On hearing the news today ofAssemblyman Joe Vas’s (D-Perth Amboy) arrest on bid-rigging charges, Democratic Party players surrounding what was an apparent contest for Vas’s 19th District Assembly seat reacted with little shock – anda mixture ofgrief and celebration.
“This is a sad day forAssemblyman Vas and his family, and an equally sad day for the people in 19th Legislative District,” said Vas’s running mate, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville). “Any time that a public official is involved in even an allegation of official misconduct, it puts a strain on the public trust. I hope the process undertaken today by the Attorney General’s Office moves forward as fairly and efficiently as possible.”
Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, whose townconcentrates the largest number of voters in the 19th, said Vas can write off trying to reclaim his 19th District Assembly seat.
“He has no chance of getting the nomination or of winning the election so for ten months, what’s the point of hanging around?” McCormac said. “I can’t see anyone getting behind Joe Vas.”
South Amboy Mayor John T. O’Leary, who is challenging Vas in a county committee convention scheduled for March 25, stopped short of urging his competitor to resign.
“The judicial system will handle Assemblyman Vas and everyone is innocent until proven guilty in our country,” said O’Leary. “I’m going to continue to work and to campaign for this seat. It’s important for Democrats to put the best ticket forward.
“I think whether or not he resigns is up to him,” the mayor added. “Knowing Joe Vas, it’s what he decides to do. We have to look at what is best for the Democratic Party. Rumors have been running rampant here for the last few months. I’m saddened for his family.”
O’Leary, son of a police officer and himself a former cop, said if elected he would examine implementing stronger anti-corruption laws.
“Withwhat happened today, there ishe ability to move the undecided into Mayor O’Leary’s camp,” Wisniewski said.
In Perth Amboy, where Vas served as mayor for nearly two decades before Wilda Diaz toppled him in last year’s election, Councilman Ken Balut exulted on learning of the state Attorney General’s charges.
“This is for the citizens of Perth Amboy,” said Balut, who won his council seat on a ticket with Diaz. “It’s a shame; this should have been done years ago. The dual-office holding they allowed gave him too much power and he was allowed to keep going for too long.”
Diaz’s office issued a brief statement.
“All public officials should be held to the highest ethical standard,” said Perth Amboy’s new mayor. “Since my administration took office in July 2008, we have been moving forward in a positive and productive way and in an open and transparent manner.I want to assure all the residents of the City of Perth Amboy that we will continue to do what’s best for our City. We have been cooperating fully with law enforcement authorities throughout their investigations and will continue to do so.”
Sources close to the former mayor said Vas believed the attorney general’s case against him was politically motivated, precipitated by his threat of a comeback against Diaz.