The initiative was meant to cut down on "pay to play," or the practice of contractors donating to local candidates in hopes of getting city contracts. The proposal, supported by City Councilman Steven Fulop and other local good-government advocates, was initially rejected at a January 2007 council meeting. This spurred Fulop and others to work since last fall to get enough signatures on a petition for it to go to a citywide vote in November.
After they collected the signatures, the council decided to give it a second look. This time, the council voted in the affirmative to implement the pay-to-play legislation, which Fulop called "undoubtedly the most gratifying experience" he has had in his three years as a City Councilman. He received a standing ovation from most of the audience after he thanked the people he worked with on the referendum.
The matter will become city law on Sept. 23, 20 days after it was approved.
The measure was first introduced at a council meeting on Aug. 18 when the referendum was certified by the City Clerk Robert Byrne.How does it work?
The ordinance stops any business that does business with the city, such as public relations or insurance firms, from being awarded a contract if they have made a contribution of more than $300 per year to a local candidate and $500 per year to local political party within a year before the start of the contract.
If any entity is found in violation of ordinance, they will be disqualified from bidding on any city contract for four years.
Mayor Jerramiah Healy had sought to include an amendment that would have allowed a higher limit. Healy's proposal was to limit all donors to a maximum $2,600 contribution as stipulated by state law, but it would only apply if one or more candidates in the race was earning $500,000 a year for two years prior to running for office, or had a net worth of $2 million.
Healy said his thinking was that in a race where some candidates weren't making as much money as others, they might need more donations to compete.
But the city Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis gave a legal opinion recently said in a legal opinion that the amendment would alter, to a great degree, the ordinance. Thus, could have been challenged in court by the petitioners. Came to fight, but it's all right
City Council President Mariano Vega said during the meeting that the council would be voting in favor of the pay-to-play law, and the council members would have to explain their vote.
Downtown Jersey City resident Shelley Skinner, one of the main petitioners for the referendum, said she had expected to "put on her boxing gloves" at the meeting. But Skinner, like other speakers who supported the matter, ended up thanking the council for approving it.
However, not everyone praised the council.
Daniel Levin, a resident of Third Street and another petitioner, pointed out that because it was approved by the council, the council could also amend it later. He encouraged the council to adopt more reform legislation. He didn't mention another Fulop proposal, a referendum to limit the city's public servants to one salary and pension.
Fulop and his supporters are currently studying legal options to put that referendum to a vote in November as well.
The harshest words for the council came from Newport resident Dan Falcon (wearing the now-infamous "Get Drunk, Get Naked, Get Elected" Healy criticism T-shirt). Falcon took them to task for waiting a year and a half to adopt the pay-to-play legislation.
"Why should we thank you?" Falcon said. "We wanted two ordinances, we're getting one, and we're getting one because we have to twist your arm."
Longtime resident James Francis Waddleton was the one speaker in opposition to the referendum, saying it is a "means of prejudice" against business people who want to donate to political candidates. Council gets on board
City Council members were in defensive mode when they explained their votes.
Ward A City Councilman Michael Sottolano said before voting for the referendum that he does not benefit from political donations. He said the money donated to him goes to various community organizations including Little League teams.
Fulop took issue with Sottolano's comments, saying donating money to baseball teams and taking political contributions from contractors wanting to do business with the city are two different issues.
Ward F City Councilwoman Viola Richardson, who along with Fulop voted for the pay-to-play legislation in January 2007, commended Fulop and his supporters in the audience for working to get the pay-to-play legislation passed. But she said she did not appreciate remarks from several of the public speakers implying that council members were dishonest.
City Councilman-At-Large Peter Brennan took issue with Fulop, saying that he looked at Fulop's election reports, and found Fulop raised more money in his three years in office than other council members in that time period. Comments on this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.