By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto was enjoying a first-year honeymoon with the press.
Until this story last week in the Newark Star-Ledger, saying Prieto is doing private work for a politically connected South Jersey firm.
Prieto holds three public jobs — speaker and construction code officer in Secaucus and Guttenberg, earning more than $200,000 a year.
A plumber originally, Prieto has recently begun consulting to private clients.
One of them — All Risk Property Damage Experts — in Camden County and has ties to power broker George Norcross.
Sen. Jim Beach, a Norcross ally, works for the firm.
All Risk’s owner Frank Messina, his company and family have donated nearly $85,000 to Norcross-related candidates and causes since 2000, including $10,000 to Sen. Donald Norcross, George’s brother.
George Norcross already has deep ties to Senate President Steve Sweeney going back to their childhood days in Pennsauken.
Now, it appears the Assembly speaker could be drifting closer to the Norcross machine as well, by virtue of his consulting relationship with the Camden County firm.
Prieto did not want to go on camera for this story but told us by phone, “I am my own man, and everybody knows it. What I do in my private time is my business. Criticism like this comes with the territory, and I’m a big boy and I can take it, but this really gets my Cuban up, because nobody — up here in Hudson County or in the South — controls what I do.”
The subject was discussed on last weekend’s Reporters Roundtable.
“It’s not good. It probably isn’t even smart. But it’s no different from all the lawyers who get work from the Norcross network. No different… It’s the way our system works,” Nick Acocella said.
“I think it is significant because, as he just illustrated, the big narrative about Vinny Prieto is he is asserting his independence, that he is going to be the check-and-balance against a Norcross-Sweeney-Christie collaboration. He’s not going to be dictated to, and next thing I know I pick up the paper and he’s part of the Norcross orbit,” said Charlie Stile.
A spokesman for George Norcross says Norcross has no business relationship with Frank Messina and didn’t know about Prieto’s employment before seeing it in the media, so “we’re not really sure what people are talking about. But it has never been Mr. Norcross’ experience that the speaker is someone who does anything other than what he believes is the correct thing.”
Meanwhile, Prieto moves on. Today he announced a major push to renew the Transportation Trust Fund.