Mayor Glenn Cunningham and the city of Jersey City were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by Jersey City Redevelopment Agency Director Suzanne Mack, accusing Cunningham of harassment and defamation. The suit, filed on Jan. 27 in United States District Court in Newark, includes Mack's husband, Robert Magro, as a co-plaintiff. Magro was a director of information technology for Jersey City for 15 years before his termination in September of 2002.
The suit alleges that Mack has "suffered damages resulting in the loss of compensation, loss of earning power, and loss of standing in the community" as a result of what the suit calls harassment and defamation.
Mack was recently appointed to the executive directorship of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency. According to the suit, Cunningham made objections to Mack's appointment that were defamatory. In a Dec. 17, 2002 letter to Commissioner Susan Bass-Levin of the Department of Community Affairs, Cunningham made remarks to the effect that Mack was under federal investigation.
While referring all other questions to her attorney, Charles Sciarra of Newark, Mack commented directly on the accusations of an investigation by federal law enforcement agents.
"I have not spoken to the FBI or the U.S. Attorney's Office at all," said Mack.
In a letter dated Dec. 18, Keith J. Jones, director of the State Division of Housing and Community Resources, denied Cunningham's request for an appeal of the decision by the JCRA to hire Mack because "the appeal process to which you refer is reserved for executive directors who were denied approval by the Department."
The suit also alleges both Mack and Magro were harassed by Cunningham and his supporters because Mack and Magro did not support Cunningham's candidacy in the 2001 mayoral campaign. The suit further alleges that Cunningham-appointed Business Administrator Carlton McGee harassed Magro for political reasons.
Since early 2002, a political power battle has been fought between Cunningham and Congressman Robert Menendez for control of the county. The feud reached a peak last year when Cunningham backed Bernard Hartnett for Hudson County Executive while Menendez and the Jersey City Council backed Tom DeGise. The suit alleges that Cunningham's anger at the lack of support from Mack and Magro stems from the fact that they attended a Menendez fund-raising event in March of 2002.
The suit alleges that Cunningham and his supporters pressured Mack to resign as president of the Jersey City Board of Education and support the Cunningham candidate Willie Flood. In one instance described in suit, Cunningham attempted to contact Mack by cell phone while she was at a dentist office.
"Mack then got out of the dentist chair and told Cunningham that she would return his call later," the suit alleges.
"Clearly the actions and statements made by the Cunningham administration were an attempt to smear my clients' reputation through rumor and innuendo," said Sciarra. "It was a politically-motivated effort to ruin their livelihood."
Stan Eason, director of communications for the Mayor's Office dismissed the validity of Mack and Magro's suit against the Cunningham and the city.
"The suit is frivolous and has no grounds," Eason said. Eason added that the city did not want to comment on the details of the suit itself.
Sciarra was optimistic about the outcome of the suit, which he believes will be in court for about the next year.
"The city can settle quickly and get this over with," Sciarra stated, "or it can be defiant and pay more later on. The mayor is chopped meat, and I anticipate fattening my wallet."