Politicians need not apply

My grandfather, himself the grandson of the boxer John L. Sullivan, once recalled a time growing up in East Boston when stores would post signs saying “Irish need not apply,” since store owners refused to hire Irish for even the most menial tasks.

Political operatives in several Hudson County towns have come up with a new way to discriminate, and we could soon see Hudson County and other governments hanging out signs saying: Politicians need not apply.

A new referendum will be on the ballot in Jersey City during the November presidential election – and may soon be proposed for Hoboken and Weehawken – trying to prohibit people from holding both an elected office and a government job at the same time.

“That’s discrimination,” said one long-time Hudson County political consultant last week. “How can anyone say I can’t run for office because I happen to work for the state or the county?”

The referendum doesn’t just apply to City Hall or county jobs, but affects public jobs like teachers, firefighters, and police officers as well, limiting them to only one taxpayer-funded salary.

The proposal does not outright say that people can’t hold both a public office and an elected office. However, it does prevent them from being able to collect both salaries. It also says they can no longer add both salaries together to get a higher government pension when they retire.

Currently, any elected officials who also have a county, state, or other government job must choose between pension and benefit packages from either their elected office or from their non-elected government job. But once they retire, they get to add all their government incomes together so that their pensions are based on two salaries, not one.

The referendum proposed by Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop would mean several things. One is, the dual-job holder would be forced to take the benefits plan from their full-time job, not getting to choose the benefits from the elected job if those benefits are better. Additionally, the public official cannot use another part-time taxpayer salary to increase the amount he or she will get after retirement.

Interestingly, the referendum will apply to current officials, stripping them of the ability to get the higher pension upon retirement.

Right now, most of Jersey City’s nine council people also have a full-time job with county government. So it would affect their pension upon retirement, and it would mandate that they use their county benefits, not city benefits.

In Hoboken, Councilman Ruben Ramos Jr. is also a state Assemblyman at the same time, and works as a teacher in Paterson.

Some legal eagles in Hudson County believe the referendum won’t survive the first legal challenge, simply because city government does not have the power to regulate this form of employment.

“State statute determines it,” one prominent Hudson County attorney said. “So the state legislature must change it. Even then, it might not be constitutional.”

State and federal regulations already exist to cover a variety of possible conflicts of interest. The state constitution, for instance, prohibits a member of the state legislature from being employed by the federal government at the same time. This is why Assemblywoman Caridad Rodriguez was forced to give up her job in the office of Rep. Albio Sires after she was elected.

Federal and state regulations also prohibit various public employees from engaging in certain organized political activities.

Most recently, the state legislature instituted regulations prohibiting any future state assembly people or state senators from holding more than one office at a time (such as mayor and assemblyman). The two Hudson County state senators who still hold mayoral jobs right now, Brian Stack and Nicholas Sacco, are grandfathered in to the old laws, so that law doesn’t affect them.

The referendum that Fulop is hoping to get voters to approve in November – and may soon see introduction in the Hoboken and Weehawken councils – lays new ground rules.

Legal or not, Fulop’s referendum is a brilliant political tool in several regards, because it gives him name recognition citywide for a possible run for Jersey City mayor next spring.

By announcing last week that she plans to introduce a similar referendum in Hoboken, Councilwoman Beth Mason has already started a political war leading into municipal elections there next spring as well.

Opponents of Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner – since they have been unable to make political headway through the ballot box – may also seek to put such a referendum on the Weehawken ballot, hoping to use the referendum as a political platform, where they previously had none.

When a poll is just a poll

Supporters of Patrick Conaghan for Bayonne mayor last week blasted the so-called results of two internal polls done by mayoral candidate Mark Smith.

Conaghan is running against Smith and others in a November special election. Smith supporters claim two polls taken by their campaign show Smith well ahead of Conaghan. But the exact figures are apparently not available for publication, leading Conaghan supporters to wonder about the details.

“If the first poll showed Smith doing so well, why did they need to take a second poll?” one prominent Conaghan supporter said.

The polls in question were taken at two different times, one prior to Smith declaring and the other after Smith announced.

After the first poll, Conaghan people claimed the Smith poll showed sharp negatives in regards to Smith’s connection to former Mayor Joe Doria, and they claim now that the second poll was taken in order to see if Smith’s distancing himself from Doria worked. Smith supporters claim such polls are routine, offering a barometer of where candidates stand and what issues need to be raised.

Supporters of Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason made similar claims last week, suggesting that two polls done in Hoboken show her as the leading contender for mayor next May.

Other contending factions question the results. Since these polls are rarely released outside of the organization, it is hard to determine who is telling the truth until some other non-affiliated group polls potential voters.

Earlier this year, Mayor Dave Roberts apparently conducted a poll of voters, and while the Mason people claim that Mason did well in this poll, no one but those closest to Roberts know for sure.

Another more recent poll was allegedly conducted by a group of people seeking to lure Hoboken Councilman Peter Cammarano into the mayoral race next May. Again, the Mason people who claim to have knowledge of the poll results say she did exceedingly well.

Yet, Mason detractors believe the poll – if taken at all – had such a small sampling of voters that the results are questionable.

Cammarano supporters claim his camp did not even do a poll, and won’t likely authorize one until after the presidential election in November.

They also point out that the Roberts poll did not reflect the current political landscape, and cannot be used as a test of who is currently a frontrunner in an election still more than nine months away.

Getting some clout

Jersey City Mayor Jerremiah Healy apparently didn’t get his wishes of having Bill Matsikoudis serve as the attorney for the state Democratic Committee.

This honor when to an associate of Hoboken Councilman Cammarano, Angelo Geneva.

email to Al Sullivan


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