The council voted April 29 to formally accept the resignation of Anthony Chiappone as city councilman, but declined to name a replacement.
Chiappone’s resignation as a council member at large was effective on April 9, giving the City Council 30 days to name a replacement.
Although reports suggested that there were numerous behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts on behalf of several possible candidates, no nominations were made at the council meeting.
Mayor Mark Smith, however, has called a special meeting for May 6 in which he is expected to become the tie-breaking vote on a council replacement. This person will serve until a special election is held on Nov. 3
Chiappone resigned his seat as part of a political deal that would allow him to retain support of the Hudson County Democratic Organization in the upcoming primary to keep his Assembly seat.
Although he had previously declined a proposal by Mayor Mark Smith for Chiappone to step down from his council seat, Chiappone said he finally agreed partly because of a possible change in the governorship in November.
“Christopher Christie [a Republican candidate for governor] said he would do away with dual office holding,” Chiappone said. “I felt it was in my best interest to leave on my own terms.”
“We have received dozens of resumes and many calls from people interested in the seat. We decided that since we received so many, it would be better to let voters decide in November.” – Vincent Lo Re
“We look forward to his service in the Assembly, and he will be missed by the council,” Lo Re said.
But none of the four remaining council members offered a nomination to replace Chiappone.
“It is my belief that the council will not fill the position,” Lo Re said. “We have received dozens of resumes and many calls from people interested in the seat. We decided that since we received so many, it would be better to let voters decide in November.”
When asked if the lack of a deciding vote on the council could lead to problems, especially since bonding votes and votes on the municipal budget would require all four remaining council members to vote in the affirmative, Lo Re said he believed the council is working together well as a group, and expects it to continue to work in the best interests of the community.
But apparently Mayor Smith disagrees with Lo Re and has decided that a fith council person is needed.
The winner of the special election on Nov. 3 will take Chiappone’s seat the moment the election is certified, and will serve out the rest of the term until June 30, 2010.
State investigation ends with no grand jury
Former aides to Assemblyman Chiappone from his 2004-2005 term of office were told two weeks ago that they would no longer be needed to testify before a grand jury. Some witnesses who were subpoenaed to appear before a state grand jury in Trenton on April 29 will not have to appear after all.
Investigators continued the probe, hoping to interview one remaining aide. But late last week, investigators told the remaining witness that the testimony would not be needed after all.
Three weeks ago, detectives from the state Attorney General’s office interviewed more than a dozen people in connection with Chiappone’s 2004-2005 office operations. The investigation seemed to focus on whether or not there were any missing checks to Chiappone’s aides.
Although Susan Case, a clerk for the Attorney General’s office, said the hearing was postponed, Melissa Calkin, lead detective in the case, contacted Melba Walsh, saying her testimony would not be needed since the case is unlikely to go any further.
“She called me this morning and told me that the April 29 Grand Jury appearance was cancelled,” Walsh said. “When I asked her if it was cancelled or postponed, she told me that at this time it was cancelled but not necessarily closed. She was a bit vague on any details on the status or future of the case.”
Patricia Mulligan, who was also subpoenaed, said she was relieved by the news, but wished the clerk at the Attorney General’s office had been clearer about the resolution.
“I asked if the case was cancelled, and she said the hearing was postponed,” Mulligan said.
But she said pressing the clerk, it became clear to Mulligan that her testimony would not be required.
Chiappone said he has been informed that the grand jury hearing has been cancelled.
“The past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride,” he said. “A lot of my former aides were approached, and even threatened, and yet I was never contacted to say that I was under investigation. I am relieved that I can get back to what I’m supposed to be doing. I also will be on the primary ballot in June for the state Assembly, and I have to run a campaign. But it is difficult to do anything when I was facing trumped up allegations.”
He added, “There were never any charges against me. I enjoy public service and I would never betray the public trust. I’m here for the people, and I want people to know I appreciate the well wishes and kind comments over the last few weeks. People have been great. People thought that this was a planned political attack, and this support helped me to cope with the axe hanging over my head.”