By David Cruz
The image is of a political neophyte. Mayor Dawn Zimmer — a self-described former stay-at-home-mom — tearful that someone would, allegedly on behalf of the governor, try to strong-arm someone else into doing something they weren’t comfortable with. But in a complaint filed last week, Hoboken Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia claims that Mayor Zimmer was doing the exact same thing. In a lunch meeting, secretly recorded by Garcia, and audio obtained by NJTV News, Stan Grossbard, Mayor Zimmer’s husband, is heard discussing the selection of an attorney for the Hoboken Housing Authority.
“I’m a vehicle for you to transmit presumably, what you have to say to Dawn. My opinion doesn’t matter a whole hell of a lot. Doesn’t mean I won’t share it, but my role here is going to mostly be a receptacle,” Grossbard said.
Grossbard is long acknowledged to be an influential member of Zimmer’s inner circle,though not officially an employee of the city, letting Garcia know that their conversation would be passed on to Mayor Zimmer. Garcia says he hoped to show that Zimmer — by way of Grossbard — was trying to force him to support the appointment.
“It was shocking and then I said, ‘This is the pot calling the kettle black.’ For me it was very ironic that I had been subjected to that political bullying by Mayor Zimmer,” Garcia said.
Garcia, a current Assemblyman who ran with Sen. Brian Stack, a Zimmer adversary, says he’s been the victim of constant harassment on the part of the Housing Authority board chairman, a Zimmer appointee, as well as other Zimmer surrogates. Here, Grossbard appears to point Garcia toward a way past the alleged harassment.
“It’s their right to choose the attorney and auditor that they’re comfortable with. It’s not an attack on you. When that new attorney comes in, you will work with that new attorney and they will work with that new attorney, and you’ll, hopefully all of this that you’re talking about goes away because everyone’s comfortable with the answers they’re getting. The board’s comfortable and you’re comfortable so everyone knows they’re doing it right,” Grossbard said.
When asked what he understood “comfortable” to mean, Garcia said, “Comfortable becomes a part of a culture that says we’re OK with this person because they have a contract with us and we trust them no matter what the budget is, no matter what their rates are, no matter what they do. … We are comfortable with them, therefore the coding of that is we want you to give a contract to those folks that we have working for us or that we know do work for us and we owe them.”
Garcia identifies the firm as Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader, a firm that was rejected by the Housing Authority board in February of 2013. Garcia’s original complaint was dismissed without prejudice last month. An amended complaint was filed last week and awaits a judge’s ruling. We reached out to the mayor’s office and were referred to her attorney, Gerald Krovatin, who issued a statement, which read, in part:
“A review of the full transcript of the audio recording surreptitiously made by Mr. Garcia of the lunch meeting that Mr. Garcia himself requested, clearly reflects Mr. Grossbard acting at all times in a completely legal and appropriate manner.”
But Garcia says it was clear what was going on as the meeting ended, when former Sen. Bernard Kenny, who helped arrange the sit-down at Garcia’s request, said this.
“Life would be easier if you would just be part of the team. I think Stan made it clear that he’d like you to make some changes,” Kenny said.
The situation at the Housing Authority is in transition. Two new board members have been appointed, including a new chairman. What that means to the relationship between Garcia and the Zimmer administration remains to be seen.