The new state chairman of the Democratic Party enters the spotlight tonight in Roselle, where the Borough Council wants to hire him as a tax appeal attorney over the strenuous objections of Mayor Garrett Smith, against the building backdrop of Council President Jamel Holley’s reelection campaign.
“They talk about trying to bring the party together, and it’s all based on greed,” said Smith.
Chagrined by the politics, the mayor has his hackles up over tonight’s work meeting agenda item, championed early by the mayor’s longtime political foe Holley, that would make Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski Roselle’s second concurrent tax appeal attorney.
A working resolution would hire Palumbo and Renaud of Cranford as tax appeal attorney firm at a rate of $150 per hour for a maximum of $80,000. An additional resolution specifies no ceiling for Wisniewski and Associates of Sayreville, who would also work at $150 per hour.
“For a town this size to have two tax attorneys – it’s outrageous in these tough economic times,” said Smith, who acknowledged that Roselle is facing a tax hike this year.
Stacked 4-2 againt him, the current construct of the governing body makes Smith all the more motivated this year to try to eliminate Holley and reverse course on a council continually blockading his executive agenda.
A day in front of his re-election launch, where scheduled guests include Wisniewski, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) (whose firm serves as Roselle’s Board of Education attorney), and Union County Democratic Committee Chair Charlotte DeFilippo, Holley said the Wisniewski hire would be a plus for Roselle.
“He’s been our tax appeal attorney in the past – so this is nothing new,” the council president said. “What’s happening is tax appeals have been increasing in a bad economy. More people are looking to appeal taxes and just one attorney can’t handle it. John (Wisniewski) is good at this.
“They’re not even set in stone yet,” the council president added. “We’re discussing it. It’s a work in progress.”
Wisniewski also defended the council’s proposal to rehire him, and dismissed the political charge leveled by Smith.
“I had been Roselle’s tax appeals attorney for five or six years until 2008, when Garrett Smith engineered a contract for someone else as tax appeal attorney,” said the state party chair, who bristled at the recollection of Smith refusing to pay him until Wisniewski took him to court.
Wisniewski said he applied for the opening as tax appeal attorney prior to becoming chair of the party.
“I put in a response last year to an RFP (request for proposal),” he said. “This is what I do. I practice law. It’s totally separate and apart from being the state party chairman. I do it in six or seven other towns. I responded to an RFP, and hopefully they’re interested because I did a good job before.”
Just days before the State Committee unanimously approved him to serve as leader of the Democratic Party, Wisniewski said he did not foresee his legal work interfering with his effectiveness as state party chairman.
“I’ve got a law practice, and half of my work is composed of private clients, and half of public clients,” he told PolitickerNJ.com at the time. “Everybody’s who held this job has held other employment. The state Democratic chairman is not a salaried position. It would be nice if it were, but it doesn’t pay anything. It’s a volunteer job. I’m going to continue to be a member of the general assembly, just like my counterpart on the Republican side of the aisle (Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains).”
Incidentally, Roselle Borough Attorney John Hudac is the father of Chris Hudac, chairman of the local Democratic Party in Linden, in a more regional example of political connective tissue.
Smith tried to push against the tide last year when his business administrator, Adrian Mapp, ran for mayor of nearby Plainfield against organization Democrats. Mapp lost the race – then lost his job, as Holley and company axed him out of Roselle.
Backing the Rev. James Moore’s challenge of Holley in the 2010 local council race, independent Dem Smith said Wisniewski’s statewide role as leader of the Democratic Party clashes with his backing of his perceived support for the Roselle Council President, especially with the tax appeal counsel job again in the offfing.
“He’s supposed to be my chairman and he’s getting involved in a Roselle Council fight to protect his contract,” Smith said.
Although he was invited to Holley’s kickoff, “I will not be there,” Wisniewski said. “I have to represent another client.”
Now even as Holley’s relations with Wisniewski appear to be good, Roselle Democratic Party Chair Barbara Cochran resigned last week.
“Because of differences with Jamel Holley,” said Smith. “Yves Auborg was appointed new chair. This is the same Yves Auborg who is the 1st Ward councilman in Roselle and head of the UEZ program in Hillside, that Governor Christie has criticized for excessive spending. Yves also has a salary of $120,000 as UEZ coordinator in Hillside.”
Auborg also serves as chair of the borough council’s finance committee.
Unnerved by Smith, a Union County political operative unleashed a torrent of off-the-record BlackBerry indignation.
“He has no concrete issues,” said the unnamed operative. “At the end of the day, a Roselle voter who has a chance to appeal their taxes so they can afford to pay them doesn’t give a damn about whether it will take one or two or 50 attorneys to represent the town if it helps them get their taxes lowered!”