Five days into his service as acting mayor of Passaic, Gary Schaer pledged to remove the taint of corruption from a city whose former mayor pleaded guilty to extortion last Friday and resigned hours before Schaer assumed office.
"Throughout my over 18 years of service to Passaic, I have sought to serve with distinction and honor, always taking into account what is best for all of Passaic," said Schaer, 57, an investment analyst broker who served as commissioner of the Passaic Housing Authority for five years prior to his election to the council.
As the successor of Sammy Rivera, Schaer continues in his role as council president, and as the legislature’s first Orthodox Jewish assemblyman, now serving his second term in the 36th district.
At his press conference today in City Hall, Schaer promised to receive no additional compensation as mayor, and ensured fairness and transparency in the 3.5-square mile city’s future contract bidding process. He invited the U.S. Attorney’s Office to oversee ethics training classes for all city employees, and to continue investigating any possible corruption in the city.
"I will additionally propose that the city’s personnel assistant be given the additional responsibility of ethics officer, at no additional salary, and charged with overseeing the proper ethical conduct by every city employee," said the acting mayor.
A one time close political ally of Rivera’s who enthusiastically backed the mayor for re-election two years ago and helped to deliver 1,800 of his core voters to Rivera’s cause, Schaer said he was heartbroken as he watched his former friend unravel over the last two years.
"Rivera forgot himself in his second term," Schaer told PolitickerNJ.com. "It got to his head, and he believed himself empowered."
The acting mayor took time in his address today to condemn the particular actions of his predessessor, who last year accepted a $5,000 bribe to steer insurance business with the City of Passaic and with the Passaic Valley Water Commission. Feds also charged former Councilman Marcellus Jackson as part of a sting that included Rivera and nine other officials statewide.
"For the last six years, despite our differences in the past two years, I believed that Samuel Rivera, in his service as mayor of Passaic, had the best interests of all of us in mind," Schaer added. "Tragically, I was wrong. It is now evident that the former mayor thought he was above the law."
Expected to receive between 18-24 months, Rivera is now awaiting sentencing in federal court.
There is a special election for mayor and for an additional councilman on November 4. Schaer would not say whether he intends to pursue the mayor’s office for a full, four-year term, but hopefuls are starting to form a line.
"Passaic is a wonderful and diverse town with unbelievable potential that has never been met, where people use racism to keep people divided," said Schaer, a Pennsauken native who has lived with his family in Passaic for 23 years. "If I weren’t hopeful about the future, I wouldn’t hold elected office."