Saturday, February 19, 2011


The first eight months of Mayor Tony Mack’s administration have been a tragic-comic opera. It is a plot overloaded with bad decisions, missteps, and colorful characters. It has given us the crowd favorite tag line: “Happy Pearl Harbor Day!”
Daily the action unfolds in front of an audience split into two camps: those who still support the Mayor and those who are ready to “give him the hook.”

Those who defend and support the Mayor suggest that the others are being unfair. “He’s only had eight months to undo all of the mess left by the previous Mayor,” they say.

Or they might offer up this, “Where were all these critics while {Doug} Palmer was running this city into the ground?”

Some have even gone so far as to suggest that Mayor Mack’s missteps are the result of him being “dumb, not criminal.”

Loyalty is a good trait…to a point. But when it becomes blind, if not delusional, it is a bad thing.

Past Palmer

Those who think there was no criticism of the previous administration and council either were not paying attention or are in complete denial. From 2003 onward, there was increasing criticism of Palmer’s actions and much was made of his “rubber stamp” council.

True, there was not the same amount of media coverage then as there has been of Mayor Mack. Yet there were people speaking out then who continue to speak up now. (This blog, started in 2006, is but one example).

It was the action and criticism on the part of the public that stopped the ill-conceived Leewood development plan for South Trenton; it was the citizens that passed the city’s Pay-to-Play ordinance that the current Mayor is now running afoul of; it was legal action brought by the citizens that removed Joe Santiago from the police director position for not following the residency law; it was legal action by citizens that got the proposed split and sale of the Trenton Water Works onto the ballot and defeated.

There is no argument and no doubt, that Palmer left a mess in his wake. It is actually amazing that anyone, let alone 10 individuals, would want to run to succeed him, knowing how bad things were. Some might think that Mr. Palmer had “outgrown” the job of Mayor of Trenton. We think he was trying to outrun the collapse of the house of cards he had built here.

Regardless…Palmer is gone; what he did (or did not do) is in the past and it cannot be changed. Certainly, more people voicing publicly what many would only say privately might have helped slow if not avoid the city’s decline. Again, it is in the past and cannot be changed. The point is some noise was made; some criticisms levied, some change occurred.

First steps faulty

Only July 1, 2010, Mayor Mack took the reins of city government and almost immediately displayed a failure to grasp the situation he found himself in.
At a time when the city was facing a huge budget deficit and impending layoffs, Mack dismissed all of Palmer’s cabinet members…and the experience and knowledge that went along with them. Note…we are not suggesting some of them did not need to go, but the wholesale dismissal seemed a little shortsighted, pun not intended.

Knowing there was going to have to be a staff reduction of some sort in the coming months, Mayor Mack padded the payroll with unnecessary hires, filling out the full compliment of aides afforded him under the Faulkner act, paying top dollar to his new appointees, putting on “interns” and paying them through CDBG money that might better have been applied to the real needs of the city. Just a few months later, demotions and layoffs reduced the workforce and the pool of knowledge and experience the Mayor could have drawn upon as he struggled to keep the city afloat.

The nomination of a felon as a department head, the questions surrounding the appointee to the municipal bench, and the game of musical chairs regarding who sits in the Business Administrator seat are all indications of the Mayor’s lack of comprehension as to what his responsibilities are to the city.

It did not take much to figure out why the highly respected and experienced Bill Guhl stepped away from city hall after only a month of volunteering to help Mack get a handle on things. Tony continues to not accept good counsel and helping hands when offered.

Instead, he prefers to hide behind a screen of sycophants and hangers-on while he fiddles and the city burns.

Many people have offered advice and assistance to help the Mayor steer the city forward, but he seems to prefer to consult with the expensive suits from Atlantic City and the company of his lackeys to anybody who really has the best interest of Trenton at heart.

The list of bad choices and inappropriate actions is lengthy. The one consistency of the Mayor’s tenure so far has been his inability to do the right thing.

And there are exceptions to that rule…his appointment of Dan Dodson and Michael McGrath to the board of the Lafayette Yard Development Corporation. This entity actually “owns” the Marriott Hotel and oversees its operation for the taxpayers of the city. From its inception, it functioned in secret with little information flowing to the public “share holders.” That has started to change with Dodson and McGrath on board.

Unfortunately, that is not enough to make up for the rest of the eight months of foolishness coming out of city hall.

Is it the money?

Is it the Mayor’s personal money situation that has made him such easy prey for outside interests? It certainly would not be the first time that a desire for financial security has lead to poor decision making.

And to those who want to excuse Mack’s shortcomings as a function of his mental capacity, well…that just doesn’t wash. If eight months of mistakes are because he is intellectually deficient or mentally incompetent than he is not qualified to serve in the position of Mayor. We all have limitations and Tony’s may preclude him from holding his current job.

This is not to pick on him, put him down, or make fun of him. If he doesn’t have the sense to make the right decisions or won’t compensate by listening to those who do have the ability to determine what the right decision is and accept their suggestions, than he must go.

The taxpayers of the city of Trenton cannot afford to subsidize such ignorance. And anyone who thinks otherwise must also have diminished mental capacity.

Tony Mack has failed in his short time as Mayor of the City of Trenton. There is no way to argue or refute that fact. The citizens who continue to stand by him are failing as well.

Accept that Mr. Mack will probably not finish out his term and let’s start thinking about finding a competent, ethical, intelligent replacement.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Cash, lies and videotape

Show me the money, part II

So we have a Political Action Committee (PAC) known as Partners For Progress (PFP) whose stated mission is:
Partners for Progress PAC’s mission is to not only raise money – but also to raise awareness about the political process, educating potential candidates, candidates, and organizations on how to successfully participate in the political process.
Well, PFP seems to have gotten the raising money part right…too bad they are a little shaky on how to successfully participate in the political process.

As was pointed out in the previous post, there are some interesting “problems” with PFP’s required reporting to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. The $7200 contribution from the Cooper Levenson law firm that was apparently wheeled to Tony Mack’s mayoral campaign was covered in the prior post.

We will track some other interesting contributions later. This time out let’s look at some of the expenditures that PFP reported.

The first thing that comes up on the expense pages is a listing of payments made to individuals for “community outreach.” This is another term for “street money,” money paid to individuals to get out the vote. By law, these payments must be made by check and reported with each person’s name, address, and the number of the check used to pay them.

PFP reported 79 such payments of $25 each to individuals. That would be a total of $1975 paid for community outreach. Would be…except seven of the reported payments are duplicate entries. So it was really 72 individuals receiving a total of $1800. Guess PFP is somewhat sloppy with their record keeping.

Of the 72 individuals who received payments from PFP, 30 don’t have check numbers listed. That is a violation of state election law. Twelve of the 72 don’t have an address listed. That is also a violation of state election law.

Pretty sloppy record keeping, don’t you think?

Or was this report just hurriedly put together because of the investigation that Politicker NJ reported in December of last year?

Interesting, too, is that PFP paid a Jeff Meyers a $2500 “consulting” fee. One might wonder what kind of consulting Mr. Meyers provided to PFP. The report doesn’t give the required full address for Mr. Meyers, just the fact that his is from Burlington, NJ.

Is it safe to assume, then, that this Mr. Jeff Meyers is the very same Jeff Meyers who stepped down as the Treasurer of the Burlington County Democratic Committee because of questions surrounding some money “wheeling” and pay to play schemes (sound familiar?)

If we are talking about the same Jeff Meyers, is it not reasonable to expect that a former county political committee treasurer would know the rules for proper ELEC reporting? Wouldn’t it have been prudent to seek his advice and counsel in preparing and filing the required reports in a timely manner?

Three other expenditures jump off the page as one peruses this report.

Under the heading of “Itemized Contributions Made to Candidates and Committees” are entries for the $7200 contribution made to Mr. Mack’s campaign, a $250 contribution to Councilwoman At Large Kathy McBride’s campaign, and a $5000 contribution to Juan Martinez’s campaign.

The Mack contribution seems directly related to the now disputed Cooper Levenson contribution to PFP.

The contribution received by Ms. McBride’s campaign falls beneath the $300 threshold for required reporting and so she apparently didn’t. There are additional expenditures listed as “in-kind” on her behalf that would, when paired with the $250 contribution, put her over that limit and require her to report the aggregate contributions. It looks as though PFP may have failed to notify these candidates of these “in-kind” contributions as required by law and the blame, again, lies with them.

Now the $5000 contribution given to Mr. Martinez presents an interesting situation. The date of the contribution is for June 15, the date of the runoff election. Mr. Martinez, who is one of the candidates woefully lacking in compliance with NJ ELEC reporting requirements, had apparently not filed any reports for the runoff part of the election cycle. So we don’t know if he actually received this money or not.

Interestingly, in a videotaped conversation posted on Robert Chilson’s Trenton United Blog, Mr. Martinez states that he never received any money from PFP. He claims that he received a phone call from someone connected with PFP asking if they could put him down as the recipient of a contribution. Martinez admits that he probably shouldn’t have given the go ahead, even with the attached caveat that if the contribution was questioned it would deflect back on PFP.

Is this another indication that PFP hurriedly put together a report in response to the ELEC investigation and “faked” the contribution?

Or did Mr. Martinez actually take a $5000 contribution and not report it?

Again, all it would take is the production of a copy of the cancelled check to show who is telling the truth.

But that seems to be too much to expect from either PFP or Martinez.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Show me the money

If you have been hiding under a rock or stuck in an ice cave the past several days, you might have missed the latest in the ever lengthening line of scandals to hit the Tony Mack administration.

In a nutshell, the city awarded a contract for general legal counsel to the law firm of Cooper Levenson last October. The head guy at Cooper Levenson, Lloyd Levenson, was on Mayor Mack’s transition team and he headed up the committee that put together the Mayor’s Inaugural Ball.

The Mayor wanted Cooper Levenson to get the city contract so badly that he sent it before council three times before he could muster the four votes needed to carry out his desire. At the time, many raised the issue that Mr. Levenson, whose name was prominently featured on the invitation to the Mayor’s gala, was soliciting on behalf of the Mayor and therefore his firm was not eligible to be awarded the contract.

Mr. Levenson, of course, denied that he ever contributed to or solicited contributions on behalf of Mayor Mack. Four members of Trenton’s city council: Alex Bethea, Phyllis Holly-Ward, Kathy McBride, and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson voted to approve the contract.

On January 31, the Times published a story detailing a $7,200 contribution made to a local Political Action Committee (PAC), Partners For Progress (PFP). PFP in turn made an equal contribution to Mayor Mack’s campaign.

A spokesman for Cooper Levenson claims that the firm sent a letter requesting the return of the contribution so they could proceed with soliciting business from the city. The spokesman claims the contribution was repaid and so the potential violation of the city’s Pay to Play ordinance was averted.

If that is the case…show us the cancelled check proving that the contribution was indeed refunded, when it was refunded and that it was re-deposited into the law firm’s account.

Until that check is produced no one should have to take Mr. Levenson’s or anyone else’s word that the violation was “cured,” as the lawyers say.

As for PFP, their tardy reporting to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) just may be central to what is looking to be a very interesting story.

Partners For Progress was formed, in early 2010 by Cynthia Taylor, Carla Hogan and Pete Fields: two Trenton residents (Fields and Hogan) and the owner of a Trenton business (Taylor owns Jet Wine and Liquor on Willow Street). At the bottom of a press release distributed about 3:00 pm on Wednesday, February 2, 2011 PFP states the following:

Partners for Progress PAC — Partners for Progress PAC is an independent, non-partisan group of individuals dedicated to supporting candidates, organizations or causes who demonstrate a commitment to advancing the interests of their community socially and economically. Through political participation and organizational support,

Partners for Progress PAC plans to endorse candidates or causes who have shown an interest in shaping good government policies that will advance the issues important to our organization.

Partners for Progress PAC’s mission is to not only raise money – but also to raise awareness about the political process, educating potential candidates, candidates, and organizations on how to successfully participate in the political process.
Well, maybe Ms. Taylor, Ms. Hogan and Mr. Fields should have raised their own awareness and educated themselves on how to correctly participate in the political process.

PFP is required by law to file quarterly reports detailing their fundraising and expenditures. Since they “organized” in February of last 2010, their first report covering inception through March 31, 2010 was filed when due on April 15, 2010. No additional reports were filed until January of this year when the one covering the period ending June 30 and due on July15 was given to ELEC.

The reports due October 15 and January 15 for the 3rd and 4th calendar quarters have yet to be filed (or at least aren’t yet posted to the ELEC website).

{Note: As far as that goes, many of our candidates/elected officials are behind in their report filing as well. But we’ll get to that some other time.}

Besides the late and missing filings, there are some other issues with PFP’s reporting.

In December, Politicker NJ reported that ELEC was investigating the unreported and excessive contribution made to Tony Mack’s campaign by PFP.
By law, a PAC like PFP can only contribute up to $8,200.00 to a candidate committee in an election. The Mack campaign reported receiving a contribution of $8,805 from PFP…$605 over the limit. PFP hadn’t filed the required reports so there was no record of the contributions from that side…a violation of the state’s campaign finance laws.

Interestingly, the Mack campaign also reported a reimbursement back to PFP of $3,173. But it only had to return the $605 excess. Hmmm.

Why then, did Mack return an additional $2,568 to PFP? There’s no details on the Mack report…could it have been a “partial” repayment of the infamous $7,200 from Cooper Levenson?

Let’s say it was returned to PFP so PFP could in turn repay Cooper Levenson. Where is the documentation?

PFP’s sole report, filed months late and only after the story appeared on Politicker NJ has an entry showing the return of the $3,173 from the Mack campaign but it doesn’t show any reimbursement…in part or in whole…to Cooper Levenson.

Did the reimbursement come in the next reporting period (July 1 – September 30)?

We don’t know because there is no evidence of PFP report having been filed for that or any subsequent period.

In the Times article on this mess published February 3, reporter Alex Zdan wrote the following:

According to Mack, the city received Cooper Levenson’s refund letter when it was sent to Partners For Progress June 28, three days before Mack became mayor. A copy of the letter could not be provided to The Times last night.

“The problem is, it’s in a locked office and I don’t have the key,” mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Ira said.

McKithen could not be reached for comment last night.

Partners For Progress’ Cynthia Taylor denied the $7,200 was specifically for Mack.

“We didn’t approach him, he came to us, he didn’t say, ‘This is for Tony, or anything like that,’” Taylor said yesterday.

Although Levenson said the firm received a full return of their contribution, Taylor said she was not sure.

“Well, like I said, I don’t know what’s going on, what happened since then,” she said. “I just know they asked for the money back sometime in June.”
So was the money returned or wasn’t it?

Levenson claims there was a full return of the contribution, but Ms. Taylor doesn’t know. And, according to the paperwork filed with ELEC, Ms. Taylor signs the checks for PFP.

A reading of the city of Trenton’s Pay to Play ordinance makes it pretty clear that the contribution has to be returned in full before the violation is corrected.

Let’s look at another aspect of the PFP report. The first sheet of the 30 page document gives a summary accounting of the PAC’s funds. It shows an entry of cash on hand of $2,248.71.

If PFP hadn’t returned the $7200 contribution to Cooper Levenson by the June 30th close of the reporting period as indicated by the report, then the refund must have occurred later (if at all).

Since no subsequent reports have yet to be filed, we can’t determine if a later payment was actually made. But with a balance of $2,248.71 shown on the report, PFP would have to find another $4,951.29 somewhere to make up the difference and be able to return the contribution to Cooper Levenson.

Again, no subsequent reports have been filed, so PFP can’t show that they took in the money.

Doesn’t seem likely that they returned Cooper Levenson’s contribution, does it?

There are other interesting aspects of the PFP report filed on January 27, 2011. We’ll get to those in the next installment.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What YOU can do

We spend a lot of time and energy reporting on the failings and foibles of our government.  Things didn't get to the sorry state they are solely because Trenton continues to elect "leaders" of questionable ability and talent.

There has been a growing movement towards citizen activism that is starting to make a difference in how the city of Trenton conducts business.  While there is still a long way to go and a lot more to do the increased participation in the process is a good step in the right direction.

Coming up Monday is an opportunity to really come forward and place your ideas and thoughts into the mix.

It's time to step up and be heard.