Between the Lines

Being transparent?

Gov. Phil Murphy is at war with members of his own party. Democratic legislators have been trying to enact legislation that would require political action committees to reveal their donors. Murphy has already vetoed legislation they passed. Now they are faced with the Herculean task of trying to override the veto.

The whole point of having election reports is to allow voters to know just who influences their political leaders. The invisibility of donors through PACs makes this impossible.

Funded with what’s called “dark money,” PACs often have a huge influence on elected officials, and the idea that they can do so in secret is disturbing to many.

But the legislation vetoed by Murphy is part of a larger political fight with State Senate President Stephen Sweeney. This power struggle bodes ill for ordinary voters, who perhaps would like to know who represents whom.

Do donors have a private channel to the governor and other elected officials? How can ordinary people tell?

The new law, if the legislature manages to override Murphy’s video, would go a long way toward changing the dynamics of elections on every level, where PAC money can often circumvent the usual donation process.

Murphy team mishandled rape allegations?

A special state legislative committee, looking into the details behind rape allegations made by one Murphy campaign worker against another in 2017, has concluded the Murphy campaign team screwed up.

Katie Brennan accused Al Alvarez of attempted rape after an April 2017 campaign rally in Jersey City. The case was reviewed by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and later, at the request of the state Attorney General, by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.

Both investigations determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute. Both Alvarez and Brennan subsequently got jobs in the Murphy administration.

The problem, however, is that nobody in the campaign told Murphy, who did not learn of the charges until October 2018 when reporters from the Wall Street Journal started asking questions.

Alvarez, through his attorneys, flatly denied the attempted rape allegations, then promptly resigned his state position. In testimony later before the committee, Alvarez claimed that he and Brennan initiated relations on that night, but it was consensual, and that when she asked him to stop, he did.

The legislative committee looking into the charges was less interested in the case itself than in the perception that the case was kept hidden in order to avoid it becoming a political scandal in the middle of Murphy’s primary and later general election run for governor.

The legislative committee also attempted to learn just who authorized Alvarez’s hiring to a prominent post in the Murphy Administration, a question that remains unanswered.

Murphy was apparently unaware of the case until the Wall Street Journal story, suggesting that his campaign and later administration staff may have engaged in the concept of “plausible deniability.”

This means that if Murphy was left out of the information loop, he could not be held accountable if the scandal could not be contained by lower staff.

A report that is being reviewed by the committee apparently shows a series of missteps by high ranking officials in the Murphy administration.

Judge asked to dismiss whistle blower case 

Kristin Hyman, who was terminated as a sheriff’s officer in 2018 after she failed to reveal that she had previously played a dominatrix in films, is trying to convince a judge that her firing was retaliation because she filed a sexual harassment claim against another officer in the department.

Attorneys for Hudson County, however, are seeking to have both Hyman’s termination suit and a related sexual harassment lawsuit thrown out on technicalities.

Apparently, Hyman’s attorneys missed several deadlines for filing paperwork.

Hyman was fired in May 2017 when officials learned of her prior film roles and claimed her failure to disclose these roles violated the terms of her employment.

But discovery in the lawsuit apparently showed that there was “locker room talk” among the mostly male staff about her roles and that the department may have been looking to determine if her roles also involved prostitution, something Hyman denied at the time of her firing.

The firing and the locker room talk have the potential to embroil the male-dominated Hudson County government in a Me-Too like case — if Hyman can prove that the sheriff’s department created a hostile working environment, and that her activities prior to her applying to become a sheriff’s officer should not have had a bearing on her performance as a county cop.

Who are the unnamed officials?

The cash-for-votes scandal in Hoboken has taken another turn for the worse with the guilty plea of Dio Braxton, who was accused of conspiring with developer Frank Raia to allegedly buy votes in the 2013 election.

According to court documents, Braxton allegedly operated at the bequest of Raia to try to defeat a referendum on rent control as well as seek vote by mail ballots for a mayor and council slate on which Raia was a candidate.

Rumors of dirty tricks and backroom deals plagued that election even during the campaign, as political observers claimed there was a pattern of sabotage to keep mayoral candidate Ruben Ramos from being elected .

Raia’s ticket split the anti-administration vote, allowing incumbent Dawn Zimmer to be reelected mayor with far less than 50 percent of the vote. The previous year, Zimmer had successfully supported a resolution doing away with runoff elections.

Some believed Raia’s third party ticket was part of a deal with Zimmer, and his reward was to be named as a commissioner to the North Hudson Sewerage Authority. If so, then members of Zimmer’s camp reneged on the deal when a Zimmer-controlled city council refused to confirm Raia as a commissioner in early 2014.

Rumors during the 2013 election also suggested that Raia had allegedly promised some prominent landlords to defeat the rent control referendum.

Raia maintains his innocence, even though other people have pleaded guilty, suggesting that he may be working with authorities to help convict bigger fish.

Two conspirators remain unnamed, feeding the rumor mill as to who they might be, and if they are big enough fish for a real plea bargain.