ELIZABETH – Union County party allies of Gov. Jon Corzine are leveling hard charges at someone who's used to doing the charging herself: Attorney General Anne Milgram, whose pursuit of avoter fraudcase againstRoselle Council President Jamel Holley this month resulted in a virtual dead end.
"Disappointment is an understatement," state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) said of Milgram, theCorzine administration'sattorney general, for bringing charges against Holley in the first place.
Already feeling antagonized by the presence of corruption buster former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in the governor's race, Democratic Party operatives in at least two or threeof theirbase voter-rich regions, including Unon,have for months felt dogged by Milgram, who indicted Holley by accusation on Aug. 27th with illegally filling out portions of fewer than 30 absentee ballots.
In a Thursday letter to the Union County Local Source, Lesniak and his legislative colleagues, Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-Union Twp.) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Elizabeth), ripped Milgram over what they see as her unjusttargeting ofHolley, which might have had ruinous consequences for a young manseen by hisallies see asa comerin Union County Democratic Party politics.
Answering tothe AG'sindictment by accusation against Holley, Superior Court JudgeRobert Billmeier on Oct. 7th concluded thattheRoselle politician was simply "over-zealous" in his efforts to collect absentee ballot petitions and ruled in favor ofHolley'sadmissioninto a pretrial intervention program (PTI).By so doing, Billmeierrejected the argument for criminal precedings pursuedby thestate Attorney General's Office.
Determining "no fradulent activitity" in Holley's case, the judge described Milgram's objection to Holley's entrance into a PTI program in place of more severe punishment "unreasonable and arbitrary."
Lesniak felt those words weren't strong enough todescribe Milgram's actions in the Holley case.
"We find it unconscionable and immoral," wrotethe state senatorinthe letter also signed by Cryan and Quijano,specifically objecting to an editorial which opined that regardless of his punishment, the case had already damaged Holley.
"By bringing these charges and opposing PTI, despite no criminal activity, no fradulent activity, Milgram tried to destroy this young black man's life and deter other young leaders from entering public life," Lesniak wrote.
"When you state in your 'This is Serious' editorial, 'Holley has pleaded not guilty to the charges but, to some extent, the damage has already been done,' you were correct, except the damage was done not by Council President Jamel Holley but by Attorney General Anne Milgram.
"Shame on her."
The AG's case against Holley landed in the middle of a local political warzone, in which Roselle Mayor Garrett Smith, anindependent Democrat,fights Lesniak and Union County Democratic Organization ally Holley for local control. Up against the machine, Smith hasroutinely charged the channels of local and county government with road-blocking his candidates for office.
Following herindictment last year of Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-Roselle)- a longtime Smith antagonist – for keeping child porn on his computer,a situation reported by Lesniak and Cryan, incidentally, Milgram later and separately went after Cohen'schief political acolyte, Holley.
Amid mounting local pressure from the Smith faction for Holley to resign, andin a statewideenvironment intensified by federal prosecutors bringing charges against 29 political operatives and public officials, Corzine spokesman Robert Corrales told the Star-Ledger when asked about Holley,“The governor’s position is that any elected official charged with public corruption should step down because they can’t effectively serve the public under the cloud of the charges.”
Protesters took to the street outside City Hall, pointing to the statement from the governor's office as sufficient reason for the council president to leave. When Billmeier subsequently ruled that Holley hadn't committed any "fradulent activity," the council president's attorney, Melvin Wright, Jr., made a point to emphasize that "unike other recent corruption cases, therewas never any allegation that Mr. Holley receved monetary (favors)."
"Mr. Holley is still a supporter of Governor Corzine and wants to assist him in getting reelected," Wright added.
At a Willingboro rally on Saturday, Corzine told PolitickerNJ.com that he had not seen Lesniak's letter, nor did he remember his request for Holleyto step down from office while fighting his case against the Attorney General's Office.
"I have high regard for Anne Milgram, that's why she's my attorney general," the governor said.
In a separate interview with this website, when asked if he would support Milgram's reconfirmationwerethe governor to seek herreappointment if he wins the Nov. 3rd election, Lesniak said,"I don'tknow ifit means anythingin terms ofher career. I just think in this case she made a terrible mistake."
Confirmed by the legislature in 2007, the attorney general has pursued several higher profile public corruptioncases, includingthose against Assemblyman/Perth Amboy Mayor Joe Vas, campaign workers for the 2007 senate campaign of state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone (D-Bayonne) and Cohen, but has not yet secured any convictions.
Newark North Ward operatives in particular were mortified by Milgram's ongoing probe into their tested Democratic Party political machinery,especially in a gubernatorial election year. Questioned about Milgram, Corzine has on several occasions seized the opportunity to take credit for appointing someone whopursues corruption separate from a political agenda, who will take down the offending party even if it damages the boss.
The Attorney General's Office's ongoing investigationof Union County Democratic Party Chairman Charlotte DeFilippoprompted Lesniak and Cryan to establish a defense fund for her, but Lesniak wouldn't comment on that in the context of his criticism of Milgram over the Holley case.
"I do think her pursuit of (former Cohen campaign chair) Rosemary McClave was also a mistake," Lesniak said. "This is a 67-year old woman suffering from Parkinson's Disease who was charged with misappropriating funds from his campaign account. For the work she did – never to get paid – it'sa good thingthat her case never went to trial."