When City Councilman and 2013 mayoral candidate Steven Fulop reintroduces his failed amendment to expand the city’s pay to play law – which could happen as soon as Nov. 14 – he will test the outer limits of another city law that could quash his efforts to reign in city contracts to political donors.
The nine-member City Council failed to introduce a Fulop-sponsored amendment last week that would have strengthened the city’s current pay to play law after an unusual vote switch by Ward F Councilwoman Michele Massey.
A separate, though less comprehensive, pay to play amendment that was advanced by the administration of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy was introduced unanimously.
After his measure was defeated, Fulop vowed to rewrite his amendment and bring it before the council again in November. But it’s unclear whether city law will allow a reconsideration of this measure before spring. By law, failed city ordinances and amendments cannot be reintroduced for six months after the council has rejected them. This means the soonest Fulop could reintroduce his pay to play amendment would be sometime in April 2013.
Fulop hopes that by “substantially” rewriting his amendment he can get around the six-month rule by arguing that the redrafted amendment is new and different from what he presented last week.
After Massey cast her vote, a chuckling William Gaughan leaned over and said something that was not picked up by the microphones on the dais.
Massey: ‘My bad’
Pay-to-play laws forbid campaign donors from getting contracts with a government body within a certain period of time after donating. This cuts down on the possibility of donating to a candidate specifically for the purpose of getting a contract.
Despite his strong advocacy for such restrictions, in recent months, financial contributions made to Fulop’s mayoral campaign have come under scrutiny, as have the contributions made to eight of the nine school board trustees who are currently allied with him. This scrutiny has led some parents, activists, and other residents to call for an improved pay to play policy at the Board of Education and a tougher pay to play law in the city.
Earlier this month, Healy and Fulop each responded by drafting amendments that would restrict some contributors to school board candidates from receiving city contracts. But Fulop’s amendment is tougher and includes some restrictions not included in Healy’s version.
Under Fulop’s amendment, campaign contributors who donate to municipal, school board, state senate, and state assembly campaigns would be banned from receiving a city contract under certain circumstances. The law would also apply to contributions made to political parties, campaign committees, candidate committees, and continuing political committees. The law would apply to donations made up to a year prior to the awarding of a contract or would prohibit contributions from being made during the lifetime of a city contract. Finally, the amendment would set limits on transferring money between political committees – what’s known as “wheeling” – and would set dollar thresholds of $300 and $500, respectively, to individual candidates and committees.
In Massey’s absence at the start of the City Council meeting, Fulop’s amendment was initially defeated by a vote of 4-4. Fulop voted in favor of his amendment, as did fellow council members David Donnelly, Nidia Lopez, and Rolando Lavarro Jr. Council members Michael Sottolano, Peter Brennan, William Gaughan, and Viola Richardson voted against Fulop’s amendment.
When Massey, a Healy ally, arrived late to the meeting, she hastily voted in favor of both amendments, a move that allowed Fulop’s amendment to pass by a vote of 5-4. (After Massey cast her vote, a chuckling Gaughan leaned over and said something to her that was not picked up by the microphones on the dais.)
More than two hours later, Massey asked City Clerk Robert Byrne to change her vote on the Fulop amendment from “yea” to “nay.” The change meant the Fulop amendment was defeated by a vote of 4-5.
An angry Fulop called Massey a “rubber stamp” for the Healy administration, an accusation Massey called “rude” before their exchange disintegrated into a shouting match that was reminiscent of a similar shouting match two weeks earlier between Fulop and Matsikoudis.
When asked why she changed her vote, Massey said, “Unfortunately for me I rushed in. When I sat down I was rushing through [the ordinances]. Then I paused and looked at it and went, ‘Oh, my God, that’s right. This [amendment] is for the state assembly and senate.’ I take full responsibility for not noting my agenda. My bad. But when I realized it, I asked if I could change my vote because I want clarity on whether or not a local municipality can adopt legislation that would address the state. Corporate Counsel couldn’t end that debate in our caucus meeting. So, I’d rather see it delayed so I can get all the information so I can make a reasonable decision…If we’re going to do this, I think it should be done right and I don’t think we should rush it.”
The council majority instituted the six-month rule in 2010 after Fulop repeatedly tried to get several ordinances passed that he said would save taxpayer money.
That year, Fulop tried to introduce two ordinances that would cut health care benefits to political appointees serving on the board of the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority and the board of the Jersey City Incinerator Authority. That same year Fulop tried to pass another law that would require non-emergency municipal vehicles to be identified as belonging to the city.
He now believes that by revising his pay to play amendment he can get around this city law.
“It will be a substantial change in dollar threshold,” Fulop said. “I will make it stricter. Persistence will win in the end and I believe this will be law.”
Fulop said he will revise his amendment by lowering the dollar threshold, possibly as low as $200.
Whether this constitutes a substantial enough change to skirt the six-month rule could come down to a legal opinion from Matsikoudis, the city attorney with whom Fulop exchanged sharp words earlier this month regarding his pay to play amendment.
Matsikoudis questioned the legality of Fulop’s amendment and whether the City Council had the jurisdiction to regulate certain campaign contributions.
Fulop has recently questioned whether Matsikoudis’ legal opinions are tainted by his alliance with Mayor Healy and his work for Healy’s reelection campaign, which Matsikoudis has denied (see sidebar).
“I don’t know whether this will be subject to the six month rule or not,” Matsikoudis said. “I haven’t seen his new proposal. When I get it I’ll take a look at it and make a decision then.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.
Fulop says city attorney’s work for Healy campaign is a conflict
The dust-up earlier this month between City Councilman and mayoral candidate Steven Fulop and Corporation Counsel William Matsikoudis may stem from political animosity related to the upcoming May 2013 election.
The two clashed recently during a City Council meeting, ostensibly over the recommendation to amend the city’s pay to play law. But Fulop’s dig on Matsikoudis, that he is “supposed to work for the mayor and council,” left some people wondering whether there was a subtext to the argument.
Apparently, there is.
The Fulop camp has recently alleged that Matsikoudis – an ally of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, Fulop’s opponent in the 2013 mayoral race – is managing the Healy campaign.
Fulop and his allies point to the fact that Matsikoudis has been seen around town fielding potential City Council candidates for the Healy slate. He was, for instance, recently spotted with Deputy Chief of Staff Kevin Lyons having a meeting with a possible Ward B candidate at a popular downtown restaurant.
And Matsikoudis reportedly held similar meetings with downtown activist Dan Levin. Team Healy recently announced that Levin will run on the mayor’s ticket as his Ward E City Council candidate.
The Fulop camp has alleged that Matsikoudis is acting as the de facto campaign manager for Healy’s campaign, a charge Matsikoudis denies.
“No I am not,” Matsikoudis said when asked whether or not he is serving as Healy’s campaign manager.
Joshua Henne, spokesman for Healy’s re-election campaign, said, “Bill Matsikoudis is a long-time trusted advisor who has been instrumental in so many of the ways Mayor Healy has made progress in Jersey City – from environmental cleanups and creating parks, to reducing crime and stabilizing taxes. Bill will continue to advise on putting together a campaign team as we move into 2013.”
The difference between an “advisor” and a “campaign manager” might be slight and in name only. After all, PolitckerNJ.com recently listed Matsikoudis among the state’s most influential people, precisely because of his leadership role on the Healy campaign.
But Fulop said the attorney’s work for his rival’s campaign colors his work for the city.
“Whether it’s his support for the [expansion] of pay to play, his argument against a study of the police department, or his defense of the mayor’s decision to give free cars to supporters, Bill’s track record is consistent in working in the political interests of the mayor, and not the residents of the city,” Fulop stated. “While the council has limited ability to remove him, my belief is that if Bill wants to work to reelect the mayor he should be on the payroll of the campaign, not the city.”
(In the months leading up to the 2009 City Council and mayoral elections, the Healy camp tried to get Fulop to join the mayor’s slate that year. Matsikoudis was among the Healy emissaries who were dispatched to meet with Fulop at that time.)
But Matsikoudis last week denied that his legal opinions for the city are influenced by his allegiance to Healy.
“My office has done a lot of work on Councilmen Fulop’s proposals,” Matsikoudis said, despite the fact that many ordinances advanced by Fulop are not supported by the Healy administration.
He added that Fulop has twice voted to confirm him as the city’s corporation counsel and made no objection to his involvement in the Healy campaign in 2009.
Matthew Weng, staff attorney with the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said last week that even if Matsikoudis is working for the Healy campaign that work does not constitute a conflict of interest – “so long as he is working on his own time and not when he is supposed to be ‘on the clock,’ ” Weng said.
Healy recently told the Reporter that this fall he would be focused on the Nov. 6 election and will not turn his attention to his re-election effort in 2013 until after the presidential election has passed. A campaign manager and other campaign staff, he said, will not be announced until after the New Year. – EAW