The political corpse of Frank G. Abate gurgled up out of the old morass of Marlboro politics today as he was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison for taking thousands of dollars in free architectural services paid for by developers while he served as executive director of the Western Monmouth Utilities Authority.
His presence on the landscape drew colliding reactions from the main combatants for state office in district 12. State Sen. Ellen Karcher helped deep-six the Abate era of Democratic Party politics in her hometown of Marlboro, but her opponent, GOP Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, says the senator remains enmeshed in a party structure crusted over by corruption at the state level.
Karcher applauded the stiff penalty for Abate, a 1992 Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress.
“It sends a really clear message that corrupt practices will not be tolerated,” said the Democratic senator. “I’m fairly certain there will be more to come.”
Beck acknowledged Karcher’s role in battling corruption at the local level when the former Marlboro councilwoman wore an FBI wire revealing Richard Vuola’s attempts to bribe Karcher with $150,000 so she would back a zoning change to enable the construction of a high density development.
But now Karcher’s in another quagmire of corruption called Trenton, says Beck, and the senator’s been sluggish to push back against the bloated bosses who run the state, in Beck’s view.
“She is controlled by a Democrat Party that is going to dictate compromise to her,” said Beck. “Voters are going to be better off with leadership on ethics by Republicans.”
Karcher dismissed Beck’s criticism.
“I passed 19 ethics bills,” said the first term senator running for re-election. “I can’t point to a single piece of legislation that she’s (Beck’s) passed.”
As for the party connection, Karcher said, “It shows more leadership that I could stand up to my own party.”
“Five years ago as a councilman she did the right thing,” said the assemblywoman. “But she has gone to Trenton and been subject to the rules of the Democrat Party. When your expectation might have been real reform, she has been forced to compromise.”
Beck said she wanted the door slammed on dual office holding. Her proposed legislation would have given double dippers 30 days to pick one office, instead of grandfathering a generation of dual office holders, which Beck says is the compromised bill that Karcher wrote and that the legislature’s Democratic majority passed.
“The public is enraged at the thought that corrupt public officials get to keep their pensions,” said Beck.
Hitting back, Karcher said Beck complains about corruption in Trenton but was silent in her role as a GOP lobbyist navigating the halls of Trenton before her service as an assemblywoman.
“John Bennett (whom Karcher defeated to become senator) had lined his own pockets,” said Karcher. “As a Republican, she (Beck) didn’t say anything about that.”
Beck said she wan’t defending him but that Bennett was never indicted, unlike Sen. Wayne Bryant, who until recently got the silent treatment from Karcher.