While his appearance is the latest chapter in the growing rift between his office and various other county bodies, Hartnett's appeal to the HCIA seems to reflect a deeper rift between two of the more powerful financial wizards of Hudson County: Dennis Enright and Jay Booth.
Their story is not new, considering that Hartnett has been seeking for the HCIA to discontinue its business dealings with Enright, claiming Enright has conflicts in any business he does before the HCIA.
HCIA Chairman John Schinnick refuted any such conflicts, and Enright has even gone so far as to alert the HCIA that he might take legal action against Hartnett if the accusations continue.
In late April, Hartnett issued a rarely used executive veto on a resolution passed by the HCIA to fund a river walk in West New York and Weehawken. The Hudson County freeholders overrode his veto. And though Hartnett claimed the matter closed, he asked the HCIA to conduct business more openly.
Why Hartnett presses the matter may have to do with the strong influence Booth has on his administration, and the original plans for developing the Weehawken waterfront when the area was considered worthless. In 1980-81, then Weehawken Mayor Wally Lindsley looked out at the wreckage of docks that occupied that part of the landscape and pondered what he might put there to generate revenue. Sea Train, the ocean shipping company, had just gone out of business, and the area looked to become a wasteland. Linsley arranged for a chicken processing plant to take up residence there. The details behind the arrangement eventually drove Linsley from office under a cloud of scandal, but some of the principal players in the arrangement went unscathed. Two of these players were Enright and Booth, financial consultants for the project, although reports claim the two associates grew so bitter over the affair, they became lifelong enemies. Now they battle over funding the walkway, a battle Enright seems to have won. Don't any political wars end in Hudson County?
Hartnett and the freeholders will likely also clash over pay raises given to county employees loyal to his re-election campaign. After having had his firings of five politically disloyal employees overturned, Hartnett may have given raises as much as $10,000 a year to political supporters on the payroll.
While the freeholders are investigating this latest twist, they were less anxious to investigate a union contract vote some county welfare workers claimed had not been conducted correctly. So they're drawing lines about which employee battles they'll deal with. Members of the union begged the freeholders to look into various questions, and they would not.
Yet, the freeholders' hands-off policy seems to be eroding as the political campaigns grow heated and the June 4 Democratic county executive primary grows nearer.
All but two freeholders are supporting Tom DeGise's campaign for county executive over Hartnett's.
Although voters could easily turn to the Republicans for an alternative in the fall, in Hudson County, the line dividing the parties is hardly strong. Jersey City Councilman Peter M. Brennan was still a registered Republican when he announced his run as a Democrat against Democratic Freeholder Bill O'Dea for the 2nd Freeholder district primary.
Even Ira Jersey, the Republican candidate for county executive, isn't above rubbing shoulders with Democrats. Jersey, who ran for assemblyman two years ago, endorsed Democrat Lou Manzo's Jersey City mayoral campaign last year.
Has a deal been struck?
Of course, Hartnett may also be getting the hint that his campaign has been undermined from within. Rumors suggest that peace overtures have been made between Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, who has been supporting Hartnett, and Democratic County Chairman Rep. Bob Menendez, who has supported DeGise. Rumors say the two may even have met over the last two weeks to divide the spoils of the county - jobs, contracts, etc.
Signs posted in several sections of Jersey City have only Menendez's name without the slate he supposedly supports. While the old signs are still being posted in Jersey City Heights, one source suggested North Bergen workers sent in by state Senator and Mayor Nicholas Sacco did not get wind of the deal - whatever that deal may be.
A Wee connection
Sending political shock troops into Jersey City Heights has been a common practice for Sacco, but he's not the only mayor who crosses municipal lines. Reports from the polls during the Weehawken municipal election last week say Cunningham's troops worked hard there on Tuesday for the opposition to longtime Mayor Richard Turner's workers. If so, Cunningham found bad news, as the opposing WIN team of activists was crushed by Turner's slate. If this was a test of Cunningham's ability to pull the vote out, he will face very dismal news come June 4, when his troops will need to get out every vote possible for his county executive and freeholder choices.
Union City Mayor Brian Stack, whose team was unopposed in this week's election, seemed to have difficulty with one nagging election machine. Luis Martin, a Stack choice, apparently scored only 70 votes in one district, where his running mates received in excess of 300. Several voters claimed the level under Martin's name was broken.