Friday, February 28, 2014

You can take your endorsements and ...

In the Times of Trenton’s Thursday, February 27, 2014 edition, local consultant Irwin Stoolmacher offered up an opinion on how to elect better candidates in Trenton’s local elections.

Under the headline “Trenton residents need endorsements and voting records to guide election of next mayor”, Stoolmacher advises that endorsements are similar to campaign war chests. He implies that the more of either a candidate receives raises them to higher level than their opponents.

However, endorsements, like campaign money raised, are significant as they can help to separate the top-tier from the bottom-tier candidates in a race with many candidates, such as the eight at present: Wiley Fuller, Jim Golden, Patrick Hall, Eric Jackson, Oliver ‘Bucky’ Leggett, Kathy McBride, Paul Perez and Walker Worthy.

Stoolmacher asserts that sorting “can be helpful to the electorate” and requests many local officials to issue endorsements.

For this reason, I’d strongly urge County Executive Brian Hughes, Rep. Rush Holt, Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, county clerk Paula Sollami-Covello, county surrogate Diane Gerofsky and the freeholders not to sit on the sidelines in the upcoming race for mayor. They should each make their views known as to which candidate they believe is best equipped to lead the city into the future and the reasons for their assessments.

We suggest that Mr. Stoolmacher has not been paying attention. If he has, he would certainly know that Mercer County Deputy Clerk Walker Worthy has been endorsed by many of the very people he has named.

Endorsements are, indeed, coveted by candidates. Unfortunately, they really don’t give any evidence of a candidate’s qualifications or likelihood of getting elected. Nor are endorsements any kind of indication of how the successful candidate will perform in office. We only have to look at those who endorsed our recently convicted and removed from office mayor, Tony Mack.

The fact is elected officials offering up endorsements only give the electorate an excuse to not do their homework on the candidates.

Stoolmacher as much as admits this when he tries to place the weight of endorsements on the continuum of candidates’ qualifications for the office sought.

I’m not suggesting that endorsements are more important than a candidate’s experience, position on key issues or performance in debates but, because they often garner significant press coverage, they can be significant.

Because they often garner significant press coverage, they can be significant.

There you have it. Endorsements are a PR tool. Nothing more. Nothing less. And they let the electorate off of the hook by providing a shortcut to choosing who to vote for.

The voter’s thinking might be something along the lines of “Oh. If the newspaper/county executive/assemblywoman etc. thinks so-and-so is good, that’s all I need!”

To his credit, Stoolmacher does state that when elected officials endorse a candidate they should explain why. He says the endorsements should include the candidate’s skill set, experience, temperament, education, etc.

What about the candidate’s plans? What about who they associate with; surround themselves with; take contributions from?

These are important things to know. Why doesn’t Stoolmacher encourage the electorate to access the public information available via campaign report filings? Why doesn’t he suggest ways and means for the voters to research and evaluate for themselves? Better informed voters will get us the best choices.

The second suggestion in Stoolmacher’s opinion piece is for Trenton City Council to provide voters with objective information that would help them decide whom to vote for.

I’d suggest it consider making candidates’ voter participation records available. Voting is a clear indicator of concern and interest in government. If a person believes in government, other than incapacitating illness, there is no good explanation for not voting.

Stoolmacher’s reasoning is that “It takes a lot of chutzpah to ask constituents to vote for you when you have not taken the time to vote in the past.

Agreed, but why is it up to the city council to provide this information to voters?

It is public information available from the county board of elections. It comes as part of the data set when you purchase the list of registered voters in the city. The data is extremely easy import into and manipulate with a spreadsheet program.

Yes, there is a cost associated with obtaining it, but any individual or group can purchase it, parse it, and publish it. Why does it have to be the city council? It is not in their job description. Or is the author suggesting that each candidate provide their own voting history as part of their campaign resume?

This doesn’t make a lot of sense and it really doesn’t matter.

We need an engaged, enlightened electorate. We do not need more spoon-fed, “show-up-at-the-polls-and-push-the-buttons-I’m-told-to-push”voters.

If, as Stoolmacher closes out with, the Mayor Tony Mack fiasco has taught us anything, it’s that who is elected really matters.

Relying on the same elected officials to tout their favorites, as they have done in the past, is not going to improve our outcome. Choosing based on somebody else’s recommendation is how the city of Trenton got to where it is today.

Looking at and critically evaluating what a candidate proposes, what they’ve done, and who they choose to surround themselves with is what the voters need to do.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

He's gone!

As of 12:32 pm (by the clock in the court room), February 26, 2014, Tony Mack is the convicted, former mayor of the city of Trenton.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


The news spread quickly yesterday. Representative Rush Holt will not seek reelection this year.

Representative Holt has been a rarity in any elected office. He is incredibly intelligent, soft spoken, and more than competent. And there has never been a whiff of any scandal about him or the way he conducts his business.

Regardless of your partisan beliefs or opinions of his positions, Rep. Holt has been a model politician. His term of service is the kind that you almost wish would continue forever.

While part of us wishes he would stay on, we applaud his decision to not become one of those elected office holders who chooses to hold onto their seat forever simply because they can.

Contrast that with the man who holds the title of mayor of the city of Trenton even though he was convicted in a federal corruption trial over a week and a half ago.

Here’s an individual who is not bright, is not competent and whose every move carried the heavy stench of abuse of power and worse. He should have been removed from office long before the FBI came knocking on his door in the middle of a July night in 2012.

Incompetent. Convicted. Yet still holds the title of mayor.  He’s the one who should be announcing that he is leaving office. Immediately.

There are no clearer examples of the two extremes of American politics.

If only we had more Rush Holts.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Here's the thing

Here are six things you need to know regarding the status of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack now that a federal jury has found him guilty in the corruption case. Some of this information we have posted before but it bears repeating.

# 1:  He is still mayor unless and until he resigns OR the office is deemed vacant. The state law covering this is as follows:

§ 40A:16-3. When office deemed vacant

The office of a mayor or a member of the governing body of a municipality shall be deemed vacant:

a. Upon its being so declared by virtue of a judicial determination;

b. Upon the death of the mayor or a member of a governing body;

c. Upon a determination of the other members of the governing body that the mayor or a member of a governing body no longer resides within the corporate limits of a municipality or ward from which he was elected;

d. Upon the refusal of the mayor or member of a governing body to qualify or serve;

e. Upon a judicial determination that the mayor or member of a governing body shall have become physically or mentally incapable of serving;

f. Upon the filing of a written resignation with the municipal clerk by the mayor or a member of the governing body, except a resignation filed following the filing of a recall petition;

g. Whenever the mayor, when required by law to attend meetings of the governing body, or a member of the governing body, fails to attend and participate in any meetings of the governing body for a period of 8 consecutive weeks without being excused from attendance by a majority of the members of the governing body, at the conclusion of such period; provided, however, that the governing body may refuse to excuse only with respect to those failure to attend and participate which are not due to legitimate illness; or,

h. Upon a determination that the office comes within the purview of R.S. 19:3-25.

Got it? In this particular matter, Tony Mack must resign or a STATE judge, upon petition from the NJ Attorney General or the (Mercer County) Prosecutor sign an order vacating the office. Otherwise, Mack is mayor until Judge Shipp declares the office vacant upon sentencing.  

(NOTE: when we say the office is vacated, that refers to a permanent situation, not a temporary absence. Temporary absences can not continue beyond 60 days and would lead to a possible declaration of the office being vacant).

Currently, both the Trentonian and the Times are reporting the order is not likely to be signed until sometime Monday. So, we wait.

# 2: Who becomes the mayor upon the office being vacated?

§ 40A:9-131. Acting mayor 

In every municipality, unless otherwise provided by law, if a vacancy occurs in the office of mayor, by reason of death, resignation or otherwise, the presiding officer of the governing body shall become the acting mayor until a successor is elected and qualified.

So, South Ward Councilman George Muschal, would become the acting mayor upon the vacation of the office.

# 3: How long does the Council President serve as acting mayor?

§ 40A:16-12. Appointment to fill vacancy where incumbent was not nominee of a political party; time to fill vacancy 

If the incumbent whose office has become vacant was not elected to office as the nominee of a political party, the governing body may, within 30 days of the occurrence of the vacancy, appoint a successor to fill the vacancy without regard to party.

The governing body has 30 days to appoint a successor to fill the vacancy.

# 4:  How many votes does it take to fill a vacancy in the office of mayor?

§ 40A:16-6. Vote required to fill vacancy in office of mayor

An appointment to fill a vacancy in the office of mayor shall be by a majority vote of the entire membership of the governing body.

There are seven members of council. A majority is four. The “nominee” can vote for him or her self.  

# 5: What happens if council fails to appoint someone to fill the vacancy in the office of mayor within that 30 day time span?

§ 40A:16-14. Special election to fill vacancy in the office of mayor; limitation on authority to appoint

If a governing body shall fail to fill a vacancy in the office of mayor as provided in N.J.S. 40A:16-4a or 40A:16-5a within the 30-day period prescribed by N.J.S. 40A:16-11 or 40A:16-12, the municipal clerk shall forthwith fix the date for a special election to fill the vacancy to be held not less than 45 days nor more than 50 days after the expiration of the time fixed for the filling of the vacancy. If the date fixed for a special election shall fall within 20 days prior to the holding of any general election, regular municipal election or any other election within the municipality, the vacancy shall be filled at that election. If the date fixed for a special election shall fall within 20 days after the holding of any general election, regular municipal election or any other election within the municipality, then the special election to fill the vacancy shall be held not less than 20 days nor more than 25 days from the date of that election.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, if a vacancy in the office of mayor occurs in the final 6 months of the term of the mayor, no special election shall be held to fill the vacancy.

No appointment shall be made by a governing body to fill a vacancy occurring in the office of a mayor after the fixing of a date for a special election to fill the vacancy pursuant to this section.

So, if the governing body fails to appoint someone to the vacancy within the 30 day window, the council president remains as the acting mayor because we are within the final 6 months of the term.

# 6: What happens to the council president’s seat on the governing body when he becomes the acting mayor?

To answer that, we look at the following court case:

DeSoto v. Smith, 383 N.J. Super. 384, 891 A.2d 1241, 2006 N.J. Super. LEXIS 54 (App. Div. 2006)

As the result of applying Section 40A:9-131, a municipal attorney was terminated by the Council President who became acting mayor and council president temporarily pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40A:9-131. In an effort to defeat the acting mayor’s dismissal, it was argued that section 131, which allowed the council president to serve as both acting mayor and council president, violated the “separation of powers” doctrine. However the Court ruled that the doctrine of separation of powers was not generally applicable to a Faulkner Act mayor-council government, because the design of the Faulkner Act provided for checks and balances which would enable the Council by a 2/3 majority vote to nullify the acting mayor’s dismissal under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40:69A-43(c).

So, the succession in office law (40A:16-12) provides 30 days within which the council is to select an acting mayor pending the holding of an election (or for the unexpired balance of the term of the former mayor, depending on the time of the vacancy). Pending that, the Council President becomes acting Mayor as well as Council President.

Muschal would serve as both acting mayor and south ward councilman/council president.