State Sen. Ellen Karcher’s call for the resignation of two fellow Democratic legislators is an election year gimmick, according to her Republican opponent, Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck.
Karcher’s statement today calling for the resignations of Sharpe James and Wayne Bryant comes five months after Beck first called on her to seek Bryant’s ouster, and four days after Democratic State Chairman Joseph Cryan gave her cover by urging the two indicted Senators to quit.
Since September, Beck has issued regular press releases pressuring Karcher and the Democratic leadership to take disciplinary action against scandal-plagued Senate colleagues. Even before Bryant was indicted in March, Beck had already made three bids for Bryant’s removal from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and to pressure him to step down.
Beck said that while Karcher ran for Senate on an ethics platform – she upset then Co-Senate President John Bennett in 2003 — she failed to stand up for those principles once she reached Trenton, preferring instead not to rock the Democratic Party’s boat.
“These are not the actions of an ‘ethics champion.’ These are the actions of a pseudo-reformer who is unwilling or unable to stand up to her party bosses,” said Beck in a press release.
Karcher bristles at the suggestion that she only spoke up after Joe Cryan provided political cover, while her campaign noted that she was the first state Democratic Senator to call for the resignations.
“Believe me, I have not taken the lead from anybody else ever in this area and to suggest otherwise is just absurd,” said Karcher.
Karcher developed a strong reputation for ethics reform during her term as a councilwoman in Marlboro. In 2004, when she was still on the town’s council, she wore a wire and recorded Marlboro Municipal Utilities Authority Chairman Richard Vuola offering her a bribe, producing evidence that helped lead to his indictment in a corruption case that ensnared former Marlboro Township Mayor Matthew Scannapieco. During her term on the council, she reportedly received death threats for questioning the mayor’s acquiescence to developers, it turned out, had paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
She used that corruption busting as a cornerstone of her state Senate campaign. Once she reached Trenton, she passed some major ethics reform legislation, including a ban on dual office holding that has been criticized by Republicans for grandfathering in incumbents who already hold two positions. Currently, she has two bills awaiting the governor’s approval — The Public Corruption Profiteering Penalty Act and a companion bill that establishes corruption of public resources as a crime.
Karcher said she resisted calling for Bryant’s resignation because she did not want to prejudge him, as opposed to her time on the Malboro council, when she was a witness to the crimes and called for officials’ resignations immediately. But James’s indictment was the tipping point, she said. The charges that he used the city’s credit card to pay for his own personal entertainment and travel expenses was more cut and dry and, combined with Bryant’s indictment, was too much to bear.
“I went to Trenton to clean up corruption, and it’s like moving a mountain of crap. It’s very frustrating,” said Karcher.
Karcher Chief of Staff Mike Premo argued that Beck does not apply her ethical standards equally to Republicans and Democrats, noting her silence on cost overruns in the renovation of the Monmouth County Hall of Records.
“Leadership is about calling out wrongdoing whenever you see it, not just when it’s in the opposing party, and that’s where Jennifer Beck fails the smell test,” said Premo. “If they want to make the debate about ethics reform and Ellen’s record on ethics reform, we are very happy to have that debate. Because there is nobody in the state of New Jersey that has done more for ethics reform than Ellen Karcher.”
But Beck said that Karcher’s admirable record on ethical reform ended with her election to the state Senate.
“She has failed on this issue of ethics on multiple occasions, it’s quite disingenuous that she’s speaking out now,” said Beck. “As a councilwoman in Marlboro Township, she certainly took strong action. She became a senator, went to Trenton and lost her conviction.”