Upset at what he saw as a limited executive order signed by Gov. Corzine yesterday, Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop said that the Governor has not spoken out against corruption in the state’s second largest city.
The order suspended development projects that need state approval in towns with mayors who have been charged with public corruption. It was clearly aimed to pressure Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, a fellow Democrat who was arrested on corruption charges last month, to resign. It also applies to Carlstadt, where Mayor Will Roseman, a Republican, was charged by the county prosecutor’s office with keeping his ex-wife on the public health care books.
“Maybe it’s politically not expedient for me, but it’s the truth: you’re either tough on corruption or you’re not tough on corruption,” said Fulop, a Democrat who is the city’s only elected official not aligned with Mayor Jerramiah Healy. “You can’t decide based on the size of the city and what the political ramifications for his own election.”
Jersey City has 23 times the population of Ridgefield and was the epicenter of last month’s corruption busts. City Council President Mariano Vega, who until last week chaired a closed-door committee that dealt with giving developers tax abatements, was arrested for allegedly taking bribes, but has refused to resign. Seven other city employees, including Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, were also arrested in the sting, as well as many other local political consultants and former candidates who were not publicly employed.
Corzine has called on all public officials who were arrested to resign, but has not singled out Vega. Fulop wants him to pressure Mayor Healy, who is also chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, to force Vega out. Fulop also wants Corzine to weigh in on Healy’s involvement in the scandal as the unnamed “JC Official 4” in the corruption complaint against Beldini, city official Ed Cheatam and the late political consultant Jack Shaw, who was found dead in his home last week.
“It’s an executive order. The governor could have added anybody he wants in there. I’m a Democrat, but the facts are the facts. The governor has been basically silent on Jersey City,” said Fulop. “You have a mayor who’s involved, a city council president and 18 arrests who were associated with the political environment. But he just picked Ridgefield with a population of 10,000 people.”
The State Comptroller’s office will review development contracts in towns that are linked to the corruption scandal, including Jersey City, Hoboken, Secaucus, but not at the request of the Governor, who only asked that they look into Ridgefield.
“That’s something that we had decided to do as an office,” said Comptroller Spokesman Pete McAleer.
Robert Corrales, a spokesman for the Governor, said that the executive order will apply to any town whose mayor is arrested in the future. Because mayors tend to have the most power, corruption accusations against them cause a more urgent situation than the arrest of a lower ranking public official, he said.
“This is for any municipality where the mayor, who’s basically the chief executive of that municipality, gets charged with a public corruption crime,” he said. “It doesn’t single out any city.”
Fulop is hoping to show some political muscle tonight by organizing a National Night Out rally in front of City Hall with a new focus on corruption.