The best way to live your life, Will Rogers once pointed out, is so that you wouldn’t be ashamed to lend the family parrot to the town gossip.
In Hudson County, we can extend this to public officials, who should live their lives with the assumption that someone is wearing a wire or operating on behalf of the FBI.
You can’t be totally safe in this environment since it is possible that you may become the subject of someone’s plea bargain, and even if you say something innocent in an incriminating context, you may wind up the subject of a federal sting.
Over the last few months, Rogers has never been proved so right, especially with the latest revelations that Freeholder Jose Munoz has been working as an FBI informant.
Four years after Bid Rig III showed the lengths federal authorities would go to bring down a significant number of elected officials, people are still gun-shy as to who they can trust. Most political people outside the traditional power structure pray and hope that there will be a Bid Rig IV that will leave vacant the political seat they wish to fill.
The revelations that Assembly candidate Carmelo Garcia secretly taped meetings with political foes only adds to the overall climate of mistrust.
The Munoz disclosure comes ahead of the federal trial against West New York Mayor Felix Roque and his son, who allegedly hacked into an anti-Roque website Munoz had established.
But reports now show Munoz worked for the feds as early as February 2011, and before he was previously assumed to have worn a wire in the hacking investigation
If he was working for the feds, what brought about this arrangement?
Munoz, since coming onto the political scene has bounced around a few times in the North Hudson political wars between State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack and State Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
Although some officials have publically honored Munoz for his role in helping bring about justice, many others behind the scenes wonder if he had been forced to cooperate, as is sometimes the case in so-called whistleblower situations in this county.
In a county so filled with suspicion, it is difficult for anyone to believe Boy Scouts like Munoz exist.
With Roque’s trial starting and the names of victims and conspirators already exposed to public scrutiny, some political bigwigs many be ducking for cover, wondering just how extensive Munoz’s undercover work was, and if there will be others beyond West New York who will feel the pinch.
The federal case against Roque will hinge on whether Roque can make the argument that the whole thing was a political trick against him. The indictment, however, shows that he may have confided in members of his inner group about his alleged plans to bring down his political opponents. Some people with knowledge of the case claim Roque has declined a plea deal that would have saved him and his son from jail time, and has chosen to take his chances with a jury.
Can opponents take advantage of gambling case in Bayonne?
Other towns in Hudson County are facing similar political concerns. In Bayonne, some believe there is a connection between the federal criminal case that resulted in the arrest of a number of men for internet gambling, and federal raids on city offices involving Community Development Block Grant loans.
The suggestion is that one or more of those caught up in the internet gambling ring have made deals of their own and pointed out some other irregularity in the misuse of federal money. So far one contractor has plead guilty in connection with CDBG funding, and one of those charged with the internet gambling has pled.
Political outsiders in Bayonne are rubbing their hands in anticipation of possibly using this as an election issue in next year’s municipal elections.
But alas, to date, it is all speculation.
Friends no more in Hoboken
Hoboken has become a rat’s nest of backstabbing.
“This is not politics anymore,” one prominent figure said in observing the current three-way race for mayor. “It’s a blood feud.”
Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who is fighting to keep her seat as well as regain control of the City Council, could not have invented a better scenario than what is taking place in the November election.
With Councilman Tim Occhipinti and Assemblyman Ruben Ramos vying for the anti-Zimmer vote, both almost guarantee she will be reelected.
But neither opposition camp can win points for organizational skills. Ramos has several key political operators, including one from the besieged West New York administration, making his campaign look polished. But behind the scenes, his campaign has not generated the crossover vote he will need, and has in fact caused Occhipinti’s ticket to emerge.
Ramos’s brain trust early on had a take it or leave it attitude, assuming that most anti-Zimmer people would line up behind him for lack of choice.
Well, left out of the decision making process, many decided not to fall in with Ramos after all.
“Some of these people hate Ramos more than they hate Zimmer,” one source said.
And with good reason. Zimmer is a natural enemy, a political opponent, but many of those who support Occhipinti were one time Ramos’ friends and feel betrayed.
“It’s like Ramos stabbed them in the back,” this source said. “Zimmer they expect to be against them, but to be disrespected by one of their own – that’s too much to take.”
In many ways, the Occhipinti-Ramos feud is much like the American Civil War, pitting friend against friend, family member against family member. After this election is over, there will be rifts that won’t ever been mended.