders of the current administration (not to mention a few of her own…anyone remember “Stand down officer!”?). She has no business thinking she’s qualified to run this city and should herself, stand down. But she won’t. So the people will decide for her.

Local businessman Frank Weeden is running again. It’s a shame. Frank would probably make an ok councilman. He’s been an outspoken critic of the waste and excesses of the current administration. But that doesn’t mean he’s up to the Mayor thing. This run could cost him his business, ANA Design candles, and that would be a shame for all concerned. Ego is an expensive mistress, Frank.

Right there, we’ve eliminated four of the contenders, one woman, one Hispanic, one white and two blacks. And we have only just begun.

John Harmon, the charismatic former head of the Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce (MTAACC) is running again. His professional demeanor and business credentials had a lot of people pulling for him four years ago. Harmon’s campaign seemed to be overcome with inertia; he never moved it past his opening position, came in a distant third in 2006 and has hardly been heard from since.

Emmanuel Shahid Watson ben Avraham has changed names and persona more times than Brett Farve has come out of retirement. He was also revealed to be at the center of a questionable state contract that paid his company millions of dollars with little oversight or measured effect. We can cut him from the list for his perpetual posing and hazy ethics.

Two more off the list. Now we’re down to four: Tony Mack, Eric Jackson, Keith Hamilton, and Alexander Brown.

Hamilton, as noted above, is virtually undistinguished in his political career. And his perception as a carpetbagger who moved back into Trenton specifically to run for Mayor isn’t giving him any positive points. Hamilton’s done nothing neither egregiously wrong nor wonderfully outstanding as an elected county official. He’s a non-starter.

Alexander Brown has been on and off and on the school board a few times. He’s headed up the schools’ Facilities Advisory Board which, along with the Schools Development Authority (SDA) and its predecessor the School’s Construction Corporation (SCC), has fumbled the entire high school financing deal. Further, as an appointee of the current administration he shares in culpability for the mismanagement of our failing school system.

Considering Alexander Brown as a viable candidate for Mayor is like saying Shirley Turner should be made a member of the board of directors of Garden State Equality.

This leaves Mack and Jackson, who (along with Segura) are most likely among the top three vote getters.* But placing first, second or third in the race doesn’t mean they are what the city needs.

Jackson is gentlemanly and soft-spoken. He’s overseen the massive Public Works Department and took the reins of the Library Board of Trustees after Mrs. Hayling resigned. Is he Mayoral material? Depends upon whether or not you believe the failings of his department were his fault or predicated by the actions and demands of the vengeful administration troika of Palmer, Gonzalez and Haynes.

Tony Mack is a scrappy fighter who came within a few hundred votes of getting in a runoff with Palmer in 2006. Tony has held responsible positions in city government, union leadership and was a multi-term freeholder (until he fell from favor with the County Dem machine---itself a mismanaged and ineffective organization). Mack’s reticence to readily accept the outcome of the last election and the issue of some bad checks are haunting him about now.

None of the candidates except Mack have yet to put forth any real concrete platform pieces. It is also early in the campaign and most likely the candidates will wait for the policy arguments to be framed by public opinion before going out on a limb and expressing themselves in detail on any topic.

The newspapers are right…there are too many people running for office. And too few real candidates.

*At this time. As with all contests, the betting line will most likely change overtime as the campaign progresses. Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

GOTCHA, again!

Thursday's revelation that the Palmer Administration's hired gun Joe Alacqua cancelled a contract with a local insurance agent due to allegedly improper contributions to Manny Segura and Zachary Chester left a lot of people scratching their heads.

Segura has long gotten contributions from businesses and other politicians...directly or via the joint candidates committee that supported "the Palmer slate" of himself, Council President Paul Pintella and Cordelia Staton in 2002 and 2006. Some of these contributors, like former Senator Bob Torricelli or Stowell Fulton of Atlantic Associates end up doing lucrative business with the city. (In 2006, Torricelli and/or his ex-wife gave a over $10,000 to Palmer and his slate. In the same year, Stowell Fulton gave $2600 to the joint candidates committee, Trenton 2006 and Bernard Fulton, also affiliated with Atlantic Associates, gave $2500 to Palmer's campaign. This was prior to the enacting of the Pay-to-Play ordinance now in effect.)

Mr. Chester, on the other hand, is making his first run for public office. Along with his wife, Alysia, Chester was instrumental in getting the city's Pay-to-Play law adopted through referendum. A law, by the way, drafted and vetted through the Citizen's Campaign...a non-profit, non-partisan corporation working to clean up New Jersey's extremely corrupt political system. That neither of them completely understood the technicalities of the law they helped get passed is unfortunate.

But the real question was, how did this happen to come to light at this time.

Some of our operatives started digging around in the reports available from the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJ ELEC) website to see what they could find out about this situation. Strangely enough, the candidate reports readily available online didn't show anything about the specific campaign contributions referenced in the press reports.

Going back over the text of Friday's article in the Times (as opposed to Friday's reportage in the Trentonian) the Front Stoop staff got the sense that the information leading to Borden-Perlman's disqualification must have been found elsewhere.

Further research revealed that any business entity receiving more the $50,000 in aggregate from any public entity must provide a Business Entity Annual Statement (Form BE) detailing any and all contributions made to local, county or state candidates, PAC's or Political Committees. This form, once completed by the potential vendor, would be submitted to NJ ELEC.


Borden-Perlman has a long history of making political contributions. Apparently and appropriately the firm disclosed the campaign and political contributions they made in Trenton and Mercer County, assuming all the while they were within compliance of the law and eligible for the contract.

Even Alacqua seems to agree there was no intent to break the law. The Times reported:
The law bars violators from getting city contracts for four years, but Alacqua said it appeared that Borden Perlman did not deliberately break the law. He noted that the city discovered the violation only because the company voluntarily disclosed its campaign contributions in compliance with a state law that applies to insurance companies.

Somebody in the business office at city hall must have been doing their due diligence and taken notice that there might be some questions about the legality of certain contributions and taken it upon him or herself to flag the contract.

But who would do such and thing and why?



Here's the scenario the conspiracy committee at From the Front Stoop has come up with:

The Acting (after more than a year!) Business Administrator for the City of Trenton is Dennis Gonzalez.

Reportedly, Dennis Gonzalez was brought to Trenton on the recommendation of Manny Segura. (They knew each other from Perth Amboy. Gonzalez's wife was the campaign treasurer for Segura's 2002 run). This was all "fine" until Manny decided to bolt from the Palmer sphere of influence and strike out on his own.

For his part, Gonzalez would remain a loyal Palmer soldier. (He'd probably be unemployed if he wasn't) What better way to maintain the master's favor than to take a shot at the defector.

And, as a bonus, Gonzalez got to throw some dirt on Zachary Chester who bested him in a battle of nerve and words a couple of years ago. Chester, you may recall, made a very public inquiry about the status of various development projects (then under the purview of Dennis Gonzalez as Housing and Economic Development Director). Gonzalez, never the statesman, threatened to sue Chester if there wasn't a retraction (retraction of what, no one was ever quite sure).

The information on what Borden-Perlman undoubtedly thought were perfectly legal campaign contributions was given to Special Counsel and Palmer Puppet Joe Alacqua.* No doubt accompanying the documentation was a strong suggestion to kill the Borden-Perlman contract. Should Chester and Segura have their integrity questioned or images smeared in the process...oh well, bonus for Gonzalez.

And should the contract go to another vendor, with deeper pockets and stronger ties to the Democratic party in New Jersey, so much the better for Palmer and company. (see POLITICKERNJ blog on the Battle for Trenton).

The denizens of the Front Stoop admit they don't have first hand knowledge of any of the above. It is offered up merely as a suggestion of what might have occurred.

We leave it to the reader to decided for him or herself.

*Let the record show that in Saturday's Times Mr. Alacqua was reported as saying he opposed the legislation when it was proposed because it was too strict.
"It just doesn't make any sense. If you have a contract, you can't give anything," he said.

He should have been happy to have the ordinance adopted as it would save him having to donate the $2850 to Palmer and company every few years as he did in 2006.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Interesting news out of City Hall last night: an insurance vendor lost a sizable contract because of campaign contributions to At Large Councilman/Mayoral Candidate Manny Segura and West Ward Council Candidate Zachary Chester.

The ever vigilant (and hired gun) Special Counsel, Joseph Alacqua had City Council throw out the nearly $200,000 contract with Borden-Perlman Agency because they had made contributions that allegedly violate the city’s “Pay-to-Play” ordinance.

Segura received some $460 in campaign contributions in 2008 and 2009. Chester, a first time candidate in this year’s election, received $100 in 2009.

Borden-Perlman is a long-time area business with a solid track record of supporting the community and the many non-profits that operate here.

For all intents and purposes, it looks as though Borden-Perlman thought they were in compliance with the law and mindful of contribution thresholds that, if exceeded, would trigger such action as Alacqua initiated.

Segura, who originally voted against the Pay-to-Play measure when it was introduced by petition in 2006, told reporters that while he is in favor of such measures he thinks this is more politics than policy.

"It's funny it just happened at this time," said Segura, a frequent critic of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer. "For them to bring something like that is so pitiful."

“I agree with pay-to-play ordinances,” he continued, “but I think it’s very difficult to know everything about everybody who makes a contribution. I don’t think anyone would think that $460 could influence anybody. This is not right.”

Unfortunately, the councilman seems to think due diligence upon the part of elected officials and/or candidates about who is contributing how much to their campaign funds is not required.
“I would guess that all seven of the City Council members do not know about every political contribution made to us. It’s a shame that a reputable company loses a contract over a lousy small amount of money.”

Chester and his wife, Alysia Welch-Chester, were amongst those who worked to get the city’s ordinance passed. After the City Council voted against the law, it went to a referendum and the public voted it in.

So far, only Welch-Chester has spoken out on the situation. She claims it’s a misinterpretation of the threshold portion of the law and is seeking legal clarification.
“If what Mr. Alacqua is saying is correct, then this was not the intent of the ordinance. We just wanted transparency in government,” Welch-Chester said.

Whether the action taken by Alacqua was correct or not (and if not, what kind of sanctions will be levied against him and/or the City of Trenton?), there is another interesting side to this story.

The firm that got the insurance contract in place of Borden-Perlman is Atlantic Associates of Atlantic City, NJ.

One of the principles of that firm, Bernard Fulton, gave $2500 to Mayor Palmer’s re-election campaign in May of 2006. Another principle, Stowell Fulton, gave $2600 to the Trenton 2006 joint candidates committee that helped re-elect Segura to his council at large seat along with fellow at large councilpersons Paul Pintella and Cordelia Staton.

To be fair, Borden-Perlman contributed $2,150 to Palmer’s campaign in 2006.

But the Fulton’s appear to have a long history of contributing to Democratic candidates in the area including Bonnie Watson Coleman in 2001.

Why would an Atlantic City based insurance agency be interested in who gets elected in Trenton/Mercer County?

Let this situation serve as a warning to all contributors, candidates and incumbents. Be mindful of the laws governing campaign contributions. What might seem innocent and piddling today may not be so insignificant when it appears in the headlines tomorrow.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The wrong way to select a candidate

It is apparently not bad enough that we have nearly a dozen candidates vying for the Mayor’s chair in the upcoming Trenton city elections.

Now we have to add race and ethnicity into the mix.

An article in today’s Times, reports that Garvey School Principal, Baye Kemit, will hold a candidate’s forum but only for those candidates who he feels “have strong support among African-Americans.”

"Manny Segura, in the African-American community, has not pushed himself enough," Kemit said. "He is largely Latino-supported. It's been my contention that he needs to make his agenda known to African-Americans."

Here’s the problem.

The campaign season is upon us.

The last thing we need is this kind of thinking in the upcoming elections.

Trenton faces a myriad of problems, none of which are specific to any one race or ethnic group.

Every one of the candidates (city council included) has enough of a struggle ahead of them. Certainly there are individuals running for office who we can dismiss out of hand, but with good reason. Past performance, lack of experience or leadership skills, questionable ethics are all valid reasons to discount a candidate. But none of those are race or ethnicity specific.

Being arbitrarily disqualified because of their ethnic background and/or that of their (real or perceived) supporters is offensive and just plain wrong. In fact, excluding a candidate from an audience to which he “needs to make his agenda known” is totally the opposite of what needs to be done.

Our city is at a critical point in its history.

The leaders selected in the May election (and likely June runoff) will not only need to have a sensible plan to guide Trenton for the next four years, they will have to be prepared to pay the wages for the sins and omissions of the current administration.

Let us not select the next Mayor and Council by skin color; religious affiliation; gender or any other superficial identifiers.

We need to look beyond all of that to the role each candidate has played in shaping the city’s fortunes these past two or four or eight or 16 years. We need to hear their ideas and measure their solutions based solely on how they will impact all Trentonians. We need to judge the candidates on whether or not they will be effective representatives able to turn this city around and not on whom they look like, sound like, or pray with.

Friday, January 01, 2010

I know I didn't have that much to drink

From the Times, January 1, 2010, page A12:

Mayor Palmer is the best choice to lead Trenton

Trenton without Doug Palmer is an unfinished symphony. The man can do more for any citizen in this city. He is educated, super street smart, well-liked by almost everyone and is the best the city has ever had. Do not let him go. Choose to run, Doug. Trenton needs you.

Gregory Bilecki

What can anyone say about this poor misguided man's thought process?

Old Doug, no new tricks

Happy New Year! His Lame-Duckness, Doug Palmer, has released the annual report for the City of Trenton (fiscal year 2009). For the second year in a row, there was no big show in City Council Chambers where Palmer delivers his State of the City speech.

Instead, the annual report has been posted on the city website ( where only those too few members of the public who read the Times of Trenton might discover its existence.

An article headlined “Palmer sees Trenton making progress” treats readers to a rose-colored fairy tale about Trenton’s successes despite our nation’s tough economic times.

Palmer must not have reviewed the statistics or at least interpreted them as we have. Nor has he taken a real good look around town. If he had, how could he possibly say that he is “…proud of the record…” he’s accomplished.

The half-hearted attempt at image preservation (myth building?) might just be an indication that even Douglas H. Palmer has a hard time swallowing the empty calories of the artificially sweetened annual report. No wonder he’s opting out of another run.

Happy New Year, indeed!