Governor Jon Corzine today halted state approval of development projects in towns where the sitting mayor has been charged with corruption.
“We will not tolerate any impropriety, or even the appearance of impropriety, regarding the conduct of elected officials in New Jersey,” said Corzine. “If officials under this cloud refuse to do the responsible thing and resign, then we must take action to protect responsible government and the best interests of taxpayers.”
The order was clearly meant to put pressure on Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, who is the only one of the three mayors charged in last month’s corruption probe who has not resigned. Former Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano and former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, ensnared in the same sting, both resigned last week.
Corzine’s order requires all state departments and authorities to start a “comprehensive and thorough review process” of any development-related applications before them to “ensure the absence of improper influence.”
It does not apply to Jersey City, however, which is much larger than Ridgefield, has many more pending development projects and saw many more public officials arrested last month. City Council President Mariano Vega, who was arrested for allegedly taking bribes, has refused to step down, as has Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith (D-Jersey City), a former city council president, acting mayor and mayoral candidate who is not running for reelection. Mayor Jerramiah Healy – who is mentioned prominently in one of the corruption complaints but has not been charged – has suspended several other city officials who were charged in the same sting, including Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini.
Until last week, Vega headed the “Tax Enhancement Committee,” which dealt with giving sometimes controversial tax abatements to developers.
Sierra Club New Jersey Director Jeff Tittel pointed that out in a press release responding to the order, which he said looks “more like political posturing.”
“In Hoboken, Secaucus, and Jersey City, there are hundreds of more approvals pending with tens of millions of state money going to development projects. Governor Corzine, by signing the New Jersey Stimulus Act, will be sending hundreds of millions of dollars to these other towns where arrests have occurred,” said Tittel.