Local mayors Peter Cammarano and Dennis Elwell were under pressure this week – internal and external – to resign their positions in Hoboken and Secaucus, as was Jersey City’s Council President Mariano Vega. All three were arrested on Thursday, July 23 as part of a statewide political corruption sting that netted 44 politicians, religious leaders, and consultants.
Elwell notified town administrators at 1 p.m. on Tuesday that he was resigning his position and turning control of the city over to Deputy Mayor John Reilly.
Cammarano had said before that he would refuse to resign, even though his chief of staff resigned on Tuesday and hundreds of people have protested on the City Hall steps.
Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop called for Vega’s resignation and has organized a rally at City Hall on Tuesday during the “Night Out Against Crime.” A group of protesters planned to descend on a Jersey City council meeting on Wednesday.
One top-level Hoboken source said last week that it was an “impossible” situation for Cammarano to continue governing.
Subpoenas were sent to City Hall in Hoboken and Secaucus on Tuesday requesting records in conjunction with the investigation, according to city officials.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office could not confirm or deny any subpoenas.
Corzine, Ramos, others: resign
Gov. Jon Corzine publicly said this week that anyone involved in the allegations should resign his or her elected position for the good of the people. Since then, other Democratic leaders have piled on.
In Hoboken, Assemblyman and close Cammarano ally Ruben Ramos Jr. joined Democratic committee leaders in calling for the mayor’s resignation, as did City Council members Dawn Zimmer, Beth Mason, Ravi Bhalla, and David Mello.
Ramos said he was “wholeheartedly behind” the call for resignation.
“I just don’t see how he can govern under these circumstances,” he said in an interview.
All six Cammarano transition team chairmen sent Cammarano their resignations at noon on Tuesday, including Michael Novak, who had run as a City Council candidate on Cammarano’s ticket.
Cammarano Chief of Staff Joe Garcia resigned his position on Tuesday after less than a month on the city payroll. He cited a lack of opportunity to achieve the goals for the city under present circumstances.
“I thought we would be finally able to tackle the problems of Hoboken,” Garcia said Tuesday. “I no longer believe this is possible.”
In Jersey City, Fulop introduced a resolution calling for Vega to step down and asked resident to attend a protest on this coming Tuesday night.
“The crime inside City Hall must be dealt with the same way as crime on the streets. Let your leaders hear your voice and know how you feel about their deception, their lies, their stealing,” Fulop said.
Vega maintained his innocence at the council’s caucus meeting on Monday.
“The events of this past Thursday were as shocking to me as they were to everyone else. I am not guilty of the allegations,” Vega said in a statement. “In our system of justice, we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. I do not intend to resign as council president, nor as councilman.”
‘Powder to the people’
Several hundred people gathered outside City Hall in Hoboken on Monday to protest Cammarano’s decision to return to work after being arrested for extortion conspiracy.
“They’re stealing from you,” local artist and activist Richard Pasquarelli blared through a megaphone. “We’re paying for their vacation homes.”
Protestors wore tee shirts bearing the play on words “Powder to the People,” based on Cammarano’s alleged statement about grounding his opposition “into powder,” and signs pointed out the hypocritical nature of the new mayor’s “zero tolerance” policy on corruption.
Local taxpayer organization Hoboken Revolt read a statement before the assembly.
“We are not here to pass judgment regarding the legal charges,” said Revolt representative Scott Delea. “But in light of the very serious and compelling charges of political corruption brought about as a result of a landmark FBI investigation, Hoboken Revolt believes Mayor Cammarano cannot effectively govern the city of Hoboken while under this cloud of suspicion.”
Others protested outside Cammarano’s home on Saturday, but some calling for his resignation said the venue was not right, including Councilwoman Mason.
“His family shouldn’t be a part of this,” said Phil Cohen, Democratic committee leader.
Another rally was scheduled for Wednesday evening at City Hall.
One loyal Cammarano supporter called the protest “completely unnecessary.”
Cammarano silent on ‘zero tolerance’
Cammarano sat for an interview on Monday and described the agenda he has at work, including bringing the city budget back into the black.
He laid out ground rules for the interview, saying he would sit silent if a question crossed the line into the criminal investigation. He did maintain that nothing outside of work is in any way interfering with his ability to conduct the business of the city.
When asked about his previously-stated “zero tolerance” policy related to the “violation of public trust,” the mayor sat silent during several questions.
The mayor said the dissolution of his transition team hasn’t affected the city, nor has any aspect of his personal life.
He even said his policy of being the “walking mayor” was still intact.
Cammarano’s sidekick not speaking
Michael Schaffer was named in the federal complaint as the person who accompanied Cammarano to meetings with Solomon Dwek – the informant who offered campaign donations to the team and wanted help developing in Hoboken.
Schaffer “committed no wrongdoing,” according to his lawyer. “This is nothing other than a person trying to get Mr. Cammarano elected,” Attorney Corinne Mullen said.
Schaffer is a former City Councilman who was appointed by the City Council to the North Hudson Sewerage Authority.
NHSA spokesman Anthony Amabile said the authority received a subpoena for Schaffer’s records there, although Amabile said the request had “no relevance to any agency business.”
Schaffer has not stepped down from the NHSA. He was appointed by the City Council, but the council hasn’t taken steps yet to remove him from his position. Mason said she has asked for some sort of meeting so that the council can learn more about the situation and ask questions that they might have, like how to remove Schaffer from the board.
Bhalla said the council is exploring options and asking questions behind the scenes.
The City Council indefinitely postponed their special meeting scheduled for July 29 that was originally set to address Cammarano’s nominations for city directors.
Healy named, not arrested
Meanwhile, many Jersey City residents were asking over the weekend if their mayor, Jerramiah Healy, had been arrested.
Several lower-level officials were arrested in that city, and some of those were charged with collecting donations on behalf of Healy’s campaign. But the mayor himself had not been arrested.
“I thought we would be finally able to tackle the problems of Hoboken.” – Joe Garcia
Healy was referred to in FBI papers as “Jersey City Public Official No. 4,” in terms of other officials accepting money on behalf of his campaign. But as of Tuesday, he had not been arrested.
In a news report Friday night, one law enforcement official said that the fact that someone is not referred to by name may mean that they are not considered guilty in the investigation, or that they are still being investigated.
Origin of the investigation
The arrests were part of a 10-year FBI investigation that centered on international money laundering among the Syrian Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey. It eventually extended to campaign donations by that community.
In 2006, a Syrian Jewish leader and young real estate developer from Deal, N.J., Solomon Dwek, was arrested for allegedly trying to deposit a bogus check in a bank. Dwek agreed to become an FBI informant, according to various published reports.
This year, Dwek donated money to various local politicians, apparently in exchange for development favors.
In all, 44 politicians, Jewish leaders, and political consultants were arrested on Thursday, July 23.
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