Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Corrupt New Jersey Machine Dems Gravitate To Christie... Of Course

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New Jersey corruption personified: Christie and DiVincenzo

New Jersey politics is a cesspool of corruption-- bipartisan corruption. The New Jersey Republican Party is hopelessly corrupt and the New Jersey Democratic Party is hopelessly corrupt. That's why I've been so awed by Barbara Buono's nomination as the Democratic candidate for governor. She isn't corrupt. In fact... she's been fighting the corrupt Machine Democrats inside her own party for years. In 2010, Buono’s Democratic colleagues made her the first woman majority leader of the state Senate. But her tenure was short-lived. Buono refused to go along with Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver’s support for Christie’s plan to reform public employees’ pension and health insurance benefits. Buono supports pension reform, but was opposed to lumping together pensions and health care. She is adamant that health care benefits should be hammered out only through collective bargaining. In response, the Democrats stripped Buono of her Senate title, replacing her with Senator Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck. "It wasn't a hard call," Buono says of her stance. "I'd do it again." This morning she told us:
"When I go around New Jersey meeting folks and telling them who I am, I always make sure they know first and foremost that I am running this race for them. I've proved I'm a reformer in the past, by refusing to go along with Christie's plan to strip public employees' of their health insurance benefits, even though it cost me my Senate majority position, and I'd do it again. To do what is best for New Jersey's middle class and working poor, I won't shirk from standing up to Republicans or Democrats."
The corrupt politicians hate her and fear she will take away their opportunities for graft and bribes. So, of course the most corrupt Democratic machine bosses are supporting Chris Christie, who they've been playing footsie with for years. No one was surprised when state Sen. Brian Stack, the mayor of Union City, a grievously corrupt Democratic powerbroker in Hudson County and a key legislator in pushing through Christie's reactionary agenda, announced he's for Christie. From yesterday's Newark Star-Ledger:
One of New Jersey’s more influential Democrats, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, is poised to endorse Gov. Chris Christie this afternoon-- just a day after the Republican was backed by another Democratic powerbroker.
When many in New Jersey hear Christie's and DiVincenzo's names linked the first thing they think of is the 3 part New York Times expose from last year that resulted from a 10 month investigation and exposed the kind of corruption that has plagued New Jersey where corrupt Democrats and corrupt Republicans have each other's backs. "A company with deep ties to Gov. Chris Christie dominates New Jersey’s system of large halfway houses," reports the Times. 'There has been little state oversight, despite widespread problems... After decades of tough criminal justice policies, states have been grappling with crowded prisons that are straining budgets. In response to those pressures, New Jersey has become a leader in a national movement to save money by diverting inmates to a new kind of privately run halfway house. At the heart of the system is a company with deep connections to politicians of both parties, most notably Gov. Chris Christie. Many of these halfway houses are as big as prisons, with several hundred beds, and bear little resemblance to the neighborhood halfway houses of the past, where small groups of low-level offenders were sent to straighten up. New Jersey officials have called these large facilities an innovative example of privatization and have promoted the approach all the way to the Obama White House. Yet with little oversight, the state’s halfway houses have mutated into a shadow corrections network, where drugs, gang activity and violence, including sexual assaults, often go unchecked." Over 5,000 inmates have escaped, including two violent inmates who went on to commit murders. That's just one example about the way corrupt political bosses in New Jersey enrich themselves and their cronies and promote their careers-- all at the expense of the public. Christie has good p.r., but he's at the center of a web of corruption, bolstered by crooks like DiVincenzo.

In 2011 the Star-Ledger exposed another scam that enriched the politicians at the expense of New Jersey taxpayers-- so called "community education centers" that have been set up as shell corporations running the halfway houses and operates based on a rigged bidding system put together by Christie and DiVincenzo. "Community Education and its executives are major supporters of Mr. DiVincenzo, one of the most powerful politicians in North Jersey. Community Education employees, including senior executives and several of their family members, have donated a total of $30,600 to Mr. DiVincenzo’s campaigns since 2006," the New York Times reported. "The comptroller also questioned the legality of the state's contract with its largest provider of halfway houses, the politically connected Education and Health Centers of America. The state can only contract with nonprofit groups for halfway homes. But the report describes EHCA as a shell corporation, passing almost all its state dollars to the for-profit company Community Education Centers, which runs the houses. The same person, John Clancy, runs both organizations. William Palatucci, Gov. Chris Christie's close political adviser, is a senior vice president at the for-profit company."
Inmate escapes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in overpayments. Shoddy buildings. Lax inspections. New Jersey pumps nearly $65 million a year into a network of privately run halfway houses, but the system is rife with problems, according to a state comptroller report released today. Even when contracts are violated, the state has failed to crack down on security lapses, the report said. Worst of all, the report said, it’s unclear whether the programs are actually achieving their chief goal: reducing the number of inmates committing new crimes by preparing them for life outside prison. Comptroller Matthew Boxer said the state "cannot simply cut these halfway houses a check and hope for the best."
Meanwhile, Christie has asked Palatucci, who had been a registered lobbyist for Community Education (but so had Christie himself), to lay low while he's running for reelection in the hope that the voters will forget all the corruption. Yesterday's endorsement by DiVincenzo reminded voters about why they hated Christie so much before Hurricane Sandy swept away so many memories of his corrupt way of doing business and milking the taxpayers. Christie's p.r. attempts to make himself over as a reformer instead of a gangster was taking a hit.
[W]hen it comes to Community Education Centers Inc., the principal operator of privately run halfway houses in New Jersey, Christie is following the path taken by his predecessors. Christie forged a close alliance with a company that’s deeply entrenched in New Jersey’s political status quo-- a move at odds with the style that has made him such a hero among Republicans across the country.

That helps explain Christie’s vigorous defense of Community Education-- and the deafening silence from Democrats-- after a scathing New York Times examination this week of the state’s halfway house program. It found that the halfway homes system had morphed into “a shadow corrections network, where drugs, gang activity and violence, including sexual assaults, often go un-checked.” Supervision is lax and since 2005, some 5,100 inmates have escaped, the report found.

At town hall meetings and press conferences, Christie loves to single out examples of government gone haywire-- school superintendents who move like salary-padding mercenaries from district to district, retirees amassing enormous sick leave payouts, teacher unions using students as “drug mules” to carry home propaganda about school elections.

Those broadsides have become the hallmark of the Christie style. But he’s never vented his disgust over the thousands of inmates who slip away from halfway houses. He did not go bonkers last year when the state comptroller studied halfway houses and revealed “crucial weaknesses in state oversight.”

Instead, Christie is something of an apostle of Community Education’s work, citing it as a prime example of how a privately run company functions better than government-- in this case, by reducing recidivism and prison costs. By promoting their work, Christie has used private companies like Community Education to help fashion his own image as a cost-effective pragmatist.

“A spotlight should be put on them as representing the very best of the human spirit,” Christie said during a visit to a Newark facility in 2010. “Because as you walk through here, as I’ve done before many times, what you see right before your eyes are miracles happening.”

Christie’s relations with Community Education stretch back more than a decade. John J. Clancy, its chief executive and founder, hired Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci, a Westfield law firm, to lobby in Trenton. Its lobbyists were Christie and William J. Palatucci, who has been and remains Christie’s longtime political confidant and adviser. Although he was registered, Christie did not actively lobby for the firm.

In 2005, Palatucci was hired as Community Education’s senior vice president. Clancy’s son-in-law was hired in 2010 to work as an assistant in Christie’s office. And while Community Education officials have not made direct contributions to Christie or the Republican State Committee, which he controls, the firm donated $50,000 to the Republican Governors Association in late 2008 and 2009 at a time when the group ran ads promoting Christie’s candidacy for governor.

Political analysts say the Times report could put a dent in Christie’s well-crafted national persona as a former-lawman-turned-reformer governor. But there is a potential saving point here for Christie, thanks to the Jersey political culture that he decries. Whereas in other states, a report like this would fuel opponents, Democrats here in New Jersey have held off attacks on the Republican governor.

...Community Education’s contributions may also explain why Democrats have been so uncharacteristically muted about The Times’ report. Former Gov. Dick Codey of Roseland, a major recipient of Community Education campaign donations, did not return a call seeking comment. Codey was also a longtime insurance broker for the company, according to the newspaper. Only Sen. Barbara Buono of Middlesex County-- who received a combined $2,600 in donations in 2010 and 2011 [which she returned]-- publicly raised concerns about halfway house supervision and Assemblyman Charles Mainor, D-Hudson, called for legislative hearings on the halfway house issue.
Christie, of course, fought the efforts to investigate his cronies and "used a line-item veto to reduce new disclosure requirements about halfway houses that the Democratic-controlled Legislature inserted in the state budget" and "vetoed a requirement that the department report actions that the halfway houses had taken to prevent, and protect inmates from, violence." He and DiVincenzo have stood by each other's corrupt and criminal activities.
For those who know DiVincenzo, none of this comes as a shock. This is the guy who collects a $59,000 pension on top of his big salary, and he hasn’t retired yet. He knows the angles.

The surprise came when Gov. Chris Christie was asked about this at a recent news conference, and he chose to defend DiVincenzo, a key Democratic ally.

“If, in fact, what they are doing is moving forward on their political agenda, then that’s appropriate,” the governor said.

If you listened hard, you could hear the final nail being pounded into the coffin of ethics reform during the Christie years.

Christie is New Jersey’s only hope on ethics reform. Famous for his undefeated string of corruption convictions, he brought a busload of federal prosecutors with him to Trenton. And he presented a strong package of ethics reforms almost immediately.

The Democrats have ignored it. Turns out they like to have two government jobs, they like to keep their finances under wraps and they don’t want any do-gooder campaign finance rules that might deprive their political machines of needed cash.

So if the governor goes wobbly, too, there really is no hope. That’s why the news conference was so deflating.

“If they’re operating within the current law, then they’re operating within the current law,” he said of the crew in San Juan.

Say what? The cops who take home $200,000 in unused sick pay are operating within the law, and so were the teachers who refused to accept a pay freeze. He didn’t have any problem pounding them into dust.

It’s sad, really, that Christie has squandered his natural advantage on the issue. The first big blow came when he solicited secret donations to Reform Jersey Now, an outfit run by his closest allies. When the donors’ names were finally revealed, a number of state contractors were on the list.

He squandered more of his mojo when he lambasted the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission for its patronage habits, but was moot when similar charges were made against the Elizabeth Board of Education, a political ally of his.

Christie’s hypocrisy on this gives Democrats safe haven. When the governor proposes limits on campaign spending by unions, for example, they can point to the money he raised for Reform Jersey Now.

“We’re supposed to silence the union, but let all his corporate buddies fund all they want?” asks Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
And let's not leave out George Norcross, the South Jersey Democratic political boss, another corrupt Christie crony, who desperately wants to see Christie reelected.
For students of Jersey politics, the elephant in the room, of course, is Christie’s role in the Palmyra investigation, and those notorious tapes of George Norcross practicing politics. I ask Christie to discuss the subject. "I made it a practice not to talk about that kind of stuff from when I was U.S. Attorney, in terms of ‘shining any new light’ on things," he replies. "I think if you want to know what my view of the investigation was, then read the letter I sent to the acting Attorney General." In that letter, addressed to the state Attorney General’s office, and ultimately disseminated to the media, Christie explained that he would be unable to prosecute Norcross because investigators bungled the case. They failed to obtain wiretaps on their principal subjects, including Norcross, and didn’t equip an informant with a wire at one key political function. Christie even wondered, in print, if the investigation had been purposefully undermined for political reasons… "Reviewing the letter again," I say to Christie, "as I did this morning… you look like a guy lamenting the one that got away. Right? And one of the ones that got away there was George Norcross." The entire time I speak, Christie sits there nodding. Then he responds: "Well, listen, you know, you change roles. Um, I’m now-- here I was the United States Attorney, a prosecutor, and I was doing my job as I saw it. And now I’m the governor. And now I’m a political leader, on top of being a governmental leader. And so certain things that I couldn’t do as a prosecutor, I can do now, and I’m really obligated to do, and certain things that I could do as a prosecutor I can’t do anymore. So, you know, your power is in some ways expanded and your power in some ways is limited, as the governor, as compared to being U.S. Attorney."

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3 Comments:

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

stack only has a high school diploma. he has never been able to hold down any type of job in private industry. he only lasted 1 day sitting at a kiosk in the port authority building giving out directions.

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger Dave Ryan said...

You're a paid operative for the Bouno campaign... right?

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

no, Dave, just an idealist and a former resident of New Jersey who opposes corrupt little authoritarian jerks

 

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