Chiappone, back at work, rebuffs Roberts

Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone (D-Bayonne) today fired back at Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden), who yesterday called on him to resign after he was indicted for allegedly funneling his aides’ state-issued checks into his personal and campaign bank accounts.

“There is a ‘presumption of innocence’ which is a constitutional right of anyone charged. In your capacity as Speaker, as a fellow lawmaker, you have chosen to ignore that basic democratic philosophy and constitutional right because of an assumption of guilt and not of innocence,” wrote Chiappone.

One day after being indicted — but not arrested — Chiappone was back in his legislative office.

“Of course working without pay and benefits,” he said in a phone interview. Those were also suspended by Roberts, who took away his committee assignments as well.

Chiappone, who is serving his second non-consecutive term and running for reelection, proclaimed his innocence and said he will not resign.

In his letter to Roberts, he went on to say that “my years of service and dedication to the public that has voted me into office warrants that I receive that basic consideration, yes even in spit of the inconvenience and ‘embarrassment’ that the ‘party’ may have to endure… And while I respect you as the Speaker of the House, no one man should determine who should resign. The directive to serve or not to serve should come only from the voters.”

Chiappone, who won the Democratic nomination for a second term in June on the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s (HCDO) line, said that aside from Corzine and Roberts, he has not felt pressure to resign from other politicians.

That could change soon. A drum beat for Chiappone’s resignation will likely come from Bayonne, where his rival, Mark Smith, is mayor.

One of Chiappone’s closest allies, Bayonne Councilman Gary La Pelusa, was the aide mentioned in the Attorney General’s complaint against Chiappone, although he has not been charged.

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who chairs the HCDO, issued a brief statement on Chiappone.

“Right now we are in discussions with other members of the Hudson County Democratic delegation and our legal counsel to determine what action, if any, can be taken,” he said.

Although Healy brokered a successful slate in that included Chiappone in 2007, the two have never been close, and Chiappone’s relationship with the party has been rocky. But since Healy has refused to call for the resignation of arrested Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega, he may have a hard time publicly calling for Chiappone to step aside.

State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), who is credited with saving Chiappone from being thrown off the party line earlier this year, said she plans to sit down with him to discuss whether he should continue on within the next couple days.

“I think in times like this, as difficult as it is, I basically believe people are innocent until proven guilty. I think people have sort of forgotten that these days,” she said.

Chiappone, for his part, said his prosecution was politically motivated, though he did not want to go into detail.

“All I would say is that certainly the investigation was started through a political opponent’s complaint. But at this time I have to focus on responding to the charges in a court of law,” he said.

Chiappone, back at work, rebuffs Roberts