Paterson Board of Education member Chauncey Brown III, the Republican candidate for State Assembly in the 35th district, says that he's "just taken back in shock — I'm totally caught off guard" by Rev. Alfred Steele's arrest today on bribery charges early this morning.
“Al Steele’s a great guy. Every person is innocent until proven guilty, and my prayers are with his family," Brown told PoliticsNJ.com reporter Matt Friedman. "”It's unfortunate that this has happened, "It’s a tragic day right now for their families, and I think it would be premature for me to make remarks at this time.”
But Brown has, in just a few hours, considered how the arrest of the six-term Deputy Speaker of the State Assembly might affect his chances. "The initial perception may appear to be that it looks good, but one day in politics is like a year, so I’ll take it one day at a time, and right now I’m just focusing on what I need to do to try to be a viable candidate to represent this district," Brown said.
Ironically, when Assembly Democrats considered ethics reform legislation last year, they turned the package of bills over to Steele, who was serving as Chairman of the Assembly State Government Committee.
Thom Ammirato, a spokesman for Passaic County Republican Chairman Scott Rumana, says he's not certain voters will care about Steele's arrest. "It certainly changes the dynamics of the race. The unfortunate part of this, however, is that the public has not in the past reacted viscerally to corruption charges," said Ammirato. "It’s difficult to make people vote other people out of office because of a corruption charge. Obviously if there’s a conviction it’s a little different."
“Obviously these are just at this point allegations, and we’re going to see how this plays out. Let law enforcement do its work. Whether Mr. Steele is forced to resign from office or not remains to be seen, but it speaks to a larger problem we’ve known about a long time in government – that there is a culture of corruption that’s tolerated, particularly in Trenton, and we need to clean up government as best we can. But at this point it would be premature to say that we would be now focusing a lot of resources into that district," Ammirato told PoliticsNJ.com.
Ammirato says Steele's arrest "certainly gives you issues to talk about, and certainly corruption is creeping up the scales on polls on peoples’ minds, but it still pales in comparison to taxes. And the next issue we’re trying to look for is the connection to corruption and taxes. That’s when people start reacting more viscerally – not only are these guys corrupt but the corruption is costing me money."