A North Bergen store owner found herself in the middle last week of what has become a very nasty battle over five seats on the North Bergen Board of Commissioners. The election will be held May 10.
In North Bergen’s form of government, voters may pick any five commissioners, and those five choose a mayor from among themselves. The new mayor continues to have one vote on the five-member body.
Lt. Frank Cannella said that the matter was still under investigation.
Sanitation workers allegedly throw away signs
Last week, the Citizens for Change released various videos on Youtube that they claimed showed city employees attempting to get rid of their campaign literature. However, a mayoral spokesman charged that the videos misrepresented the incidents.
In one incident, Board of Commissioners candidate Ravanesh Varma said that on April 26 around 3 a.m., he looked out his window to witness North Bergen sanitation workers allegedly ripping 14 campaign signs down from his home on Liberty Avenue, and then doing the same to his neighbors.
Varma said he walked down the street to confront the workers before calling the North Bergen Police Department, who he said responded in 10 minutes.
Lt. Frank Cannella said that the matter was still under investigation, so he could not comment in detail about what happened, but confirmed that a report was filed by Varma’s wife Apeksha.
He said Apeksha claimed to have witnessed two North Bergen sanitation truck workers removing signs from their property.
He also said signs had been recovered within the garbage truck as well as in a garbage can.
He said police were attempting to identify who the sanitation workers were and whether or not they had taken the signs.
Another video, taken by Citizens for Change candidate April Tricoli-Busset while campaigning, appears to show a DPW worker removing campaign paperwork, possibly that of the Citizens for Change slate, from three homes.
While the video is not of high-quality, it appears that a DPW worker removed pieces of paper from three separate homes before entering their vehicle.
However, a comment posted below the video states that the DPW worker lives at one of those homes.
A spokesman for Mayor Nicholas Sacco, Paul Swibinski, said that the video shows “typical work being done.” He said that the DPW had received a report of people throwing “garbage” on their property. Swibinski said that although the city was called to clean up the property, the video does not show the worker leaving with anything in his hands.
“There is nothing on the video that proves any wrongdoing of any kind,” he said. “He was there for a perfectly legitimate public purpose doing his job.”
Shopkeeper in middle
The “Citizens” candidates said that another video on YouTube shows a local shopkeeper, Jyostna Patel, being told by a Department of Public Works employee to take down a campaign sign. The video has no sound, so it is difficult to know what is being said.
While the video makes it appear that the sign was removed immediately after the DPW worker talked to her, by observing the time stamp, it shows that Patel actually removed the signage around an hour after the worker visited her.
When the Reporter visited Patel’s store on Grand Avenue, she said that it took more than an hour to decide whether to remove the signs because she didn’t know what she should do at first. When asked if someone told her to remove the signs, she said she didn’t want to comment on the matter because she was afraid of getting “in trouble” with either side.
Swibinski claimed that the videos were set up and/or misrepresented.
“About an hour and a half later, the woman removes the signs from the window, bringing it over in front of her camera, strategically places it on the floor in front of the camera, so the camera can get a real good picture of it, and moves it again,” said Swibinski. “This is an attempt to defraud the people of North Bergen by [allegedly] crafting this edited video that implies that she was frightened and intimidated.”
When Citizens for Change spokesperson Thom Ammirato was asked why there was a time delay and the discrepancy in his press release he responded, “Don’t know, but do you really think that is an issue? You have the DPW chief telling a woman to take down signs.”
These are not the first allegations to arise this election season.
Earlier this month Citizens for Change candidates were given tickets, based on the township’s solicitation ordinance, after the police received a complaint from a homeowner who said an unknown person asked them to distribute flyers. This person had claimed other residents had found political literature in the mailboxes.
Also, the Citizens filed a lawsuit in Superior Court after they claimed the township had not answered their Open Public Records Act completely or in a timely fashion. The township denied this allegation, stating they had complied a day earlier with all of the information they could release.
Also, right after filing for election, the township clerk contended that Citizens candidate Michael Kreutzer had not been a registered voter at the time that he filed. Being a registered voter is one of the requirements for running for public office. The township originally believed documentation proved that Kreutzer had registered an hour after handing in petitions, but later a judge ruled that he had handed them in 30 minutes before filing for election, allowing him to be in the race.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.