Twenty Five Minutes, Thirty Six Seconds

Based on one loose and entirely subjective measure, as applied to one extraordinary piece of video, Paul Perez is already acting as if he has been elected Mayor of the City of Trenton, and has entered his fifth month in office.

That subjective measure is the “Tony Mack Scale of Unfair Media,” as used to bash the local press. Specifically, the Trentonian newspaper. The trail that Mr. Mack blazed eight years ago looks to be the same path being followed by Mr. Perez. And the copycatting does not suit the man. If anything, it should increase a sense of alarm that this man is a close contender to be elected Mayor next Tuesday.

I speak about the comments, unscripted and passionate, pretty non-specific and rambling, made by the candidate in a very extraordinary 25-minute, 36 -second video posted on Tuesday.

The video, initially posted on Facebook Live and now streaming on YouTube, was apparently occasioned by receipt of a new mailer published by Perez’s opponent, Reed Gusciora, Mr. Perez held the flyer in front of him throughout the video, referring to it frequently. The candidate attacked the flyer throughout as an unfair personal attack on his character and his own personal history, but directed specific and heated criticism at the publishers of the piece for sourcing some of the material from The Trentonian newspaper. At 6:10 in the video, he said, “Many of you out there that read the Trentonian have your own scale of credibility, when it comes to the Trentonian… I won’t disrespect them. I will just say it’s not really reliable.” He then attempted to pivot away from discussion of the newspaper and the Gusciora flyer, saying (6:38) “all we want to do is make a difference.” But 20 seconds later, he sheds some tears and becomes very emotional. The Gusciora flyer stays on-camera the entire time.

Eight years ago, disgraced federal convict and former mayor Tony Mack had his problems with the Trentonian. At one of his first press conferences, remember, a plain-clothes Trenton police detective physically intimidated that paper’s editor Paul Mickle, as he aggressively questioned. Mr. Mack later imposed a short-lived “ban” on having copies of the newspaper physically present in City Hall. That was five months into that mayor’s term. Paul Perez is showing himself to be as prickly about this newspaper as Tony Mack. That’s saying something.

Look, we are in a transitional period for our local media. NJ Advance Media, owners of the Trenton Times, has seemingly made a deliberate decision to reduce – it feels like a total elimination – its local Trenton coverage. And that’s a shame. The local print media is now dominated by the Trentonian, as the only local daily featuring original reporting and commentary of interest to those who live and work in Trenton. This is not a brand-new development. It’s been happening here for years, as well as everywhere else in this country.

In November 2010, in the midst of Tony Mack’s Trentonian “ban,” I wrote in this space,

The Trentonian, for all of its many faults and wrinkles, has been doing some good journalism over the last several months. With an aggressiveness seldom seen during the Palmer Administration, the newspaper has been breaking news, posting frequent updates online, using video, and generally proving the continuing value of a strong local news presence.

In comparison, the Times has been lagging in its city coverage, reduced often to reports of press conferences and Council sessions, as well as ripping and re-writing press releases from outside sources.  This is no doubt the inevitable result of a long process of downsizing at that newspaper, and the hollowing out of local resources in favor of concentrating them at Star-Ledger headquarters up north.

I’m not saying the Trentonian doesn’t make mistakes. Too many stories are rushed onlne and into print without corroboration, relying only on single unnamed sources whose credibility on a given story can’t be evaluated by the average reader.

I don’t think those lines need much revision. I’ve been very critical of the Trentonian over the years, sometimes pretty bluntly. That much hasn’t changed. But a lot has changed in this country over the last few years that put Mr. Perez’s comments in a very different, and more troubling light.

Professional journalism is under attack, and the value of a free press challenged, from the very top level of our national government on down. Even though the main motivation for these attacks by the Current Occupant of the Oval Office has been revealed to be a cynical effort to “‘discredit’ journalists so that negative stories about him would not be believed,” the example set by the Current Occupant has been picked up by many others in the country and used to continually de-legitimize a professional and free press and those who work in the profession.

It is sad and disappointing to see and hear Paul Perez take up that cause and propagate it in the City of Trenton.

Mr. Perez is done with his specific discussion of the Trentonian at about the seven minute mark in the video, although it – like the ever-present Gusciora mailer – is an unnamed player of the subtext throughout.

The remaining 18 minutes are taken up with rambling, disjointed, defensive commentary, flitting from topic to topic without ever naming the names or dating the dates of what he’s talking about at any given time. As noted in the Trentonian’s own story about this video, Mr. Perez keeps talking about unnamed opponents in the third person plural, using a lot of “They’s”  and “Them’s.” “They” are apparently everyone else not backing the Perez campaign. Mr. Gusciora, certainly. Many of his former opponents who have endorsed Mr. Gusciora. The permanent floating Democratic “establishment” working against him. The Trentonian, obviously.

When watching the entire video, the whole thing kind of rushes over you in a stream-of-consciousness style in which one topic flows to another. Always concerning “them” and what “they” are doing in this election. I think it’s only by isolating specific statements and comments that one can realize what a remarkable video piece, and how damaging it is to Mr. Perez’s reputation in the closing days of this campaign.

8:30    “They’re trying to manipulate us all!”

11:38   “Now I was advised not to do this video, but I can’t help it.”

13:10   “It’s sickening and upsetting.”

15:40   “We’ve seen what they’ve done to people connected to me.”

18:20   “They darkened my face.”

18:33   “I apologize that I have to come out and talk about this.”

19:03   “We still have to fight these career politicians and the incredible machine they have.”

20:09   “They jump from one team to another, and then they try to justify why they’re doing things.”

20:18   “They try to act like they’re a state agency at times, and tell you what the rules are.”

20:25   “It’s amazing, amazing, amazing, to see these actions.”

20:33   “We’re not going to let them get us down.”

21:55   “We’ve had enough of these guys.”

And, finally,

22:00   “We want to put them on display and let you know who they are.”

Mr. Perez apparently believes that he’s done just that. But, other than the Gusciora mailer that never leaves his grip, he hasn’t mentioned a single person or fact or incident!

In the middle of all of this, curiously, Mr. Perez make a quick detour to talk about – again, with his same annoying vagueness – his own campaign. He responds to unspoken and undescribed criticism of his campaign, which he is quick to blame on an all together other set of unknown “Theys.”

13:18   “I don’t have any power over what they call Political Action Committees.”

13:39   “That material is is marked very clearly as to who it’s from”

13:47   “Sometimes they don’t even get that information right.”

13:57   “It goes to show you there’s no coordination between us and them.”

Whew. That was exhausting to watch.

What are we to make from all this?

To me, first and foremost, this demonstrates – along with his behavior and comments at last Sunday’s candidate forum, as well as a newly-published but three-week-old interview with the Trentonian posted last night – that there is a huge disconnect between what his campaign formally stands for, and what the candidate is showing us about himself.

Mr. Perez and his campaign has done a very respectable and comprehensive job of considering all of the important issues facing the City of Trenton, and presenting ideas and proposals for how many of these issues would be confronted by a Paul Perez Administration.

Since the first round of the election last month, though, he has put the issues aside and has allowed his ego and his personality to take center stage as the most important factor in the campaign, to him. Yes, he has a good story to tell, of a son of Trenton who served his nation for several decades, rising to a pretty senior position in uniformed and civilian service. He has a lot of which he can be proud.

However, we need more than a positive personal history in Trenton. We’ve recently had one mayor who served ten years too long. Another led away in handcuffs. A third sleep-walked through his term. Now this guy who is one of the two persons who will be elected the next mayor on Tuesday is setting the stage for four years of turbulence and personal drama. No, thank you.

We don’t need to elect a man whose ego, ambition and temper outstrip his talent.

Comments Made at Trenton City Council, June 5, 2018

NOTE: I delivered the comments below at Trenton’s City Council yesterday evening, after voting took place to approve, 4-1 (Phyllis Holly-Ward in opposition to all the measures, and George Muschal absent), 3 Bond Ordinances that would authorize borrowing almost $27 Million  – in the final month of this Council and Administration – on a long list of capital spending projects for the City in general (almost $7.7 Million) and the Trenton Water Works ($18.7 Million).

Copies of the draft Ordinances were available at the meeting. I scanned two of the three. Here’s a link to the text of the general City bill; here’s the one for the Water Works.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying to yourself, “Hey, are any or all of the items on the TWW ordinance required as part of the new Administrative Consent Order in force with the NJ Department of Community Affairs?” Good question! I read no reference to that in the Ordinance. And the subject didn’t come up during last night’s discussions. So that’s still a mystery.

Before Council’s vote, a lawyer from the city’s Bond Counsel since 2016, Everett Johnson of the firm  Wilentz, Goldman and Spitzer, made a brief oral presentation about the proposed bills, and provided some of the context I asked for in my remarks.

In this state, local communities are allowed to take on long-term debt obligations up to a maximum ceiling, defined as 3.5% of the Net Taxable Valuation of the town’s property. In Trenton’s case, as of 2017 the total value of Trenton’s property is $2,395,945,829. According to the State’s formula, 3.5% of that number would be $83,858,000.

Last night, Mr. Johnson estimated the total debt load for the City as currently in excess of $152 Million, almost double what State law says it should be. Mr. Johnson explained that Trenton has been well over the statutory maximum for over 20 years. This is primarily due, he explained, to the fact that – relative to its population – so much of Trenton’s property is exempt from taxes.

He did not provide, nor did anyone at Council’s meeting ask for, any information about how Trenton’s debt load has gone up or down over the last several years.

What we can say is that, if these three Bond Ordinances worth $27 Million Dollars are passed for final approval, the City’s debt burden would immediately jump 18%. That’s a mammoth increase to push through at any one time, let alone in the final weeks of a lame duck Council and Administration.

Pushing this through does, in fact, appear to be the plan. West Ward Council Member and current Council President explained that the measures were on the docket for first reading last night, unusually in a Council Conference session, so that they could be sent to the NJ Department of Community Affairs Local Finance Board – which must approve them – so they can come back to Council for further action.

And that further action, according to Mr. Chester, will be taken at the Council’s final working session on June 21. Public hearings for these three measures will be held at that time, as well as the final vote to approve.

These are big bills, worth a lot of money, for a long laundry list of items – both for the City and the Water Works – that as of this morning, we don’t know if we really need. In normal times, in this town, these wouldn’t get the attention and the clarity they deserve. In these final weeks, these measures look like the Administration is emptying the cupboard of all its wish list items, leaving the new Mayor and Council – and our poor taxpayers – a huge brand-new debt burden without any kind of thorough review or attempt to explain to the public what these items are and why they are all needed now.

I don’t like the way this is being done. If you live in Trenton and pay taxes, or if you live outside of Trenton and pay a Trenton Water bill, I think you shouldn’t like this either.

June 21, 5:30 at City Council looks to be the only chance left to say or do anything about this.

— # —

Mr. President and Members of Council –

Last week, at your West Ward Town Meeting, Mr. President, you were asked what was going on with the Trenton Water Works. What with several new contractors on board, a newly-inked Administrative Consent Order with NJ DEP, new RFP’s and large multi-year contracts listed on the City website, and with several transactions on Council docket, it has been obvious for several months that there is a lot going on. But there has been no attempt by this Administration and Council to put all of these changes in some kind of meaningful context. There has been no attempt to let Trenton’s citizens and other TWW customers know what all this means for the immediate and long-range future of the utility that provides drinking water to much of Mercer County.

At your meeting, you said that there would be a status report given about the Water Works at the last meeting of this body, as presently constituted, later this month. That was welcome news.

In the spirit of that openness, Mr. President and Council Members, tonight I ask for more information about and question the immediate need for the three Bond Ordinances on your Agenda tonight, #’s 18-27, 18-30 and 18-31. Collectively, if all Ordinances are passed tonight, these would collectively add almost $27 Million to this City’s long-term debt obligation. And we have no way in which to understand what that means to the City’s underlying financial health.

From the only information available for review prior to this evening’s meeting, it appears that each of these measures represents new obligations and initiatives, not the re-financing of existing debt.

As such, I think it is appropriate to ask for statements from the Administration asking for how these measures impact our finances.  Any consolidated statement or pro forma Balance Sheet, showing the City’s total long-term debt obligations and how these new ordinances would add to that load, would be essential to our understanding.

Any statements showing how an additional $18.7 Million adds to the debt burden of the Trenton Water Works, would be essential to our understanding.

From Mr. Johnson’s presentation this evening, we know that all of these Ordinances would, if approved, balloon Trenton’s total debt load by nearly 18% in one blow. That’s a huge increase on top of what Mr. Johnson tells us is already a total debt load in excess of the State-mandated maximum.

How does the City and the Utility intend to service these obligations? Are these intended as General Obligation instruments, or are there dedicated revenue streams attached?

What will these do to the City’s overall debt rating? At the time of the last issuance of $40.6 Million in General Obligation Bonds, in November of last year, Moody’s bond rating service noted the City of Trenton’s low underlying rating of Baa1, and stated “The rating further reflects the city’s very high fixed costs, and outsized debt burden while also incorporating improved finances.”

Council members, the City was criticized for its “outsized debt burden” in November. Tonight you seek to increase that burden by nearly $27 Million Dollars. What will this do to the City’s underlying ratings, and how will that ripple through to likely large increases to the City’s costs of borrowing?

I mention the TWW ordinance because it is the largest and the one that affects more people and rate-payers throughout the County. But I also want to find out about the $7 Million plus for “Capital Acquisitions and Improvements for the City in general. What’s up with that?

Are you absolutely certain all of this is necessary, at this present time? Are these actions by a lame-duck Administration and Council required now, tonight?

If so, it is the obligation of you on Council to explain to the public, and to require the Administration and its Bond Counsel to explain why that is the case.

I look forward to the release of more information and analysis before the final reading and adoption of these Ordinances.

It’s a lot of money, it’s late in the day, and very late in your term. We need to know more about this.

Thank you.

I Smell Smoke!

From the Sunday June 3 Trenton Mayoral Forum:

2:17:41 REED GUSCIORA:           “Paul, at the NAACP Forum, you called for ‘military-style’ policing. And I don’t know how you’re going to have a Sanctuary City with ‘military-style’ policing. And that’s documented. And don’t believe me. Don’t believe me. Read the transcripts, folks! But, this is the reason why we need to give drivers’ licenses, undocumented residents, and we need to tell Donald Trump – another inexperienced chief executive – we have to tell Donald Trump, ‘Hands off the Census.’ Count, we need to count everybody in to make sure we have federal aid, and to make sure our federal representation is kept up. So those undocumented residents are fully represented, not only in the State Legislature, but in the Congressional delegation.”

2:18:45 PAUL PEREZ: “So, here’s what I would say: Liar, Liar. Pants on fire.”

2:18:48 GUSCIORA: “Look it up. Look it up. Paul, look it up.”

2:18:55 PEREZ: “Because that’s not what  said. That is not what I said.”

— # —

From the NAACP Candidates Forum, March 12, 2018:


0:06 PAUL PEREZ: “Full disclosure: As a military officer, I spent fifteen years as a criminal investigator. I was also a Homicide Detective. And I actually worked on these things. So one of the things we always talk about is that, in the City of Trenton there’s a high level of gun violence. There’s a high level of drug distribution. There’s also a high level of human trafficking. But, guess what? We don’t make guns in Trenton. We don’t bring all the drugs, [unintelligible]. The drugs that come here, they come from somewhere else. And what we really need to focus on, is a military-style, kill-the-supply-line. We need to figure out where that stuff is coming from. We have [Highway Routes] 1, 29, 206, 33, 31, where these guys shoot up and down, unabated. Nobody stops them. They can shoot somebody in South Trenton, and then West Trenton, in two seconds. Nobody stops them. We need to bring back traffic police. We need to have a real, physical police deterrent that says to people ‘I need to take a second thought about what I’m about to do. Because I might get caught.’ And right now, we don’t have that in Trenton.”

“It Doesn’t Matter Where You Put a Building”

It’s not often that a public figure, such as a candidate for elected office, will offer up a succinct soundbite that – in a dozen words or less – serves as a quick and handy guide into that person’s political mindset. In Paul Perez, we’ve seen a moment like that in each of his mayoral campaigns, his first back in 2014 and the current one that will be won or lost next Tuesday, June 12.

In 2014, the recently returned (after an absence of nearly 30 years) Perez surveyed the political scene in Trenton and judged he was the right person to fix the City. His diagnosis as written up in one of his first press releases of the main problems in the City was pretty spot on and concise – “Th[e] absence of a secure environment negates any possibility of economic development and investment in the city, therefore the poor jobs situation and limited tax base.” But, in his very next words, he blew whatever credibility he had been seeking. “The problem is not that difficult to correct, however, it does require seasoned business acumen to get it done.” [Emphasis mine – KM] I wrote a piece in response to that press release and a Trenton Times (remember them?) article in which Mr. Perez made another big promise, saying “Make me the mayor today, and tomorrow you will have 105 police officers back on duty.”

More than anything else, those two lines, appearing days apart, summarized Mr. Perez’s 2014 candidacy in a nutshell: grand, bold, over-confident, over-simplified and under-informed.

You have to admit, to a great extent it worked pretty well for him. The statements quoted above didn’t really seem to hurt him any, and he upped his game significantly over the following year. The recently returning native son and political newbie came in as a very impressive second-place finisher in 2014, although carrying a great deal of electoral baggage unresolved to the present day, in the form of un-filed campaign finance reports and evidence of multiple violations in those reports that had been filed for his first race.

By the way, today’s reported endorsement of Mr. Perez by retiring mayor Eric Jackson represents an alignment of two fellow campaign finance scofflaws, for what that’s worth. The news today does nothing to advance the compelling public interest that Trenton’s citizens have in knowing that their mayors are fully transparent with their campaign finances and compliance with state law. On that scale alone, I hold Eric Jackson’s endorsement of Paul Perez as a net negative, leaving me even less inclined to vote for Mr. Perez next week.

Hubris has not been in short supply with Mr. Perez the politician, from the time he returned to Trenton five years ago to the present day. For someone who is openly running against what his campaign disparagingly calls “a career politician,” Paul Perez has certainly become a “second career” politician, seeking Trenton’s mayor’s office nonstop since his return, and including a couple of bouts of testing the waters for other county and state offices as well. He’s been well truly bitten by the political bug, with his several private commercial ventures often spoken about but never really visible other than as props to burnish his resume.

This year, Mr. Perez is running a strong race, having finished first in the first round on May 8. He arrived yesterday at the downtown Trenton campus of Mercer County Community College, location of  the final public town hall event before next Tuesday’s runoff election as if he was  already elected, accompanied by an extensive entourage and a readiness to mix things up with his opponent, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora.

The Trentonian’s account, written by David Foster, accurately catches the often-combative tone of the afternoon’s discussion. But Foster’s article missed the one single line spoken by Mr. Perez that summarizes this year’s campaign as neatly and revealingly as his “the problem is not that difficult” line four years ago.

In a discussion about the prospects for economic development for the City, reference was made to the fact that Mr. Perez changed his stance on a key State of New Jersey initiative begun in the last months of the Chris Christie Administration to demolish several currently-occupied state office buildings and build their replacements far from downtown. This plan, announced last year, generated a great deal of opposition among Trenton residents and business-owners, who argued that the State’s decision to abandon Trenton’s downtown was a heavy blow to other efforts by the city and other redevelopment organizations to draw business and traffic in, as well as action in serious opposition to Trenton’s long-range Master Plan, Trenton250. This opposition, which went as far as an unsuccessful lawsuit to stop the plan filed by several people including Mr., Gusciora.

Mr. Perez initially joined that opposition, but later reversed his stance to support it. The timing of his reversal suggested to many in Trenton that it was a cynical and politically expedient move, made in order to gain the politically potent endorsement of the Mercer County Building and Construction Trades Council, which strongly supported the Christie plan for the new office buildings, providing jobs for Trades Council membership, regardless of the impact to Trenton’s Downtown, its Master Plan, or its local business community.

In his statements yesterday, Mr. Perez pretty much, however inadvertently, confirmed the cynical, politically charged view of his reversal on the State Building plan, in a one-liner that deserves to be remembered.

“It doesn’t matter where you put a building,” he claimed, at 2:44:08 in to this video recording of the event, in a dismissive comment that will come as a true surprise to anyone who works in city planning and development, anywhere and anytime. He went on to say that no matter how far away from downtown the city puts these new buildings, workers and visitors will engage with downtown attractions and business, and suggested the main factor involved with this would be public safety, and not geography. “If the city is safe, people are going to walk distances.”

He then went on at length to minimize the importance of this State building project. He is seeking to develop Downtown as a whole, and the entire City. “[W]e don’t need just two buildings. We need the City to be developed.” He even went as far as to say that the State plan to move the buildings downtown was really unconsequential. “Because they moved it, you know, two feet away, now people aren’t going to walk? How many of you believe that?” he asked the audience. He was visibly taken back by the strong response to that rhetorical question.

Many in the audience were clearly more familiar with the history of Trenton’s development follies over the last 60 years than Mr. Perez was. They’ve seen too many times that state office buildings cut off from the economic hearts of the city in downtown and the Transit Center do not contribute to Trenton prosperity. They’ve seen that it sure as hell does “matter where you put a building!” They know that if, for instance, Trenton’s only hotel had been sited closer to the Route 129 Arena, it very well might have seen much more business over the years, and have become a successful business.

As they say in Real Estate, “Location, Location, Location.” It DOES matter where you put buildings!!

And this state office project has to be seen not as “just two buildings.” It’s a major initiative by the State of New Jersey, which is still de facto the biggest developer in play, by far, in this city, and the state’s decision to build far away from downtown makes all other plans and aspirations for the area incalculably harder to pull off.

Many in the audience got all that yesterday. Mr. Perez didn’t, and it sure looks like he changed his mind in order to receive a political endorsement and the likely contributions that came along with it.

There were other moments in the discussion in which, both Mr. Perez and Mr. Gusciora struck some odd notes. Mr. Perez conflated the current budgetary impasse between State House Democrats in the Legislature and the Governor into what would be an unlikely long-term retreat by the State from facing responsibility for its Capital City. He also tried unfairly and inaccurately to pin the Eric Jackson Administration’s failure to apply for Transportation Trust Fund monies on Mr. Gusciora. For his part, Mr. Gusciora’s discussion of dining with Governor Murphy as proof of access to the levers of state power were less than compelling.

Most of what was said yesterday will probably be forgotten by most people by the time that they go back to the polls on June 12. But, in my opinion, “It doesn’t matter where you put a building” deserves to be remembered. And not in a good way.

Don't Underestimate a Taurus

Councilman Zachary Chester: [W]ith Council, we don’t have stipend, or we don’t have funding to send out messages…

Q: You don’t have any way to contact your constituents? I mean, any funding to do  that?

Chester: No. And Council would have to be willing to put funds into our budget, which we keep our budget at bare minimum, in order to do that. Interview with Nubian News, 5/23/2018


Just imagine how much more Mr. Chester could tell us about being a Taurus, if only he had taxpayer funding to help him communicate with us!!

#Taurus – You never know what they are capable of!

Zachary Chester 2.0

I suppose finishing Second in the first round of your re-election does give one a strong jolt of humility, perhaps teaching the lesson that what you’ve been doing in the past might not be enough anymore.

That’s the only explanation I have for the way too little, way too late reinvention of two-term West Ward City Council member Zachary Chester taking place in the final days before his June 12 run-off against first-time candidate and first-place finisher on May 8 Robin Vaughn.

Mr. Chester has scheduled a Town Hall meeting for the residents of the Ward – his first in eight years, if memory serves – for the end of this month. And a 25-minute YouTube interview, under the auspices of the “Nubian News Afrikan Awareness Forum” reveals what looks like a brand-new candidate. Call him Zachary Chester 2.0.

These efforts, plus likely others he’ll try in the next two weeks, won’t work. This is a sad attempt to reverse in mere days a record and a persona that has been set in stone for the last eight years.

As recently as this past January, Mr. Chester was well known for pontificating from his position as City Council president, blaming his Hiltonia neighbors and Trenton voters in general for failing to help him do his job. Remember his comments at Council on January 16?

[W]e as a Community find everything wrong with this City. And then I ask folks, “Help out!”

My neighbors in Hiltonia, they don’t even drive down Stuyvesant Avenue. They take the back way to 29. My house sits right there. I sit on my porch. I see who ride past my house.

But then we talk about our City. We live here. This is our City. Today is a new day for our City. We have a new Governor. A Governor that stated that he would help the Capitol City.

But no one’s going to help us if our own people are fighting against us, and not trying to understand.

And I say to all of them, all of those, all of those who want to post the picture of me and the Gravy Train, “What have you done for your City? Which elected official up here have you worked with?”

Because I know when I had an election, and I ran against folks, and they said, “No matter who, we”… We were in a meeting, a debate, and everyone said “No matter who wins, we’ll work with that person.”

I wait. Because we can do more working together, than always fighting, and putting misinformation out there. Because individuals in this City believe Black and Brown folks in this City are not educated, and we don’t understand.

Because if you can call me for a pothole, call me for policy.

That’s right, said Mr. Chester in January. We didn’t call him enough on matters of policy. Our bad!

In his latest comments, Mr. Chester sounds almost contrite, 180 degrees from the arrogance on regular display in Council Chambers.

Right off the bat in his Nubian News interview, Chester for the very first time publicly mentions the elephant in the room that he ignored for the last four years, and which he uses to explain the entirety of his performance in office over the last four years.

The very first question from the unseen, unnamed interviewer is, at the 0:15 mark is, “Many people in the West Ward complain you’re nowhere in sight and not pro-active. What say you?”

Chester’s reply, from 0:26:

Well, many, I think many of the residents of the West Ward were not aware of the divorce that I went through. Going through a divorce and Council Presidency, which was a lot of responsibility had me more focused on getting my personal life together.

It’s something I did not, did not make public.    It happened.   Went through it, came out on the other end, still standing, with the responsibility of managing Council, and working.

So, in moving forward, in the upcoming Council – you know, because,I believe, that I am going to be successful – that I am not going to be seeking the Council Presidency. I’m going to focus on the Ward. Actually, I am in the process of reconnecting with the West Ward residents. I have several community meetings set up to sit down and reconnect with the residents of the West Ward.

So, that’s supposed to explain things? He was distracted for the last four years because of his divorce?!?! That’s why he was disengaged from constituents? That explains why he presided over four years of inattention and negligence?

Why, under his leadership, his Council twice re-approved the contract of the payroll vendor stealing millions of dollars from the City? Why his Council raised no objections to the ongoing deliberate withholding of resources and attention from the Trenton Water Works leading to its current state?

And now, that he has explained that the last four years are really better off just forgotten, he says he won’t run for Council president! He’s “reconnecting” with the people he represents in the West Ward! He won’t be distracted!

One obvious follow-up question begs to be asked, but was not by the interviewer: “If you were so distracted and out-of-touch during the past four years, why didn’t you, at the very least, step down from the Council Presidency to focus on your Ward then? Why did you push through, admittedly distracted?”

That’s a good question to ask him at the May 31 Town Hall, by the way!

Even in this apparent admission of failure intended to appeal to voters for another chance, he uses language that tries to deflect any personal responsibility for his record.

In the words above, which really do sound as if he recognizes his shortcomings and is asking voters to overlook them and his record during the last term, he can’t even bring himself to explicitly ask the voters for their support. He doesn’t mention at this point the upcoming election or the need for votes. He merely says that he “is going to be successful” in the “upcoming Council.” He doesn’t even acknowledge that he needs the approval of the majority of the June 12 election voters to send him back to the “upcoming Council!”

The next section of the interview is somewhat surreal, when you consider this man has been a sitting Council member for two full terms, eight whole years! In response to questions about how Mr. Chester intends to reconnect with his West Ward constituency, Mr. Chester explains that he’s now – only now!!! – going to put together a database of his constituents. At the 2:19 mark:

Moving forward, you know,  figuring out how to capture constituents’ contact information, whether it’s cell number, or email, to be able to email out information, text information out to residents. One of the challenges in doing that, is you know first getting the information, and then being able to afford to send the information. So, text message, for those residents that are willing to share their numbers, that’s very low cost. Because with Council, we don’t have stipend, or we don’t have funding to send out messages.

You see what he did there, at the last? It’s been really so difficult for him to communicate with his constituents in the West Ward because there’s no money in his City Council budget to do so!

The interviewer picks up on that and follows up.

3:04       Q: You don’t have any way to contact your constituents? I mean, any funding to do  that?

3:08       A: No. And Council would have to be willing to put funds into our budget, which we keep our budget at bare minimum, in order to do that. [Emphasis mine – KM]


It isn’t Council’s, or the City’s, collective obligation to keep individual members in touch with their voters. It’s not up to the taxpayers – who fund Mr. Chester’s Council budget, after all – to do that.

It’s the sole responsibility of a Council member to do that, and the success or failure that the member has is on no one’s head but his or her own. If an eight-year member of Council has to talk about starting to put together a list of constituent contact information, you know that’s an admission of his ongoing failure to have done so up until now. And, in the waning days of his eight-year tenure on this Council, to blame a lack of City resources on his failure to communicate with residents is appalling.

How much does Twitter cost? How much does Facebook cost? How much does a basic website cost?

Next to nothing! Cost isn’t a good excuse here.

Neither is lack of resources. At the end of 2014, after his successful re-election the year before, Mr. Chester had $2,643 dollars in his campaign account. That was even after incurring over $10,000 in non-election expenses such as contributions to other political campaigns and non-profits.

Do you think he had enough money then to spend on constituent communication?

Over the following four years, he continued to raise funds for and spend money from his campaign account. Going into the beginning of his re-election year this January, he had $3,038 in his account.

Do you think he had enough money over the last four years to spend on constituent communication?

His most recent campaign finance report, filed on April 27, disclosed he had $20,038 cash on hand, more that several mayoral candidates.

Do you think he has enough money NOW to spend on constituent communication?

Of course he’s had plenty of resources available to him for each and every one of his eight years in office to communicate with his Ward!

Just in case there’s any doubt on the matter, the manual for all political candidates and elected officeholders in the State prepared by the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission explicitly states permissible uses of campaign funds. Among those are (page 33):

a.) Costs of communications to constituents, including:
i.) The production, circulation, and postage of newsletters, mailings, or
other written materials for officeholding duties;
ii.) The sponsorship or holding of a seminar or other meeting to be
attended by constituents

In this interview, Mr. Chester attempts to explain his poor record and failure to communicate with the people he represents by the distraction of his divorce, the lack of constituent contact information, and the lack of taxpayer funds.


Mr. Chester would have been much better off in these last few weeks doing just as he has over the last four years: nothing. His efforts this week – a last-minute Town Hall and non-apologetic apologetic video interview – only emphasize how ineffective and out-of-touch he has truly been.

I won’t summarize the rest of the interview. The link above will take you to the whole piece. Overall, it is a very unsatisfying piece. Many of his answers and explanations are very highly edited, so that is impossible to get an idea of what Chester intended to say in his response. In any case, after the first three minutes of defensiveness, non-apology apology and deflection, you get a sense of where the whole thing goes.

I do applaud and agree with his call that, over the next four years, City Council and the rest of City Government need to focus on “getting back to the basics” of local representation.

In Zachary Chester’s case, it’s way, way too late for him to participate, or even to apologize.

By his poor performance in office, he has proven to the residents and voters of Trenton’s West Ward that the Best Basic we can work for right now is a brand-new Council member for this Ward.

The Single TWW Bid is In!

As discussed at the beginning of the month, the City of Trenton issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for “The Provision of the Operation and Administration Services for the Trenton Water System.” The existence of this RFP was tipped to me by long-time reader and retired water engineer William Pyle.

I thank Mr. Pyle again for letting me know that, as scheduled, received proposals were opened this week, on Tuesday. There was one single respondent.

We have an answer to at least one question posed on May 3, that of wondering how a new vendor would be working alongside the two other engineering firms, Wade Trim and Banc3 Engineering, under emergency contract to the City since the beginning of the year to calm the very troubled waters of the city-owned Trenton Water Works (TWW), providing clean water to a quarter-million customers in the City and throughout Mercer County.

It turns out that the only firm to submit a proposal was… Wade Trim Engineering! A summary of the proposal can be found at the City’s website, at the provided link. Here’s a snapshot of the front page.

wadetrim 5-22-18This graphic is pretty small. In case you can’t make out the numbers, this proposal carries a 3-year price tag of $14,380,449. If additional one-year options are picked up, the total cost to the City will be $24,453,154 for five years.

That’s a lot of money.

Under this contract, Wade Trim would hire new personnel or assign current employees to fill 20 positions throughout the Water Works.

wadetrim 2 5-22-18

There’s not a whole lot more that can be said about this proposal at this point, other than to repeat what I wrote on May 9, when this RFP first came to light:

All of this activity – the 2 current contractors, the proposed new one, new initiatives such as this “Lead Service Line Replacement Program” – seem to be all parts of a grand new plan for the Trenton Water Works.

Does this current, outgoing Administration have any intention of letting the public – the residents and ratepayers of the City of Trenton as well as the tens of thousands of customers in the rest of the County – in on what exactly this plan is?

All of us, as well as those who are seeking to be the city’s next Mayor and Councilmembers, would appreciate – and frankly deserve, after the last several chaotic years – to know what the plan is before it is set in stone.

For the next 2 1/2  weeks, in the lead-up to Trenton’s runoff election, whenever you run into a candidate for Mayor or Council, incumbent or challenger, be sure to ask them what the heck is going on at the Trenton Water Works. There’s an awful lot of activity and money in the works right now, with several long-term contractual commitments being pursued.

It would be nice for citizens and customers to know what it all means!

Desperately Seeking Equivalence?

Someone out there must be getting hot and bothered, as the June 12 mayoral runoff election approaches. A great deal of time and effort is being taken by parties unknown in an attempt to – apparently – smear mayoral candidate and 15th District Assemblyman Reed Gusciora with a guilt-by-association charge.

It’s seriously odd, and from what all I can see so far, it’s a whole lot of nothing.

Listen, I will warn you right now. This is really inside baseball. There’s a lot of hair-splitting, and mountain out of molehill stuff. I record it here only to pass along the circumstances by which this whole thing came up. If you’re not interested, or if it strikes you as petty, fine. Leave it. Move on with your day. You’ve got better things to do.

Just don’t whine, ok?

So, yesterday I come home to a plain white envelope, mailed to me without return address, postmarked (as far as I can tell) May 21 in Titusville NJ (I think). Another Trenton resident had previously texted me to ask whether I’d gotten a similar package. So there are at least two out there, for what that’s worth.  No name, no return address.

Inside is a cover page labeled “Reed Gusciora -Mayoral Campaign contributions and associations.” That’s all it says. Otherwise the package consists of excerpts from recent campaign finance reports filed with the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) over the last several weeks; primarily reports filed on April 9 and April 27. The ELEC excerpts highlight some individual transactions, and include additional material.

This is the weird part: the additional material include State Business Registration listings, news clippings, court filings, and pictures of properties in Trenton – seemingly selected for their advanced condition of decay – allegedly owned by companies supposedly owned by some of these contributors.

That’s it.

There’s no narrative, no explanation, just a lot of individual dots left to be connected. There is an organization-chart-style “cheat sheet” graphic intending to show relationships among several individuals and companies, which I suppose is intended to tie the whole thing together, Big Lebowski-style.

There’s not a lot of connection to be made, frankly.

OK, the first set of dots laid out for me regards a $2500 donation on the report filed on April 27, from an entity labeled as “Province Line Ventures, Inc.”

province line 1

My Anonymous Correspondent (going forward, “My AC”) was no doubt pleased to call that out as a mistake or violation. I was provided by a state Business certificate showing that Province Line Ventures is a LLC, a Limited Liability Company, not a Corporation. The contribution should have been recorded and reported to ELEC under the name of the owner (properly, “member”) of the LLC.

province line 2

My AC has that one correct! That contribution, received three days before the report was filed, and fourteen days before the election, was improperly recorded, and will need to be revised.

No argument here.

But from this point on, My AC provides only small beer.

As mentioned above, My AC included a lot of material connecting several contributors to each other using business and family connections. As I mentioned above, some business entities allegedly connected to some of these donors appear to own real estate properties in the City of Trenton.

However, the named individuals highlighted on the ELEC excerpts I received in the mail are all associated with contributions at or under the legal limit set by state Election Law. They are reported properly, from what I can see, and reported on a timely basis. Other than the one business entity listed above, none of the other businesses listed on the Big Lebowski cheat sheet appear anywhere on Mr. Gusciora’s reports.

So, in other words, BFD?

I don’t want to put words into the mouth of My Anonymous Correspondent, but I don’t really don’t see anything egregious out of all this. Are there accusations to be made about the businesses and holdings of some of these individuals? If so, I don’t see it, and I don’t hear it. I won’t make any on my own.

Is there a suggestion that somehow a candidate is required to vet the background of anyone presenting a check at a fundraising event? I’m not hearing it. If there is a longer history somewhere here that puts the present  one-off records of this current campaign in some relevant context, it’s not here.

Is there some problem with family members making individual contributions to the same candidate? As long as the individual donors stay under the maximum contribution limit, and are properly identified in the appropriate timeframe, I say Go At It!

I will not identify any of these persons or businesses any further, because frankly I don’t see any problems by their contributions. Reed Gusciora’s ELEC reporting seems pretty buttoned-up to me, with the notable exception of that one mis-recorded corporate contribution. Notable only because it’s the only major problem surfaced by this mailing.

What I do see in this anonymous white envelope is an attempt by someone – I won’t speculate on who that might be – who feels that my notes on campaign finance reporting discrepancies and failures might be rather too one-sided or biased against one candidate and in favor of another.

The fact is that both of the remaining candidates in our election threaten the status quo that’s existed in this City for far too long. There are too many people defending too little turf to feel comfortable with either Mr. Perez or Mr. Gusciora coming into office in July. There are several folks who might feel that wounding both with mud in the run-up to June 12 might neutralize them somewhat coming into office.

Let me say this again. I will not speculate who My Anonymous Correspondent is. I will not accuse the Perez campaign. I will not accuse any other failed mayoral campaign or supporter. Someone has a grudge, and took the time and effort to take it this far.

Both candidates have faulty and misleading ELEC reporting, so the two sides should sort of cancel each other out? Is that what My Anonymous Correspondent intended?

There’s no equivalence I see here.

This anonymous package is an attempt to smear a candidate by association with individuals whose only links to the candidate that can be seen are legal and timely contributions. That’s all. Period.

Nothing to see. Let’s move along.

Now, on the other hand, if you want to see what a more serious allegation looks like, here’s some other material I was sent some weeks ago. I haven’t published it before, because I could not verify it. Because I couldn’t verify it, I couldn’t stand behind it. But it’s worth printing here, today, to show what a substantive charge really looks like. So to avoid the issue of credibility, I’ve scrubbed these sheets of all individual identifying information, since none of this is about the individuals. These are included here today as an example of what would be good, credible evidence of campaign finance reporting problems.

brushed perez funds1 5-3-18brushed perez funds2 5-3-18brushed perez funding 3 5-3-18

brushed perez funding 4 5-3- 18

What these have been described to me as being are screenshots of a contribution log recorded for an election fundraising event supporting  the 2014 mayoral campaign of Paul Perez. An event with donations recorded both by Check and by Cash.

None of which donations and donors were reported to NJ ELEC before, during or after the 2014 campaign.

Do you now see the difference between the treatments of the the 2018 Reed Gusciora and the 2014 Paul Perez campaigns?

The charges made by My Anonymous Correspondent apparently intend to tarnish this year’s candidate by connecting him – by nothing more than innuendo – to legal, timely contributions made by individuals whose non-campaign-related lives and businesses that may be less than sterling. So what? The candidate and his campaign have Nothing. To. Do. With. That.


The 2014 material alleges that the candidate and his campaign failed to disclose to the State – at least concerning  this one campaign event – individual donations made by check and cash. During a campaign which has claimed for the last four years not to have received ANY cash donations.

This behavior, as compared to that of the 2018 candidate discussed above, continues to be the responsibility of the Candidate – as it has been for the last four years.

You see? These two situations are not remotely similar.

If My Anonymous Correspondent – are you out there? – feels that I didn’t understand what he or she intended to tell me about the Reed Gusciora campaign, I am still open to hearing an argument and seeing the evidence.

You still have unmarked envelopes and stamps?

This Stuff Writes Itself!

UPDATE: As of Monday, 5/21, there will be at least one Town Hall/Debate event featuring both mayoral finalists.

Sunday, June 3, 2018, 4:30PM, on the Trenton Campus of Mercer County Community College.

More details to come.


NOTE: Below is a piece from May 29, 2014. I’ve had to do a remarkably minimal amount of editing to update this this year. Events don’t usually parallel themselves so closely, but hey! This is Trenton, where if something is worth doing once, it’s worth doing over, and over, and over again.

Even if all we end up doing is picking mistakes.

To make it easy to follow where I’ve made edits, I have put the updated text in Bold Red. Just in case you really can’t follow what I’m saying here.

— # —

Would you be ready to marry someone after a courtship consisting of only a half-dozen speed-dates? I wouldn’t!

Yet, Trenton mayoral candidate Paul Perez is ready to call the caterer and get measured for his tux. He’s done debating opponents for this current election, and thinks he’s done all he has to in order to tie the knot with the City of Trenton.

He apparently believes that there is a quota for such appearances, and that he’s reached it.  His campaign must believe – with some justification, it has to be said – that he is a strong favorite to win the June 12 runoff election against Reed Gusciora, and that at this point any further public debates or forums can only provide opportunities to make public mistakes. Better that he limits any further appearances to small papal-type audiences, where he can tailor his message to each person he speaks with, and can be less concerned with communicating a consistent and coherent public message that he would be held accountable for.

His campaign strategy seems to be geared toward mistake avoidance, just planning on coasting from now until June 12. This lack of activity extends to his campaign website and Twitter feed. The candidate has messaged only once since May 8‘s election,  only to announce his first place finish on May 8. This seems to me to be a “Rose Garden strategy” for someone who isn’t even an incumbent!

To me, Mr. Perez misses two important considerations. First, his finishing first on May 8, a result that he apparently felt entitled him to state on the record that “Reed has no business standing in my way right now.  He should just go back to the House (sic) and pass some bills that will help our city.”

He neglects to note that his finish in this election came from a total turnout of only 22.80% of the city’s registered voters, a more miserable number than even 2014’s small voter turnout of only 26.93% of registered Trenton voters. The runoff is likely to bring out a number smaller than that.

Mr. Perez is OK with that? In his position I think I’d want to campaign harder and more publicly in order to get the vote out, to engage more voters to show up at the polls. If the June 12 turnout is anything like this month’s, then the new Mayor of Trenton will be elected with only something like 14% or 15% of Trenton’s voters. It will be hard to govern like that. The new guy will find it difficult to claim any kind of mandate, or to be treated seriously by anyone with the State or New Jersey with pitiful election numbers like that. But apparently that’s not bothering Mr. Perez. He’s content with the effort he’s made so far, figuring that should be just enough to get him over the top.

A second relevant factor to look at is the example of how Kathy McBride fared at the mayoral polls in 2014. Her campaign strategy specifically avoided appearances at public candidate forums, because as reported in the Trenton Times, “she also has declined to participate in the forums because the people who will pull the lever for her do not attend candidate forums. She said she is pulling her support from the people in the community who know her personally and have seen her around.” [Emphasis mine – KM] Then again, she has just won an At-Large City Council set this month with very little public campaigning and no town hall appearances. What do we conclude from this? That Trenton’s voters, as fickle and hard to figure as they are, appear to have different, higher standards for their mayoral picks than their Council preferences.

A candidate or his campaign manager shouldn’t have to ponder very long about how well that kind of strategy paid off. McBride’s deliberate choice to avoid candidate forums had to have contributed to her sixth-place finish out of the field of six.  Perez‘s stance of disengagement from further public debate is a poor choice to have made.

His new emphasis on individual meetings with voters hearkens back to two other recent examples that I doubt Mr. Perez wants to be associated with, but it is inevitable.

Remember that long ago time in the Fall of 2012 when He Who Will Not Be Named embarked on a series of weekly “Ask the Mayor” sessions? Remember how, after only three of those meetings – held in a City Hall conference room and open to the press and all citizens – abruptly ended after the fourth scheduled event “erupted in protest this morning and drew police involvement after Mack barred the press and unexpectedly required residents with questions to meet with him one-on-one ?”

I’m sure Tony Mack also figured that individual meetings were a better venue to talk about HIS plan to “reduce crime, improve schools, create jobs and restore ethics to City Hall!”

And in 2014, Eric Jackson basically campaigned for the runoff the same way he ended up governing, in seclusion except for occasional photo opportunities. He figured, correctly as it turned out, that he could coast on his May result and hide from the voters. He won, and we were stuck with him for the last four years. History does seem to be repeating itself in Trenton this month.

Are these associations with Kathy McBride and Tony Mack and Eric Jackson the kinds of examples that Mr. Perez really wants for his campaign? I can’t think of any possible reason why, but they are inescapable after this latest announcement.

He really should re-consider his decision to avoid further debates and public joint appearances with Mr. Gusciora.

Come On In, Boys! There's Plenty for Everyone!

The outgoing Eric Jackson Administration and lame-duck City Council are planning on leaving a nice parting gift to the new Mayor and City Council .And they are creating Christmas in May for two dozen of New Jersey’s leading – and politically connected – law firms.

In the published Docket for Thursday’s City Council meeting are no fewer than 25 separate Resolutions that – if all are approved – will provide for contracts with 20 different law firms (some of the lucky firms are looking to get two different contracts) for various legal services to the City in the amount of – wait for it – $1,490,000.

You read that right. Nearly $1.5 Million Dollars in new contracts for work that will be mostly be done well after July 1, the expiration date for this current crowd in City Hall.

Here’s a spreadsheet showing a summary of the Resolutions (which can be read on pages 3-6 of the Docket), the firms involved, the proposed amounts of the contracts, and what they are for. It’s quite the list. Here’s a snapshot:

trenton legal2

Of this amount, $1,350,000 is for new contracts, with $140K added on to several existing city contracts. Considering the significant amount of the amendments, I would say the odds are good that the $1.350 Million worth of new deals will not be the final amounts.

This is a HUGE amount for a city like Trenton to be paying for outside legal services. Let’s try putting this into some context. Every city and town in New Jersey prepares their budgets using the same Chart of Accounts, making it easy to see how much each town budgets for the same items because they all have the same account numbers.

In the Adopted Budget for the current fiscal year ending June 30, Trenton budgets  (in Account #20-155-2, for the nerdy among you) $1,464,800 for all Legal Costs other than Salaries and Wages for the in-house Law Department. This, for Trenton, isn’t anything really new. The budget for this line in FY 2014, the year before the Jackson Administration, was $1,302,000. The number for 2010, the last year of Doug Palmer’s Administration, was much lower however, $760,000.

So, we can see that the City’s outside legal bills, while large under Mr. Palmer, really exploded under Tony Mack. And this current Council.

Back to the present. Since, as mentioned above, most of these outside legal services are likely to be actually used during the new Council Mayoral term, the Jackson Administration is either spending all of next year’s Legal budget right now; OR next year’s Budget for Legal will be hugely higher than this year’s.

Either way, whoever the new Mayor and Council will be, they should remember to say “Thank You!” for dumping this on them before they have a chance to settle in to their new offices.

Trenton’s outside Legal costs dwarf those of other New Jersey communities. Next door Hamilton, comparable in population to Trenton, has budgeted in their 2018 Introduced Budget only $107, 050 for their current budget year, which started January 1.

Up Route 1 North, New Brunswick, a city similar to Trenton but with a slightly smaller population of about 57,000 people estimates $371.001.52 for their outside Legal expenses in account #20-155-2. I like the “52 cents” in that budget line; it strikes me as a kind of quaint confidence in their ability to estimate the expenses to the penny. Trenton estimates to the nearest hundred dollars, which I think is also kind of quaint.

From my limited tour of NJ Municipal budgets, I only found Newark with a higher Adopted Budget line, for 2017 (the latest year on the website)- 20-155-2 $2,526,000 This city budgeted $2,526,000 for its Outside Legal, far more than Trenton. However, Newark is the state’s most populous city, with a population more than three times that of Trenton, at about 282,000. That city’s Legal Budget per person (a rough guide, but one that can be calculated apples to apples) comes to around $8.95. For Trenton’s approximate 84,000 residents, that amount is$17.44, almost double per person.

How is it that Trenton spends so much more on legal services than places like Hamilton and New Brunswick, and nearly twice as much per person as the State’s largest city, Newark?

Damned if I know! This has been a long-running problem in Trenton. Every couple of elections, a candidate or two will promise to cut back on the use of outside lawyers, but they never seem to get to do it. During this election, I don’t think I have heard or read of any candidate talking about that. If I am wrong, please correct me!

Are people in and around Trenton more likely to sue this town than others? I don’t know if that’s the case.

Are Trenton’s legal problems inherently that much more complicated than other towns? I kind of doubt it.

So, why does Trenton spend so much money on lawyers?  Part of the answer might be found in looking at who gets these contracts from this City.

Long-time readers of this space will well remember the problems the last two mayoral Administrations had with some of the law firms it hired – or just tried to hire. Who could ever forget Tony Mack’s efforts to bring in the Cooper Levenson firm from Atlantic City, which ended when news broke of an illegal donation made to Mack’s campaign using a local Political Action Committee as the middleman.

Eric Jackson’s young Administration experienced similar complications with its 2015 attempt to award a contract to the firm of DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick and Cole (remember that firm!). This firm hired the City’s Law Director of the time, David Minchello, as a partner, and he then tried to get his new firm some City business. In the words of a news story of the time, “The news raised concerns about a perceived conflict of interest because the Teaneck firm was awarded an $80,000 contract with the city to provide legal services regarding labor and employment issues at Minchello’s recommendation.”

As  the result of these developments, DeCotiis ended up without a contract, and Minchello left his City job.

This is just a little background on how much Trenton spends on law firms around the state. Now let’s take a brief look at the firms to whom all this contract work goes under this Administration.

One theme throughout this list is the frequent and high-profile connections among several partners of these firms with state and federal Democratic Party players and personalities. Of course, politicians and lawyers often tend to overlap the private and public spheres, all across the country. It just seems sometimes that in New Jersey, the frequent overlap and deep-seated connections have been raised to an art form. Let’s look at a few of the firms who are slated to receive contracts from the City.

One of the name partners at Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor (up for one $50,000 deals), Elnardo Webster, is described on that firm’s website as “active in Democratic politics, most notably serving as Treasurer and Finance Chairman to Senator Cory Booker’s mayoral campaigns.”

If you were thinking that the “Florio” in Florio Perucci Steinhardt & Capelli ($30,000) is THAT Florio, you are correct! James J. Florio, himself, Democratic 49th Governor of this fair state. Another name partner, Lou Capelli, is a Democratic Camden County Freeholder. In a demonstration of political “diversity,” another name partner, Douglas Steinhardt, has been Chair of the Warren County Republican Committee, since 2004, and Chair of the New Jersey State Republican Committee since last fall.  According to the firm’s website, Michael Perucci does not seem to have been involved in state politics for either party, as a practitioner, although he has been a frequent and generous contributor – mostly to Democratic candidates, but some Republicans as well – having donated at least  $27,000 and as much as $47,000 per year for the last half-dozen years to candidates in NJ, Pennsylvania and New York, mostly.

Edward Florio, of the firm of Florio & Kenny ($50,000), doesn’t seem to be related to the former Governor, from what I was able to find out, but he does seem to be another Democratic heavy-hitter. According to his page of the firm’s website, “He has served as coordinating attorney for the John Kerry for President Campaign, the Jon Corzine for Governor Campaign and the Campaign of Robert Menendez for United States Senate. Mr. Florio also was coordinating attorney for the successful campaign for Barack Obama for president of the United States.”

I think you get the idea. I’ll just mention one last law firm for now. Rainone Coughlin Minchello ($175,000) is a relatively new partnership, having formed only at the beginning of 2017. But what they lack in history as a firm, they more than make up with the history and experience of their name partners.

Louis Rainone is described on his webpage as  “one of the most well know and accomplished municipal attorneys in New Jersey. He has served as counsel for many of the state’s largest municipalities, including: Newark, Edison, Trenton, Franklin, Marlboro, Perth Amboy, Clifton, Brick, Piscataway Rahway, Sayreville, Bound Brook and Green Brook… He served as Legislative Assistant to the Chairman of the New Jersey General Assembly Committee on Taxation and in the same capacity to the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee… Mr. Rainone practiced law for 17 years in Middlesex County as the Partner of former Assembly Speaker Alan J. Karcher.” And, one more credential: “Prior to forming the firm Mr. Rainone was the Co Chairman of the Municipal Law Section at DeCotiis FitzPatrick and Cole.” [Emphasis mine – KM]

Hey, you remember them. From that ruckus described above, with then-City Attorney David Minchello!

Well, you won’t be surprised (spoiler alert! He is a name partner in the firm) that David Minchello is also at the Rainone firm, and seems to have finally landed a big contract with the City of Trenton, his old employer, just before his friend Eric Jackson leaves office.

It’s important to mention that the current Speaker of the NJ Assembly, Craig Coughlin-D, is the other name partner. That makes two Speakers who Louis Rainone has partnered with in his career.

This new law firm has been very successful in drumming up business with local NJ communities during its first couple of years. According to, the firm has received one $300,000 from Somerset County’s Franklin Township (nearly half its annual budget for outside lawyers) , and one for $250,000 from Marlboro in Monmouth County (almost its entire outside Legal budget) .

Trenton apparently likes to spread the wealth around, with a large number of moderately-priced contracts awarded to several law firms, as in this week’s proposed Resolutions, which seek to hire twenty different law firms. It’s a very different approach, having the City of Trenton figuratively announcing to the state’s Legal Community, including all those politically “connected” firms with which the City might hope to earn some good will, “Come On In, Boys! There’s plenty for Everyone!”

Regarding this week’s proposed Resolutions, it’s very possible that the City does face a number of new situations that may require the kind of specialized legal services offered by many of these firms.

But, 25 of them all at once?? That Resolutions need to be urgently passed and contracts urgently signed before the new Mayor and Council have a chance to look at them?

Something here does not seem right. I think this situation needs attention, and I think this process needs slow the heck down. To be clear, there’s nothing with these proposals that seem on the face of them to be illegal or otherwise improper.

But there are just so many Resolutions! So many law firms! So much money!

Last week, we seem to have elected three new At Large Council members. They might like to attend Thursday’s session to persuade this lame-duck Council to hold off on all of these and give them a chance to review them in July.

There are three Current Council members running for re-election who might want to think if they want to be noted on the record as voting in favor such a big payout to so many “connected” law firms so soon before the runoffs.

And there are two mayoral candidates who may also want to attend Thursday’s session for a quick education on Trenton’s many legal woes.

All the current and potential new officeholders have a personal stake in Thursday’s session. since they – and not the current Administration! – who will have to live and face the consequences of these huge lame-duck proposals on deck this week. Time for them to step up and slow this down.