With all of the nervous hilarity of a state room scene in a Marx Brothers movie, more than a dozen local and regional media reporters – including from ABC, CBS and 1010 WINS – crowded into a small storage closet to get a glimpse as professional locksmith opened two small wall safes in Jersey City City Hall that apparently had not been opened in more than 40 years.
In anticipation of finding some long lost secret from the era of Mayor “Boss” Frank Hague, the media pressed cameras over each other’s shoulders or under each other’s elbows to be the first to see what the two safes contained.
Mayor Steven Fulop hired the professional safe company on Dec. 17 to open the two Mosler Safes located in a vault in the Mayor’s Office and believed to have been installed during the Hague administration.
Fulop said, “We don’t know when the safes were installed or what they were used for, but they are quite old and we thought it would be interesting to find out what may be inside. Jersey City’s storied political history makes you wonder why safes were ever installed in the Mayor’s Office in the first place.”
“I was interested in know what might be inside them.” – Mayor Steve Fulop
Had anyone needed an extension cord for their Christmas Tree, they would not have been disappointed with the contents of the first safe – since that was all it contained. The other small safe turned out to be completely empty.
Prior to the opening, reporters recalled the opening of the vault in Chicago’s Lexington Hotel in which gangster Al Capone reportedly kept items. Most of the press called the Jersey City event “a Geraldo moment,” after the 1986 TV special Geraldo Rivera aired.
But that moment, like this one, was largely a letdown.
The vault with the safes in it also had a few empty shelves and has served the city as a storage room. The two safes were probably installed at different times, one during the Haque era in the mid-to-late 1930s, the other perhaps as late as the 1950s, officials said, although there is no accurate record.
Fulop said he had asked several of his predecessors about the safes, and none knew anything about their history, nor were any curious enough to know what was inside.
Some speculated that the safes might have served the same purpose as the filing cabinet former County Executive Robert Janiszewski had used to stash bribe and kickback money.
Janiszewski admitted in federal court in 2003 that he had taken bribes and stashed them in a filing cabinet in his office on Newark Avenue. Federal agents found tens of thousands of dollars in the cabinet, many still in the original envelopes.
Local legend among City Hall workers is that Hague had rigged his desk with a drawer on the front side to allow visitors to place bribes in. Some wondered if Hague then used the safes to store the cash.
Fulop laughed when he found only the extension cord. Perhaps he can use it for his espresso maker?
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.