Stuck in the mud Phony phone messages, `midnight flyers' contain false election claims
by Tom Jennemann
May 17, 2005 | 1148 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Negative politics and dirty tricks in Hoboken campaigns are not a new occurrence, but this year, anonymous slanted phone calls, "midnight flyers" and aggressive attack ads have been more rampant than before. With five slates of mayoral candidates running, the dirty tricks will likely escalate in the days before the election.

Pretty much every side claims that the other candidates are guilty of the smearing.

A late-breaking colorful flyer passed around the projects last week even accused every one of Mayor David Roberts' opponents of helping support the former director of the projects in his alleged financial misdeeds (see sidebar).

Lies through the phone lines

A popular trend for '05 has been phone calls from fictitious groups.

"I am calling on behalf of the Hoboken Developers Alliance," one bogus recording says. "We're calling to ask you if you could support one of the developers running for mayor, Dave Roberts or Frank `Pupie' Raia, who would like to ensure new developments here in Hoboken. On May 3rd, vote Roberts or Raia for continued development across our city. Thank you."

Bit the group does not exist, and the calls have come from out of state. They are meant to prey on local residents' fear that the city is being overdeveloped.

Both the Raia and Roberts camps have called for an investigation to anonymous phone calls. "This is blatant fraud and a cheap, dirty trick, but it is also plainly illegal," Raia said. "I'm running for mayor to try to stop these kinds of shenanigans."

Roberts' campaign responded by sending out a recording telling voters that these calls are a violation of federal law, and to call the campaign if they get one.

The Michael Russo, Carol Marsh and Evelyn Smith campaigns all denied any involvement with the phone message, and Marsh and her City Council candidates have signed affidavits saying they have had no involvement in any phony phone calls.

They have asked their opponents to do the same.

"My running mate and I ask each candidate in this race, whether for mayor or council, to sign the same pledge to not call or poll Hoboken residents anonymously," Marsh said. "Voters have a right to know who is calling them and who is paying for this barrage of telephone calls. My campaign will not engage in this type of activity."

Another fishy message unleashed last week tried to tie Marsh to the Republican Party.

"Republican" in heavily Democratic Hoboken can be a dirty word.

Marsh is also a registered Democrat.

"This is Holland from Hoboken," the young male voice said. "I've just received an invitation from former Bush administration officials and state Republicans to attend a fundraiser for Carol Marsh tonight. Please call Carol at (201) 659-2550 [which is the number for her campaign headquarters] to let her know how you feel."

The Russo, Robert and Raia camps all vehemently denied being behind this phone message. Bud Demellier, a political consultant for the Roberts team, said they have not been engaging in anonymous phone calls. "We feel like we don't have to stoop to that level," Demellier said. He added that anything that comes from their team comes with the proper "paid for" attribution.

Midnight flyers

Another common dirty trick is "midnight flyers" which, in the stealth of night, make their way onto windshields and telephone poles and under doors, usually right before the election. The flyers often contain bogus accusations and tie candidates to views they don't espouse. In subsidized housing, the flyers often accuse a candidate of threatening to remove the housing. Anonymous flyers are against state campaign laws.

There have already been examples. One flyer that appeared on phone poles and bulletin boards resembles a "For Sale" ad and reads "City Hall for Sale...Plenty of back room deals for making shady deals. Garage already sold separately. Auction ends May 10."

On the bottom of the flyer are cut-out tabs with Mayor Roberts' cell phone and personal phone numbers with the instructions "Call early and often."

Not dirty, but negative

Another Hoboken tradition is negative campaigning, and this election isn't lacking in that, either. The most vitriolic jabs have been thrown between the Roberts and Marsh camps.

The Roberts campaign has distributed fliers with questionable claims around Hoboken's public housing projects.

"If elected mayor," one flyer says, "Carol Marsh will cut the budget. She will cut the budget by eliminating 200 city jobs; she will cut the budget by eliminating the health care coverage for your family. She's promised to privatize the Div. or Public Works, Parks and Recreation." The flyer was signed by "Team Roberts."

In fact, Carol Marsh did not pledge to privatize those departments. Nor has she said she will eliminate health care coverage or cut 200 jobs. The Marsh team said the claims are untrue, fear-mongering, and promote a perceived division between "old Hoboken" and "new Hoboken." "What this is all about is Dave Roberts is trying to discredit the only `new Hoboken' resident running for mayor," Lenz said. "I can't believe that they are putting their names on midnight flyers."

(Carol Marsh actually has lived in Hoboken for 20 years, but to some, one has to be born in Hoboken to be considered an old-timer.)

Demillier acknowledged that his camp produced those flyers. He said he stands behind the claims. Marsh's campaign has accused the Roberts campaign of going negative on her, but the Roberts campaign has often simply thrown back the same charges of taking campaign donations from questionable sources that Marsh's campaign has tried to saddle him with.

Marsh's campaign has run several ads accusing Roberts of funding his campaign with "pay to play" money. "Pay to play" means that contractors and vendors donate money to campaigns hoping to get favors and contracts in return. If they do get rewarded, that is illegal, but in order to eliminate the possibility or appearance, reformers have enacted laws to limit the amount contracts can contribute.

Neither Roberts nor Marsh has been accused by the government of doing anything illegal. However, both sides have used the appearance to accuse each other.

Roberts and Marsh ran together four years ago, and thus would have used the same donation pool at the time.

Back and forth

Some Roberts flyers are misleading. One says of Marsh, "She says she's for `pay to play' reform but she is making developers pay for her campaign."

This is a slanted claim, because while Marsh did call developers, according to state campaign financing reports, her campaign has no contributions from developers, and only $9,000 in contributions from professionals and vendors who do business with municipalities.

Most of her money has come from "friend and neighbors," said Marsh, a statement which is backed up by the state ELEC reports.

"They are running a filthy campaign," Lenz said, "the worst I can remember in Hoboken." However, the Marsh campaign has made similar accusations about Roberts.

The Marsh campaign has been trying to connect Roberts to Hudson County corruption. "His campaign is being waged and financed by the infamous Hudson County Machine formerly controlled by `Boss' Hague, the John V. Kenny Mob, and the most recent felon, `Bobby J' Janiszewski, now serving 41 months for tax evasion and extortion," reads Marsh's web site. (Hague and Kenny are both long dead.)

The web site continues, "Mayor Roberts has reassembled the Janiszewski campaign team and a warchest of $400,000 to try and thwart the will of the 9,573 Hoboken voters who said no to their way of doing business, by voting YES last November 2 to ban pay to play."

While Roberts has now collected over $400,000 in the past year and a half - and his biggest contributors have been developers, lawyers, and other professionals - his campaign did it legally. Before the new pay-to-play rules went into effect, Roberts did hold a huge fundraiser, but Roberts said that he plays by whichever rules are in place, and that is what he has done this campaign season. It is also usually the case that the sitting administration is able to get the most contributions.

The new "pay to play" law went into effect only at the beginning of this year. According the most recent state ELEC reports, all of the candidates have followed the rules.

What's true and what isn't?

This is the last issue of the Hoboken Reporter before Tuesday's election. Thus, any new "midnight flyers" on bumper stickers and under windshields won't be reported on until after the election. If you have a question about a spurious claim in your mailbox, on your car or on your answering machine, you can call the various campaign headquarters at these numbers:

Frank Raia (201) 420-9140
Carol Marsh (201) 659-2550
Michael Russo (201) 792-9385
David Roberts (201) 798-8815
Evelyn Smith (201) 201-725-5837
Roberts flyer says he saved the projects from evil

Late last week, the Roberts team handed out a campaign comic strip around the projects making fun of Roberts' opponents and trying to link them with former Housing Authority Director E. Troy Washington, who, according to the flyer, "Wanted to either sell our homes or give them away to the Jersey City folks."

Indeed, Troy Washington's work at the Housing Authority is being investigated by the FBI. Washington has been accused by the new director of having mishandled funds, and he did apparently allow many Jersey City people onto the housing wait lists.

But the flyer contains some outlandish caricatures and incorrectly attempts to link all of Roberts' opponents to Washington's deeds.

It depicts Troy Washington, who had stayed out of municipal politics while in Hoboken, wearing a crown and having a big-busted, middrift-showing dark-skinned woman hugging his leg. There is a baseball cap-wearing "posse" (as the literature says) of bodyguards flanking him. One of the bodyguards is pictured in another panel dragging an older crying woman away from her home. The ad depicts 4th Ward Councilman (and attorney) Christopher Campos, who is not up for re-election, calling Roberts a heroic "Mayor Man" who helped remove Washington from the projects. However, Roberts' opponents, Carol Marsh, Tony Soares, Michael Russo (referred to in the ad as "junior"), Frank Raia, and Marsh campaign manager Michael Lenz are accused of having allowed Washington to stay in power. Yet, some of them were not involved in the Washington situation at all.

Michael Russo and Carol Marsh were not involved in the arguments at the time over whether Washington should stay or leave.

Marsh said Friday that she stayed neutral in the debate over Washington because she was not convinced that either side, Washington or Roberts, contained the right people to solve the Housing Authority's ills.

Lenz did at times support Washington, and was a regular speaker at HHA meetings, but said Friday that he had no idea about Washington's deeds until later. At the time he expressed the concern that if Washington left, another, more political person would take his place.

Members of Roberts' administration did complain at the time (and it turned out to be supported later) that Washington was being neglectful and was letting Jersey City residents in ahead of Hoboken residents. Washington moved on to become director of the Jersey City housing projects last year and was soon ousted after his Hoboken deeds came to light.
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