Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pay attention

Are special interests funding campaigns of Trenton candidates?

While Trenton citizens collect their breath between last week’s municipal elections and the June 15 runoff for Mayor, Council At Large and three of the city’s four Ward council seats, it’s time to catch up on some homework that we should have been doing all along.

In the final hours before last Tuesday’s elections, there was a lot of hand wringing and expressions of shock and dismay as revelations were made about the funding of Tony Mack’s Mayoral campaign.

At issue is this: Mr. Joseph Giorgianni contributed the $2,600 maximum allowable amount for an individual to a candidate committee. Mr.Giorgianni is a long-time Mack supporter. The concern that has been raised is that Mr.Giorgianni has had some legal problems of his own in the past.

This doesn’t sit well with Tony Mack’s detractors. Many question the candidate’s judgment in taking money from a convicted felon. Others are wondering half out loud where the money Mack loaned his campaign ($20,000 according to ELEC reports) really came from. Mack has been essentially unemployed for the past couple of years and is in arrears on his property taxes.

While this is all quiet titillating and sensational, what about the financing of other candidates?

No one has made quite as much fuss about apparent runner up Manny Segura’s campaign funding.

Isn’t it odd that the candidate who used to use the slogan “Segura Para Trenton” (Segura for Trenton) has received the bulk of his campaign donations from politicians and businesses from North Jersey? Sounds to us like Senor Segura is more for himself and his cronies than for Trenton. In his 2006 run for City Council, Segura received 45% of his $53,625 war chest from individuals and entities with addresses in North Jersey. Assemblyman and Union City Mayor Brian Stack alone gave Segura $10,000. Another 7% ($4000.00) of Manny’s money came from unions or union officials. And let’s not forget the $2500 that found its way from former Sen. Torricelli’s wife to the joint candidate’s committee for Segura, Paul Pintella and Cordelia Staton.

All for a city council at large candidate in poor little old Trenton.

In this year’s campaign, Manny again has tapped his “friends” beyond Trenton. He raised some $19,200 in contributions from individuals and businesses in North Jersey. Included in his contributor list are elected officials from Passaic and Newark. One might be able to understand why they might be interested in helping Segura out. But what about the employees of TY Lin International; one who lives in Hackettstown and the other in Oxford, an engineer and a surveyor respectively. What interest might they have in who becomes Mayor of Trenton? Or is this all party money being channeled into Segura’s accounts? How much will he be “for Trenton” if elected and the donors behind these contributions start calling in favors?

Contrast the above with the fact that apparent third place finisher Eric Jackson raised all of his money through modest contributions from local individuals.

The special interest funding is not only going to the Mayoral candidates. Looking at the At-Large race (also in a runoff), we found some interesting items.

Where front runners Kathy McBride, Alex Bethea and Phyllis Holly-Ward all show modest (if any) campaign contributions from locals; T. Missy Balmir shows $2900 in contributions from employees of Washington DC based political consultants Field Strategies, Inc.

Field Strategies is a company used by politicians to design and execute effective campaigns. And who are some of their clients? How about everyone from Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, the New Jersey Democratic Party, and various labor unions.

So tell us, Ms. Balmir, why are five employees of this consulting firm so interested in seeing you get elected in Trenton, NJ when they all live in the D.C. area?

And while you are at it, how about explaining how it is that Mr. Green (Darren “Freedom” Green) appears on so much of your campaign literature and such and yet shows no major fundraising on his part? And you might as well extend your answer to Ms. Reynolds-Jackson who is in the run-off for the East Ward Council seat.

Come clean: are you a slate put up by party bosses to wrest control of poor old Trenton?

Juan Martinez, the 4th place finisher in the At Large race has raised money but we are not sure where it came from as the reports seem a tad incomplete.

At the Ward level, we have the aforementioned Verlina Reynolds-Jackson going up against Joe Harrison in the East Ward runoff. Reynolds-Jackson hasn’t reported any major contributions but did roll over slightly more than $1000 to Missy Balmir’s campaign. Presumably this was for some joint advertising, but wouldn’t that then necessitate the formation of a Joint Candidate’s committee?

Harrison has filed papers stating he will not raise nor spend more than $4000 in his campaign and not more than $300 will come from any one contributor.

In the West Ward, former school board head Joyce Kersey has raised about $8500. Most came from a $6000 loan she made to her campaign and the rest appears to have come from local supporters. Her opponent in the runoff, Capital Health employee Zachary Chester, has had his own issues with fundraising but seems to have built a treasury of over $31,000 from a mix of local friends and distant contributors.

In the North Ward, surprise 2nd place finisher Divine Allah has no reports posted on contributions or expenses, not even a declaration that he would spend less than $4000.00 on his campaign. Contrast that with Marge Caldwell-Wilson’s nearly $19,000 in money raised…more than 35% of which came from union political action committees around the state.

An informed voter is a better voter. Do your homework before you go into the booth and cast your ballot.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The morning after

We've pretty much all been there at one time or another.

The pounding head, the ringing ears, the raspy throat, the very unsettled feeling in the stomach.  All the result of overindulgence.

We think a majority of Trenton's voters...or a majority of the nearly 11,000 who actually voted in yesterday's municipal elections are experiencing some of the same symptoms this morning.

With a pitiful, less than 28% voter turnout, all but one of the contests to fill the Mayor and City Council seats appear to be headed for a runoff. 

Only incumbent South Ward Councilman George Muschal has handed his challengers a solid defeat.  The rest, Mayor, three Council At Large*, and the North, East, and West Council seats are headed into a June 15 runoff.

As we called it back in January.  Top three vote getters in the Mayoral race are Tony Mack, Eric Jackson and Manny Segura.  There are only three votes separating Segura from second place finisher Jackson.  No doubt there will be challenges and a very close examination of the provisional ballots, etc. before the results are certified by the city clerk.

In the At-Large race, it appears as though Trenton has chosen an interesting trio as the primary vote getters:  Kathy McBride, Alex Bethea and Phyllis Holly Ward.  McBride is an outspoken anti-violence activist who ran for At-Large in 2002 and again in 2006 where she nearly upset Palmer's plans to keep his slate in office by squeaking out ahead of Cordelia "Dee Dee" Staton in the May election. 

Bethea is a vice principal in one of the city schools, has also run before, and made the 2006 runoff with McBride and Mill Hill resident Jim Carlucci. 

Holly-Ward is a city employee and former head of the Trenton Council of Civic Associations (TCCA).  Her stint as TCCA president launched a monthly column in the Times where she wrote about building community and personal responsibility.  Of the three, Holly-Ward is probably the best qualified candidate.

Should the At-Large race go to a runoff, Juan Martinez, T. "Missy" Balmir, and Darren "Freedom" Green will go up against McBride, Bethea and Holly-Ward.  This is truly sad.

Martinez is a well-known opportunist working in the guise of Community Activist.  He purports to belong to/head up the mythical, all encompassing People for the Revitalization of the South Ward (PROS) organization.  The problem is, no one has ever been able to demonstrate when and where PROS meets; who the membership is other than Juan; provide copies of it's mission statement and/or by-laws, etc.  Juan is probably most remembered for supporting the idiotic "Leewood" plan that would have wiped out some 6 square blocks of Trenton's South Ward through the use of eminent domain in order for Palmer friendly developer could then build new homes to sell back to the very people that had been displaced.  Martinez's reward for his efforts on behalf of Leewood...a cushy $62,000 a year gig with the City School System as a community liaison. Not a good choice for any elected office in our estimation.

Missy Balmir is a former aide to Governor Corzine, a former aide to  Rep. Rush Holt, a former aide to Mayor Doug Palmer and a former member of the Trenton School Board (appointed by Doug Palmer).  In short, she has spent her adult life working with and for the same people who have led Trenton to the mess it is currently in and thinks she can change it for the better.  Doubtful.  And when you look at her campaign finance reports it becomes clear that Balmir is but another party hack put into play by a machine hoping to keep Trenton under it's thumb.  Bad choice.  Really bad choice.

Darren "Freedom" Green seems like an earnest enough fellow.  But where has he been and what has he done prior to running for Council At Large?  Why voters would choose him over obviously more experienced and and qualified candidates this time around is not only puzzling, it is actually disturbing. 

In the three ward races going to a runoff things are just as confusing.

In the North Ward, party insider Marge Caldwell-Wilson will face New Black Panther Party member Divine Allah in the June contest.  Ms. Caldwell-Wilson was removed from the South Ward** council seat in 1998 after some irregularities in absentee ballots were discovered.  Her reward...she was appointed to the County Board of Elections (hire a crook to catch a crook?).  She's flaunted her party connections as if they give her real qualifications to represent the people of the North Ward.  In fact, she has been rather detached from real involvement in the community...including her own neighborhood association, until she decided to run for council.  Note to Marge...union endorsements and glad handing with the former-gov might get you money, but it won't buy you friends.

Mr. Allah, on the other hand is waging a grass roots campaign that includes the retro-act of driving through the neighborhoods shouting through a bullhorn to entice voters to turn out.

This would be a fun contest to watch if we didn't have to make the choice ourselves.

In the East Ward, Joe Harrison and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson will battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate.  Harrison has been an outspoken critic of Doug Palmer's troop of players and the administration's antics. 

Ms. Reynolds-Jackson is a zoning board member and....
That is to say, she is a bit of an enigma and there is little information to be found from culling through her NJ ELEC reports.  Come to think of it, the same is true from At-Large candidate Mr. Green.

And both Ms. Reynolds-Jackson and Mr. Green appear in campaign literature with Ms. well as on her website.

Hmmm...we smell a slate with some strange connections.

And then there is the West Ward.  Zachary Chester is running up against Joyce Kersey.  Ms. Kersey, you may remembered, stepped down from her post on the school board where she was an ineffective leader and member.

Mr. Chester waged a quiet, well-funded campaign with all the trappings of a city wide machine: communications director, volunteer coordinator, etc.  He did have that little glitch where he ran afoul of the city's strict Pay-to-Play ordinance (which he and his wife helped pass by referendum in 2006).

To add interest to the run-off election will be the question of whether or not the proposed sale of part of the Trenton Water Works to NJ American Water should go through or not.  (We think not).  Leading up to yesterday's election, most of the candidates above took strong positions against the sale.  A couple (Jackson and Chester specifically) have not been as forthcoming on the issue.  NJ American Water is already pouring (pun intended) resources into the fight to have the sale approved.  Watch closely and see where some of that money lands and how it impacts the candidate's positions in the next four weeks.

And buy some alka seltzer, pepto bismol or maloxx.
*there are some provisional ballots to be looked at and the scrutiny due to come to determine whether Eric Jackson or Manny Segura face Tony Mack in the Mayoral Runoff could actually change the outcome of the At-Large race and make a runoff unnecessary.

**Mill Hill and other areas traditionally part of the South Ward were redistricted into the North Ward in the spring of 2001.  To this day, some feel it was a blatant effort to prevent Ms. Caldwell-Wilson from again challenging then Councilman John Ungrady for the South Ward seat.

Editor's note:  Comments made in the above posting have not set well with some readers. This has been brought to the attention of this site's management and is duly noted.

That said, for those objecting to anything contained above, we submit this snippet from an article written by Tom Hester, Jr. and published in the Times of Trenton on October 3, 1998:
In June, it seemed as though Marge Caldwell-Wilson _ courtesy of her five-vote victory over incumbent John Ungrady in the June runoff election, a victory made possible by a 36-7 absentee ballot advantage _ had become the South Ward's first woman representative. But when Allen Lee, Caldwell-Wilson's former campaign manager, visited the Millhouse Nursing Home just four days before the runoff, he was setting the stage for this Tuesday's unprecedented special election between Caldwell-Wilson and Ungrady for the South Ward council seat.

DURING THAT VISIT, Lee went room-to-room delivering absentee ballots to the nursing home residents.

Two months later, testimony from the residents would help force his candidate from office, marking the first time in city history a judge removed someone from the council and called a special election, which will cost the taxpayers at least $40,000, according to city clerk Anthony Conti.
In short, absentee ballots thrown out; an individual removed from office and a special election held.  That was all we said on the matter.

Regarding the New Black Panther Party, our assumption was that everyone understands that group espouses black separatism, something we do not condone, and thus didn't need to comment further. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Just too much to consider...

Ok. We admit it.

We have been somewhat “AWOL” the past few weeks.

Here’s the deal.

We have been nearly paralyzed with a “Municipal Election Migraine.” Considering the individuals running for public office in Trenton and the seeming lack of a grasp on the situation here in the Capital City, it is no small wonder that we are not collectively comatose!

Look at the facts: 10 individuals on the ballot as candidates for mayor. And not one of them comes close to the “whole package.”

Council At-Large…same thing.

And, just to make things interesting, there are documented, press-covered write-in candidates for each of those jobs. (At least with the Council At Large a voter has three choices).

At the ward level (Trenton elects four “Ward” council members.) there are choices between anywhere from three to five candidates.

Is it any wonder that we are in an “overload” situation?

What we need/should want in our next batch of Elected Officials is a group that will optimize all that our residents have to say on the subject of our new council and mayor. We need elected officials that are in touch with their constituents and who are ready to do the best and most they can to move Trenton forward.

We need officials who are not elected by virtue of their ethnicity, affiliations, or money raised/spent on campaigns. We need representation from people who know how to get things done and will do the same regardless of what it might mean personally or politically down the road.

That said, any candidate who has held office in the past 8, 12 or 16 years; any candidate who has held a position in city hall or been appointed to a position by the current/outgoing mayor; or any person who has otherwise flaunted ties to the about to depart junta should automatically disqualify themselves from consideration.

Trenton does not need “more of the same.” Trenton needs to hear from people outside of the current ruling clique.

Don’t believe us? Check out the various information and opinion offered by our fellow bloggers at Bald, Fat and Angry, Trenton Mayor 2010, or Trenton Kat.

Good luck and good night, Mr. and Mrs. And Ms. Trenton. We are going to need it!