Are Hillary loyalists feeling Obama’s wrath?

Former Secaucus Mayor Paul Amico – who won 14 straight two-year mayoral terms before retiring from office in 1990 – had a unique way of approaching controversial issues: he carried two speeches in his pockets, one in support of an issue, the other in opposition.

Then he would size up the mood of the crowd at a rally or meeting and read the speech that best suited that mood.

This was not doublespeak, but rather common sense. As mayor, he tried to reflect the will of the people.

His talent for governing was either to convince his enemies to come over to his side, or to modify his position just enough to win their approval.

This week we got to see this same philosophy on a national scale when Hillary Clinton urged her supporters to rally behind U.S. Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

Republican strategists and political hacks have hopped on her statements of unity to point out how during her campaign against Obama in Democratic primaries, she said quite different things about Obama’s qualifications for the job.

Trying to push a wedge deeper between the two most powerful Democratic leaders, Republicans ask: which did Hillary mean – what she said back then, or what she is saying now?

As Amico did, Hillary is clearly modifying her position in order to bring herself in line with the will of the people. Does she believe she would make a better candidate for president? Many people do, especially here in Hudson County where she got the support of a significant portion of the Democratic leadership – led by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.

Republican President candidate John McCain needs to exploit the rift in local Democrats if he expected to be the first Republican since Ronald Reagan to win New Jersey in a presidential conflict.

But if there is a rift, it may be Obama that’s to blame, who is tending to distance himself from those who swore allegiance to Clinton in the past. Menendez – despite being one of the most powerful Latino legislators in the county – was not invited to the podium during the convention, or to other Obama campaign events. Obama also declined to attend a national union convention in San Francisco last month, possibly because the unions backed Clinton. Rich McCormack, a Jersey City delegate to the union convention, said Clinton showed up, while Obama sent a videotape.

McCormack also got the rare opportunity to speak with Clinton for a few minutes about several local officials, including Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop, Menendez, and Albio Sires.

“She remembered them all,” she said.

Clinton should have. They helped win Hudson County for her despite an overwhelming for Obama elsewhere.

Fulop and Mason may have it wrong

I think it was Plato who said that anyone who retains old beliefs in the face of new information is a fool.

After looking more closely at the changing nature of Mason’s proposed double-dipping ordinance, and learning the impact of Fulop’s proposals, it seems that the proposed laws treat elected officials unfairly.

Jersey City Councilman Fulop and Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason are both trying to stop perceived abuses by public officials by introducing local restrictions on benefits, salaries, and pensions received by officials who have two taxpayer-funded jobs.

Fulop recently failed to get his a referendum on the November ballot in Jersey City that would strip that city’s elected officials of salary, health benefits, and pension rights from their elected job if they already have a government job elsewhere. Mason introduced similar legislation in Hoboken.

In both cases, the laws seem to be designed to punish elected officials for also holding taxpayer-funded jobs. The problem is the proposed laws are discrimination – not based on color or race, but on whether or not you already happen to have a government job (which could include working for the county jail, for instance, or teaching in a public school).

If passed, an elected official without a government job would get paid a salary from the elected position, while the one with such a job would not – this despite the fact that both elected officials may be doing the same amount of work and hold equal responsibilities as elected officials.

One definition for discrimination is: “Treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality or prejudice.” If carried to the extreme, public employees such as inspectors – who cobble together several part-time public jobs – would not be able to combine them to increase the size of their pension.

State employee pensions are based on two basic criteria. The amount of hours worked (and total salary earned) determines the amount of the pension payout later, and the number of years employed determines if you can collect a pension at all – most government jobs require 20 years of accumulated government work to qualify a person for a state pension.

Fulop’s and possibly Mason’s law could force small-town inspectors to demand full-time jobs so as to get a full-time pension, since only one part-time inspection job could be counted toward the pension. The new full-time salary could raise the cost to taxpayers.

Elected officials can also qualify for a state pension if they accumulate the minimum number of years. Until July, 2007, when a new reform of the pension system went into effect, public officials could combine the years of service as elected officials with their service as a government employee. The state reform separated the two. So as of July 2007, to qualify for a state pension, you must either have served in a paid elected or appointed government body for 20 years, or worked 20 or more years as a government employee. In some ways, this negates the need for the Fulop/Mason pension restrictions.

Fulop’s referendum does try to address a serious problem in Jersey City, where a majority of the City Council members are employed by Hudson County as well. This could result in a conflict of interest if the county administration seeks to exert pressure on the city as in the late 1990s, when then Democratic County Executive Robert Janiszewski went to war with then Republican Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler. In apparent effort to possibly dump Schundler, Janiszewski frequently pushed through the Freeholder Board changes in county operations that raised the cost of operating Jersey City – such as designing trash transfer routes that forced Jersey City to pay higher fees.

To whom would these City Council members be loyal if such a political war broke out again?

Some restrictions already exist under state and federal law – such as prohibiting elected officials from being town employees where they are elected. But it doesn’t apply to all cases. In Bayonne, the business administrator had to take a leave of absence to serve as interim mayor, as will the police director if he gets elected mayor in November. But City Hall employees in Hoboken also have been elected (unpaid) to the school board there.

Civil service guidelines, teacher contracts, and other conditions are so convoluted, it would be difficult to pass a comprehensive local law that would prohibit all abuses. Although dragging its feet, the state has begun to act to eliminate dual officeholding and to reform the pension system.

More, of course, needs to be done, such as eliminating multiple public-paid insurances. A public official who has taxpayer-paid benefits in one area should not be allowed to also receive them from a different job. But the state needs to set these rules, since such insurance plans often cross municipal boundaries.

No-show jobs are already illegal. So is holding two full-time government positions, or multiple jobs that add up to hours that could not be possibly performed by a single individual. But these need no new laws or referendums to correct; simply a calculator and close monitoring by interested parties.

email to Al Sullivan


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