Utter the name Robert Janiszewski to Hudson County officials and there’s usually silence.
But the image of the former Hudson County executive echoes loudly from a new art installation at the Es Oro Gallery on Brunswick Street in Jersey City.
“Variations of Janiszewski” is the creation of Brooklyn artist Henry Sanchez, a former tenant of the now-demolished arts complex known as 111 First St. Sanchez, who worked for Janiszewski from 2000 to 2001 as director of intergovernmental affairs, managed to accumulate photos and videos of Janiszewski from the politician’s 13 years in office.
Janiszewski is well known for his spectacular political downfall after he resigned in 2001 as the result of bribery and extortion charges. He spent three years in federal prison. He was released in April of 2008 and is believed to reside in Tannersville, N.Y., near Hunter Mountain.
The installation, part of a larger exhibit running at the gallery until this coming Friday, Oct. 24, includes a video loop of Janiszewski’s inauguration, as well as photos capturing him with former and current local political bigwigs. Those bigwigs include Sen. Ted Kennedy and former Vice President Al Gore.Anticipating reaction
At the kickoff on Sept. 4, Sanchez said the exhibit looks at Janiszewski in a different way.
“It’s not just about politics and political connections, but also talks about a personal history, and examines almost a great tragedy of a figure,” Sanchez said. “Somebody, who I actually thought very highly of, for a very long time.”
The exhibit is the first of several multi-media projects on Janiszewski that Sanchez is creating in the coming months, although he is cautious about his initial exhibit because he worries about “backlash” from Hudson County politicians. Remembering Bobby J.
“A man sitting at a table stuffing envelopes wearing a sort of track suit.”
That was the memory of Sanchez’s first encounter with Janiszewski (known also as “Bobby J.”) in 1994, when Sanchez came to volunteer at the old Hudson County Democratic Committee headquarters on Washburn Street near Jersey City’s Journal Square. Sanchez eventually worked alongside Janiszewski and other politicos on local elections as a volunteer until February 2001,when Sanchez was hired as director of intergovernmental affairs in the county executive’s office. That job lasted until September of 2001, when Janiszewski resigned his post.
Sanchez has bittersweet memories of the time spent working with and learning from Janiszewski.
“Basically he was the man I first met in Jersey City who introduced me into politics,” he said. “But I came to realize very suddenly that he unfortunately was less than what I expected of him, which is a real shame. And it was really bad for people who knew him a lot longer than I did.”
Sanchez has not talked to the former county leader since he left office.
The exhibit displays the images of Janiszewski at the height of his power, posing with the powers that be, or might have been.
Smiling with Janiszewski are the likes of former Hudson County Freeholder William Braker (who eventually served time in jail) and up-and-coming pols like a young Brian Stack before Stack became mayor of Union City.
A video loop shows Janiszewski taking the oath at his inauguration in the 1990s with Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy standing at his side. There are also stills of Janiszewski posing with former presidential candidate Al Gore, a demonstration of his influence beyond Hudson County. Janiszewski had been instrumental in getting Democratic votes for President Bill Clinton in New Jersey. Seeing through new eyes
Eto Oro, the proprietor of the Es Oro Gallery, is a recent transplant to Jersey City. He knew nothing of Janiszewski until the introduction through Sanchez’s work.
“Through use of small snippets from media taken during [Janiszewski’s] time in office, and focus on subtle details, it gets you to think about this tragic character and it draws you into who he was and the people he was around,” Oro said.
The entire exhibit, DEEP GREEN: Works in Polymedia, will be on display at the Es Oro Gallery at 107 Brunswick St. For more information on the exhibit, call (201) 763-6129 or visit: www.esorogallery.com. Comments on this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.