Raia indictment was no surprise

For many political observers, the indictment of Hoboken politician Frank Raia for alleged voter bribery charges was inevitable.

Raia had worked hard during the 2013 election to help defeat a Hoboken rent control referendum, and apparently disappointed a number of his landlord friends after he failed to deliver the votes.

But the real indicator that he would be charged came when campaign worker Lizadia Camis was indicted in September, setting the stage for Raia to be named next since Camis worked on Raia’s unsuccessful council campaign in 2013.

On Oct. 31, federal authorities announced the indictments of Raia and Dio Braxton, another Raia campaign worker, with conspiracy to promote a voter bribery scheme by use of the mail.

Absentee ballots – which are currently called vote-by-mail – have always been a vulnerable area for abuse and have been historically used to predictably control votes, since a handler of some kind can help voters fill out the ballots.

Under New Jersey law, registered voters are permitted to cast a ballot by mail rather than in-person, for any reason.

The indictment claims that Raia allegedly instructed Braxton and other conspirators to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots in the November 2013 Hoboken municipal election.

The vote-by-mail operation in Hoboken didn’t appear to stop in 2013, and several candidates in the 2017 municipal election claim that they were victims of similar tactics. This could mean that the investigation may not have uncovered everybody allegedly involved, and could become a major scandal as new and equally prominent names are revealed.

“They were doing this to me,” one former candidate in the last election said. “It was being done openly and there were others involved.”

This same source claims that similar activities were underway in regards to the referendum on this year’s ballot regarding runoff elections.

Why the sexual assault allegations against a Murphy insider matter

Timing is everything in politics.

And this was particularly true in 2017 when Katie Brennan, a Jersey City resident and then a campaign volunteer for the election of Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, filed a complaint against gubernatorial aide Alberto J. Alvarez over allegations of a 2017 sexual assault in Jersey City.

Brennan, who is a well-respected political worker in Hudson County, filed the charges at a time when Murphy was deep in the throes of a hotly-contested primary for governor.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office has come under scrutiny after a story broke about the charges and the role Prosecutor Esther Suarez played in the investigation and eventual decision not to prosecute in the fall of 2017.

Brennan apparently reached out to Murphy through his wife to set up a meeting to discuss the issue in 2017. But the meeting did not happen.

Murphy, however, said in published accounts that he was unaware of the situation until October 2018 when The Wall Street Journal began to investigate.

Alvarez, who served as director for Latino outreach for Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign, resigned as chief of staff for the state’s School Development Authority after being contacted by The Wall Street Journal, although his attorney claimed he was not guilty.

Suarez’s office investigated the claim in 2017 but declined to prosecute, telling Brennan a month after Murphy was elected governor. Had this story broken in April 2017 or before the election in 2017, this could have posed a serious threat to Murphy’s primary in June or election in November.

Suarez, who knew both parties, said she was not aware of the details of the case until October 2018 – at which point she stepped away from the matter, letting the state Attorney General’s office do its own investigation.

Political gift to the GOP?

Republicans, as they went into a tough 2018 midterm election that could decide which party controls Congress, were quick to hop on the issue.

Assembly Republicans sent a letter to Murphy concerning Suarez’s investigation. Assembly Member Nancy Munoz, a Republican, said the assembly may hold hearings.

Yet both political parties may be seeking to clear the air, and appear to support legislation to establishes a special legislative oversight committee.

“The committee would investigate public sector screening practices with respect to the employment of individuals with a history of alleged criminal misconduct,” according to the bills introduced both in the state Senate and Assembly. “The committee would focus on how allegations of sexual assault, abuse, or harassment are handled by the government. The committee would make recommendations on how laws that address this subject may be improved.”

The committee would review the appropriateness of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s actions to oversee the handling of the allegations of sexual assault by a government official, and all aspects of the policies and procedures regarding the screening of prospective employees and continued employment in the public sector of persons with questionable backgrounds, including any operations or practices concerning the handling of claims of sexual assault, abuse, or harassment.

The committee would issue a report of its findings and make recommendations on potential improvements to create meaningful policy changes, including recommendations regarding eligibility and screening for public sector employees, including senior level employees.

This committee will have the power to issue subpoenas, compel testimony, seek records and other documents.