The vicious Republican primary fight in District 40 just turned even nastier.
Assembly primary challenger Anthony Rottino is suing incumbent Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Wayne) for $350,000 over a mailer and magazine advertisement that he said made false accusations about his development company building low income housing.
The suit charges that Rumana’s campaign piece falsely claimed that a company Rottino has a stake in, P.C. Development, used $16.5 million in taxpayer-funded bonds to develop low-income housing in Newark and East Orange. That, according to Rottino’s attorney, Matthew DiBrino , is a “blatant lie,” as was a photo of a building purporting to be one that Rottino developed.
According to the court filing, the ad reads: “While Rottino profited from building low income housing, Scott Rumana fought against it.”
The Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) has been one of the top issues in the primary fight – a race that mirrors a struggle for control of the Passaic County Republican Party between Rumana and allies of one of his predecessors, Peter Murphy. Caruso and Rottino have maintained that their campaign has nothing to do with the power struggle, however.
Standards for defamation are strict in cases involving public figures like political candidates. But in a brief to Passaic County Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan, DiBrino said that “the facts in this case speak for themselves as certain statements have been made which are entirely false against the Plaintiff Anthony Rottino.”
“These statements were made intentionally and maliciously with an obvious reckless disregard for the truth,” he continued.
In a 1996 document provided by Rumana, Rottino is listed as P.C. Development's Vice President. Its president is listed as Frank Catania, Jr., who is a law partner of DiBrino and is also listed as representing Rottino in the suit.
Rottino also wants a court-ordered temporary restraint on Rumana from issuing publications, phone calls and discussion involving his development company.
“While I understand the game of politics is an open landscape and the Defendants have shown they will go to any lengths to achieve their goals, they must stick to the truth,” he wrote in a court document. “The alleged facts they have stated as ‘truth’ in their publications are entirely untrue, without an inkling of truth, and could very costs me my bid for the Republican Nomination for Assembly man in the 40th District. ”
Rumana's original mailer was based on a Star-Ledger story from January, 2000.
Rottino spokesman Thom Ammirato said, however, that the newspaper story was preliminary and that Rottino and Catania never actually made the deal with Newark or East Orange.
Rottino is running with Joseph Caruso against Rumana and fellow incumbent David Russo (R-Ridgewood).
"Rottino and Caruso have consistently misrepresented or flat out lied about every single aspect of their campaign. From stating that they are not directly affiliated with convicted felon Peter Murphy to their position on COAH, Rottino and Caruso just can't seem to get it right. The documented proof is indisputable. Anthony Rottino has historically built low incomehousing," said Rumana. "It's bad enough that they have lied and misrepresented the facts, but now Rottino resorts to using the Court system as a bullying tactic in order to supress the truth and infringe upon my first amendment rights. This is a frivivlous lawsuit and I am confident that the Court will see it as such."
Ammirato, however, said that it was Rumana who was being dishonest.
"Scott Rumana is a desperate politician trying to cling to power. His allegations are reckless. He has not embraced a single issue in this campaign, but has chosen to throw mud instead. He cannot offer a single instance that Rottino and Caruso have lied about anything. We are right on his position on COAH; he has never call for it to be killed. He has no position on the economy or jobs. He has no plan to reform education spending or on illegal aliens. Rottino and Caruso have addressed all these issues and more while Rumana has addressed no issues,” he said in a statement. "As for Peter Murphy, it was he, Rumana, who took hundreds of thousands of dollars from convicted felon Murphy, not Rottino, not Caruso. Mr. Rumana needs to get his story straight.”