Between the lines Weehawken election roundtable

Candidates for Weehawken council clashed at an election roundtable held at the offices of the Hudson Reporter last week. The informative confrontation proved an old adage about New Jersey politics: Candidates who evolve out of grass roots organizing around single significant issues, like Weehawken Initiative Now (WIN) did with its opposition to current plans for waterfront development, tend to be viewed as moralists, spurred on by the righteousness of their cause. Robert Terhune, Karen Brady, John Hubbard, Ben Goldman and Arielly Laszlo often eyed the longer-serving politicians with some skepticism and believe entrenchment in power equals corruption.

Mayor Richard Turner and his running mates Louise Ferullo, Rosemary Lavagnino, Robert Sosa and James Terlizzi tended to view the WIN candidates as well-meaning amateurs, people who lack the expertise to get the job done. Such people, professionals believe, will muck up government if elected.

The incumbents insisted that things in Weehawken are going well and that they will bring more of the same, while WIN thinks city government needs to be more open. They want to change the current waterfront plans, which will include approximately 1,300 units of housing (not 6,000, as some have incorrectly stated – that number includes other towns’ waterfronts).

While candidates clashed on several occasions, both sides, to their credit, handled themselves admirably, with the exception of “Don’t forget to call me Doctor” Ben Goldman, whose constant mutterings during the discussions and insistence on attack rhetoric seemed to deconstruct whatever goodwill his runningmates managed to manufacture.

Not safe anywhere or in any party

Just when you thought it was safe to look over your shoulder eight months after the resignation of County Executive Robert Janiszewski, the federal authorities are issuing letters concerning another possible wiretap.

The investigation has already brought an indictment against Paterson’s Mayor Martin Barnesand has resulted in Republican Essex County Executive James Treffinger dropping his bid to unseat Sen. Robert Torricelli. It centers on the testimony of a former executive of United Gunite, an Irvington-based concrete construction firm.

Jerry Free says he has given bribes to numerous public officials throughout New Jersey. A result of federal wiretaps, officials in Essex, Bergen and Hudson County have received hand-delivered letters via the FBI asking them to come in and talk.

Free apparently cooperated with the U.S Attorney to lure in unsuspecting officials into his web. The letters, the feds are careful to warn, do not imply guilt, just that the person has been recorded on tape.

Coincidentally, Free was, according to published reports, apparently cooperating with federal authorities at the time when he made a grand spectacle at the November 2000, League of Municipalities Convention in Atlantic City – the same convention at which the FBI allegedly nabbed Janiszewski.

“Free had a lot of scantily-clad women helping to promote his company,” one source recalled from that convention.

“[Free] was always walking around with a woman on each of his arms,” said another source.

Free had been a regular at the convention since 1995, hobnobbing with officials at all levels of government. Free has done business in Hudson County and has communicated with officials here, leaving some people for the second time in a year to wonder if they’ve been taped.

“Jerry Free did some surveying of our sewers,” said Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell. “He ran a television camera through our lines.”

Elwell, however, said the council chose not to hire Free, partly because many of the sewers surveyed were privately owned.

Fred Pocci, executive director of the North Hudson Sewer Authority, is responsible for the sewers in West New York, Hoboken, Weehawken, and most of Union City. The NHSA did business with Free in 2000 when the Authority began a five-year upgrade of its sewers. Pocci said that, like Elwell, he did not get a letter.

Hartnett’s veto overridden by the freeholders

Seven of nine Hudson County freeholders proved last week that nothing fundamental has changed since Janiszewski’s resignation.

In overriding County Executive Bernard Hartnett’s veto of the Hudson County Improvement Authority’s bonding resolution for part of the Hudson River walkway, the freeholders proved they are willing to live with possible conflicts of interest.

The HCIA authorized FW Financial of Jersey City to handle bonding of the West New York and Weehawken Hudson River walkway despite the fact that Dennis Enright, the principal in that company, represents entities such as the city of Harrison who will be seeking loans from the HCIA. Enright, under Janiszewski, played a similar role in that he represented Progressive Healthcare as well as the HCIA at a time when the HCIA was negotiating with Progressive to take over the county’s nursing homes. While Enright, who did not return calls on this matter, did excuse himself from HCIA closed sessions on Progressive, the matter had the appearance of a conflict. The freeholders might well question why Hartnett chose this moment to invoke his rarely-used veto power, but the freeholders should not ignore past practices they found so distasteful under Janiszewski.

Russo denies playing politics in Hoboken school election

Former Mayor Anthony Russo said he mounted no campaign against Mayor David Robert’s slate for Board of Education during the April election.

“I mounted no campaign for or against,” he said. “In my opinion, Mayor Roberts is trying to compensate for his own incompetence and needs someone to bash to distract for his failures in government.”

In the last issue of Between the Lines, Mayor Roberts said he believe Russo and his followers were behind a campaign of innuendo and memos attacking his candidates.

Although someone had to have written the negative letters and memos, Russo denied playing any part. He said he voted for individuals that he believed would do a good job, but because of the “non-competitive” nature of Board of Education elections, there was no campaign.

Non-competitive? Anyone intimate with Board of Education elections anywhere would dispute such a claim, or perhaps define the National Basketball Association playoffs are non-competitive as well. – Al Sullivan


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group