Between the Lines

Bloomberg News comes after Fulop

Nearly everything in politics is connected somehow, if you dig deep enough.

So when Bloomberg News came out with its blockbuster story concerning possible alleged conflicts of interest by Mayor Steven Fulop, you have to wonder about the timing.

For months, people talked about a reporter for Bloomberg News snooping around Jersey City, asking people about Mayor Fulop and his wife, and their relationship with certain developers.

The story also focused on the role of Tom Bertoli, sometimes referred to as “The Janitor” for his ability to cleanup political messes.

Bertoli has an interesting family history. His father John ran afoul of the law in the distant past. His uncle, Larry, may have invented the penny stock scandal of the 1980s. Bertoli, himself, came under fire in North Bergen earlier in his political career for manipulations behind the scenes that critics were never able to substantiate.

The Bloomberg News story attempted to portray potential conflicts between Fulop and a number of prominent developers, while trying also to tie Bertoli in as a behind-the-scenes fixer who allegedly helped facilitate them.

Apparently, there actually is a federal grand jury looking into some of Bertoli’s activities and perhaps even Fulop’s, although the story made it clear Fulop has not been charged with wrongdoing. The story, however, suggested that the feds are looking into whether Bertoli reported his apparently lucrative income for the last ten years. The story suggests he had not. Yet people close to Bertoli claim he has paid his taxes.

The affair gets a little twisted when you find out that developer Charles Kushner is considered one of the chief witnesses against Bertoli and Fulop.

This is problematic on several levels. Kushner has a lawsuit against Jersey City over a project for Journal Square that he and his son, Jared Kushner (son-in-law of President Donald Trump), had proposed. Because Kushner could not put together the funding requirements the city imposed in the time period required, Fulop yanked the agreement. Kushner filed suit, claiming in part that Fulop did this because Jared is Trump’s son-in-law.

The suit apparently doesn’t mention that one of Jared’s family members dropped Jared’s name while scrounging up funds in China – at a time when Jared, a member of the Trump Administration, had stepped down as the head of the Jersey City project.

Charles Kushner and Fulop are hardly friends, even though Kushner apparently donated significant funds to Fulop’s exploratory campaign for governor prior to 2016 when the mayor withdrew from the race. You have to think the Kushners thought this a very clever move, perhaps hoping to nudge Fulop into continuing his support for the Journal Square project. So you have to appreciate the depth of disappointment Kushner suffered when Fulop didn’t reciprocate.

The federal probe into Fulop and Bertoli also comes at an interesting time. Rumors circulated about the potential story just after Jim McGreevey was removed as head of the city’s job program. Several of Fulop’s arch enemies routinely posted progress reports on the potential story on social media, as if preparing the political waters for something that might bring the mayor down.

Charles Kushner and McGreevey, New Jersey’s governor from 2002 to 2004, have their own history. Kushner served jail time almost two decades ago for some of his questionable campaign activities. While Kushner wasn’t McGreevey’s sole source of campaign funds, he was a huge contributor. New York Magazine called Kushner, McGreevey’s “Main Man.”

So you have to wonder if Kushner’s sudden decision to potentially testify against Fulop or Bertoli is a different kind of political favor paid to McGreevey.

Bertoli and Kushner have their own conflicts. Bertoli worked on Kushner’s Trump Bay Street tower. He hated working with Charles and steered other potential investors away from Charles to other developers. Oddly enough, Bertoli has a positive relationship with Charles’s brother, Murray Kushner, developer of the Journal Squared Project near the PATH station. Murray is sometimes affectionately called “The good Kushner” whose son Jonathan went to school with Fulop.

The Bloomberg News story went on to tie Bertoli to Fulop by claiming that Bertoli was in with Fulop from the early days when Fulop first ran for city council in 2005. This, of course, is true. But then, Bertoli is a political hired gun, and has worked for a number of key candidates over the years, including for the mayoral and state senate campaigns of Sal Vega in West New York and for opponents of Albio Sires when Joe Vas challenged him in the early 2000s.

Although the Bloomberg story portrays Bertoli as a key figure in getting Fulop elected mayor in 2013, Fulop and his representatives have played down Bertoli’s importance, painting him as one player in a team that included much more serious political heavyweights such as U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, former state Senator Bernard Kenny, former Gov. Christopher Christie and others.

“Bertoli may have been involved in Steven’s campaigns, but he wasn’t as instrumental as the story implies,” said a key Fulop ally.

In fact, Bertoli fell out of favor with Fulop before 2016, and has had very little contact with the mayor, according to several sources.

Even this tale has threads that go beyond Hudson County. Bertoli and Bloomberg News have butted heads before, when Bertoli – working for the mayoral campaign for Ras Baraka in Newark – was quoted in a news story questioning why Bloomberg News’s parent company contributed to a political action committee supporting Baraka’s opponent.

Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.