NJ’s Greediest Hater

U.S. Congress candidate Jack Kelly(Trenton)– Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly’s controversial nomination to the New Jersey Parole Board continues to smolder in Trenton and beyond. Painted by many as the NJ’s consummate patronage pig, Jack Kelly has spent three decades mooching off taxpayers in various taxpayer-funded public-sector jobs, most of which he’s demonstrably unqualified for. And now he’s up for (yet another!) promotion. On top of his embarrassingly thin curriculum vitae, Freeholder Kelly is an unrepentant homophobe whose anti-gay tactics inspired an Academy Award-winning documentary film called Freeheld. Watch the movie trailer, see for yourself. That same trailer was played yesterday at a Trenton press conference which ostensibly doubled as a Jack Kelly roast.

Vowing to “write the final chapter” on Freeholder Kelly’s career, Senator Ray Lesniak reminded the press that “I started my campaign against Jack Kelly’s Parole Board nomination last December because he is totally unqualified for the position, and because the Parole Board is bloated to begin with. I subsequently learned Freeholder Kelly has made a career out of being appointed to public positions for which he was not qualified.”
Lesniak was flanked by his “partner in championing equal rights for the LGBT community” Senator Loretta Weinberg, Laurel’s sister Lynda Hester-D’Orio, and Laurel’s long-time (police) partner Dane Wells. Joining them was current and past leadership of Garden State Equality, NJ’s largest LGBT rights organization. GSE fought valiantly a decade ago to help Laurel Hester get some justice and was on hand to (hopefully) exorcise a ghost of NJ’s dark civil rights past once and for all.
“Why on earth would Governor Christie nominate a man with such a disgraceful record of bigotry for a seat on the New Jersey Parole Board, a position that demands at least some minimal degree of compassion in judging others?” asked Dane Wells, the retired detective who served as Laurel Hester’s (police) partner in Ocean County.

Sen. Weinberg spoke movingly about Laurel spending the last (very sick) months of her life fighting Jack Kelly instead of passing those precious remaining days at home with loved ones. Nary a dry eye in the room at this point, my gaze was fixed on Laurel’s sister, Lynda. The anguish on her face reliving the trauma of her sister’s ordeal was self-evident.
Lesniak and Weinberg have been fighting for LBGT rights since I was a little boy running around in my mother’s high heels. They’ve earned the right to to it their way. But frankly, I don’t see why yesterday’s press conference had to happen. There was much (admittedly) righteous hemming and hawing about Jack Kelly’s lack of qualification, his penchant for patronage, and his unfortunate roll in NJ’s civil rights history books. But no one asking the question of how Jack Kelly’s nomination made it out of the starting gate. If this nomination is half as abhorrent as they say (and I believe it is) why on earth did Jack Kelly’s name even make it off the drawing board? What did Democratic leadership in Trenton tell GOP leadership in Ocean that left Ocean County’s GOP chair under the impression that Jack Kelly’s nomination was as good as done?
Retired detective Wells, his voice cracking with emotion, openly questioned why “Governor Christie and NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney have both agreed that Freeholder Kelly has the character and qualifications to serve on the parole board.  To reward Kelly with a six-figure pension-padding political plum after the way he has so intolerantly treated others is simply beyond the pale, even by New Jersey standards.  It’s a blot on Laurel Hester’s legacy of equal justice for all and a slap in the face to every single decent human being in the state of New Jersey.  We shouldn’t stand for it.”
Not to sound melodramatic, but watching that video trailer felt a little traumatic. Now that gays can marry, serve in the US Armed Forces, and (in many cases) have workplace protections, it’s easy to forget that a decade ago – on issues as varied as pensions, adoption rights, inheritance, and hospital visitation – the fate of folks like Laurel Hester was often at the whim of overly pious bureaucrats like Jack Kelly. I’m glad those days are over and I’m grateful Laurel’s passing accelerated equality in NJ. But she’s still dead and rehashing the merits of Jack Kelly’s nomination opens up a lot of old wounds, especially for anyone who loves Laurel Hester.
Nothing sees the light of day in the New Jersey Senate without Sen. Sweeney’s approval. No bills, no resolutions, no referendum. And surely no nomination.  Senate President Steve Sweeney can spare the LGBT community (and frankly anyone paying taxes in NJ) a lot of trouble by publicly putting the kibosh on Jack Kelly’s nomination.
Jay Lassiter is a longtime Trenton iconoclast. When he’s not pushing his radical agenda he’s probably at brunch. Or on Twitter.