By David Cruz
Elected officials in federal courtrooms are as Jersey as the Meadowlands or the Shore. Over the past year, three New Jersey mayors came under indictment — in Trenton, Mayor Tony Mack and in Hamilton John Bencivengo are charged with soliciting bribes and in West New York, Mayor Felix Roque was indicted on charges that he hacked into an opponent’s website. Three mayors, very different in style and appearance. The one thing they have in common — aside from the indictments — is that they have all ignored calls to step down.
“It doesn’t bother me; it really doesn’t,” said Roque today about the indictment. “Like I said; I will be found not guilty and after that I’ll continue with my mission and serving my community. I’m not going anywhere.”
Gov. Chris Christie, who made his bones putting corrupt politicians away, is again pounding on the theme of public corruption, saying that he’s set the tone for honesty in government. “We’ve now been in office over a thousand days and there has not been a hint, not a mention, not an accusation of scandal or corruption anywhere in this administration,” he said this week.
Both Roque and Mack still have their supporters. Both have survived previous recall efforts. West New York Commissioner Count Wiley, who has led the attack against Roque since the charges became public, is launching another recall against Roque at an event tonight.
“I don’t see this recall as being something the people don’t want,” he said when asked if a recall wouldn’t just turn voters off. “They want it. They’re thanking me every day.”
It’s a little ironic that Wiley’s father James, the DPW chief in neighboring North Bergen, pleaded guilty last week to using public employees to do work at his private residence. It’s the kind of thing that might make you scratch your head, but Harry Pozycki of the good government group Citizens Campaign says it’s times like these that should serve as motivation for voters.
“We formed the Citizens Campaign knowing that these things were already starting to occur. Now they’re occurring faster and faster,” said Pozycki. “It’s now become clear to the public that it’s not going to be solved by just throwing the bums out because more bums’ll come in and you can’t just sit on the sidelines and occasionally try to hold them accountable. We need a new generation of problem solvers, constructive leaders, pragmatic, no-blame problem solvers that are gonna grapple with the problems we have today.
Elected official are entitled to as much presumption of innocence as the rest of us, but the rest of us don’t run cities and have responsibility for serving tens of thousands of people. Should they be held to a higher standard? Most elected officials will tell you that they answer to voters and that in politics, there is no higher power.”