Between the Lines

Has Hoboken politics changed forever?

On June 25, Hoboken politico Frank Raia was found guilty in federal court of “conspiracy to violate the federal Travel Act for causing the mails to be used in aid of voter bribery” in connection with the 2013 municipal election.

However the verdict might have turned out, it was always likely that this trial and its verdict would change politics forever in Hoboken.

While old-school political figures cling to a few positions in the Hoboken government, the baton has been passed.

Raia was charged with buying votes in the 2013 election in an alleged attempt to defeat a rent control referendum. This may well become a thing of the past.

The trial highlights the way things used to work. But like so many other things of the past, like the horse and buggy, the world has moved on.

The new population of Hoboken differs from that era when many of the residents depended on politicians for favors. The idea that votes could be bought for a few dollars no longer applies to a population that makes its living on Wall Street.

While corruption like rust never sleeps, it does change.

Former County Executive Robert Janiszewski oversaw a similar transition on the county level during his corrupt administration in the 1990s, when county politicians abandoned local voters to lure lucrative donations from powerful lobbyists.

Janiszewski no longer depended on the good will of the county’s committee people. Instead, he hobnobbed with the rich and powerful.

When the old guard ran Hoboken, politicians relied on compiling voter loyalty, which is why a scheme like the one Raia is accused of made sense.

Votes could be bought, sometimes for just a lottery ticket. Give someone a $50 bill, and you better secure their vote, and sometimes even their loyalty.

Raia is an icon of old-school politics, though at times he tried to dance with the so-called reformers.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer, more than anyone, altered the landscape, driving out of Hoboken government many workers who were too loyal to old-school politics. She did it by the book, setting up new rules, such as requiring employees to take classes on sexual harassment or discrimination, which many old-school workers thought of as silly or inappropriate and did not attend.

Over her two-plus terms, Zimmer managed to rebuild government from the inside, and transformed it into a new entity that did not rely on the old-favors network of the past.

If corruption persists, as it always does, it will wear a new face, a professional face and will involve not the buying of votes, but the awarding of contracts. Politicians will seek contributions in exchange for political contributions, and find creative ways to get around the reporting laws.

Murphy won’t be buying a beach chair

Leading up to the Fourth of July weekend, the state faced yet another possible shutdown of state government. This means that state facilities, including parks and beaches, would be closed to the public. This is a repeat of a similar situation that occurred under Gov. Christopher Christie.

But Gov. Phil Murphy is savvy enough to avoid the public-relations blunder Christie pulled, when Christie decided to have one of the state beaches all to himself. A media helicopter took a picture of him seated in his beach chair, and that image went viral.

This year’s budget battle is largely over the so-called millionaires’ tax, which Murphy sees as necessary to pay for many of his proposed programs. But opposition in the state’s legislature, in particular from Senate President Stephen Sweeney, cut that tax from the budget it passed, leaving the governor unpleasant choices: eat crow and sign a budget he doesn’t like, veto it, or do nothing.

The last two options would cause the state to close down operations over what it considers the most important holiday weekend of the summer. Beaches, courts, and motor vehicle agencies would all close, sending thousands of employees home as happened under Christie.

But the millionaires’ tax is only one among a number of disagreements that state elected officials scrambled to solve. Any agreement forged will most likely be a temporary fix, a band aid that will last only until the next budget crisis.

McGreevey is part of an inner-circle power struggle

There are a few people behind the scenes in Jersey City who you shouldn’t mess with. This apparently is a lesson that former Gov. Jim McGreevey learned the hard way after he fired Eugene McKnight from a position with the city’s job and training program.

McGreevey claimed that McKnight had set up a political club that required those trained under the program to join in exchange for placement in some city jobs such as the Department of Public Works.

The political club does exist, but according to sources in the city, membership was voluntary.

But since McKnight is one of the key people in Mayor Steven Fulop’s get-out the-vote operations, the firing appears to have been one more nail in McGreevey’s political coffin.

Fulop appears to believe that McGreevey may run against him in the 2021 election, which is why the heat is hotter in this conflict than with other outcasts.

McGreevey started out as one of the political insiders, a former governor who Fulop hoped to use in his own possible run for governor, a move that fell apart in late 2016 when Fulop abandoned the effort.

Other people have fallen out of Fulop’s political favor such as Tom Bertoli, once seen as Fulop’s main adviser, and most recently Council President Rolando Lavarro, but few appear to have suffered the wrath McGreevey has.

While Fulop has lost or abandoned other political insiders, his core group remains intact, including the not-so-well known Jason Solowsky, credited with helping Fulop win as mayor in 2013.

Many members of Fulop’s inner circle also are employed by the city such as Barbara McCann Stamato, who serves as chair of the Jersey City Democratic Organization, and more uncomfortably, Brian Platt, who serves as the business administrator for the city, while also serving as chair of the Hudson County Young Democratic Organization. Platt replaced Bob Kakoleski, who was apparently not seen as a team player.

Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com