ELIZABETH – State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) is putting his neck out for the longshoremen, but his political pirouette on the Waterfront Commission probably doesn’t bother the dock workers.
Lesniak is calling out Barry Evenchick, a recess appointment commissioner of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.
“Barry Evenchick can claim to be a Waterfront commissioner about as much as I can claim to be the King of England,” said Lesniak in a release yesterday. “How the commission could allow him to continue serving in an illegal capacity defies logic. By having Evenchick’s deception exposed, the commission has proven that it is incapable of monitoring itself, let alone the docks.”
His remarks followed a N.Y. Daily News article exposing a parking-spot holding detective who waited an hour for Evenchick to arrive in Manhattan for a board meeting.
Waterfront commissioners receive an annual salary of $43,500, and Lesniak wants the commission to “demand repayment of the more than $36,000 it would have paid him so far this year.”
“In addition, Evenchick may also be illegally claiming medical and other paid benefits, which the commission would need to recoup,” Lesniak said.
“If asking a detective to hold a parking spot is an abuse of public resources, then masquerading as a Waterfront Commissioner is a blatant abuse of the public trust,” said Lesniak. “The Waterfront Commission may have come a long way since the days of Brando, but obviously there are still areas that need cleaning up.”
While the Big Sting caught top-billing last year on the campaign trail, Gov. Jon Corzine also fired Waterfront Commissioner and former state PBA President Michael Madonna and replaced him with Evenchick, an alumnus of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and attorney from Walder, Hayden & Brogan.
The Waterfront Commission was in shambles following a report from the New York State Inspector General alleging “a total agency breakdown.”
“Instead of ridding the waterfront of corruption, this agency itself was corrupt,” said Inspector General Joseph Fisch, including “misusing federal Homeland Security funding, hiring unqualified cops, and allowing convicted felons to get jobs.”
The report also mentioned wasting taxpayer money for having cops hold parking spots for hours on end, Monday through Friday.
Phoebe Sorial, Waterfront Commission general counsel, told PolitickerNJ this week that the abuse in the report was much more substantial than a twice-a-month spot holder.
“This is just for committee meetings,” Sorial said. “An hour, if that.”
And although the spot-holding is wasteful, it serves a purpose, unlike the more egregious allegations in the report.
The commission was under mostly new management when the report surfaced last August. In it, Fisch praised New York Gov. David Paterson for appointing Ronald Goldstock as New York Commissioner last year – which “sparked a reformation of the Waterfront Commission” – and Corzine for finally firing Madonna.
Madonna was also a recess appointment, of Donald DiFrancesco in 2001.
But he was confirmed by the Senate, unlike Evenchick.
And if Evenchick doesn’t step down – officials said there is no such plan – then Lesniak said he’ll take him to court.
“I’ll give the Waterfront Commission a reasonable amount of time, a few days,” Lesniak told PolitickerNJ yesterday.
Insiders say Lesniak has been on the warpath since an associate of his, Jon Deutsch, was fired as general counsel of the Waterfront Commission in October 2008 for misconduct.
Deutsch was accused in the N.Y. Inspector Genral’s report of helping “felon Frank Cardaci concoct a scheme to keep his port business despite a federal racketeering conviction for storing illegally diverted international goods in his port warehouse,” and other charges.
The report said Deutsch was “plagued by conflicts of interest,” and that he “leaked confidential information to his friend, Al Cernadas, Jr.,” who is currently the first assistant prosecutor in Union County.
Deutsch “improperly intervened in a police probe of a Cernadas family friend arrested on a weapons charge. And, he took a primary role in an investigation of union official Albert Cernadas, Sr., his friend’s father, before Cernadas, Sr., was indicted in a contract-steering case.”
According to the report: “When asked why he (Deutsch), rather than members of the Commission’s police division, obtained police records from New Jersey, Deutsch testified, ‘I was a prosecutor in Union County. I mean, New Jersey’s a little different than New York. I mean, we know people.’ “
Lesniak denied his charge against the commission has anything to do with Deutsch: “What an ignorant person to say something like that.”
But while Deutsch was at the commission, Lesniak was the go-to guy for legislation.
So while Lesniak is putting his foot down now because the commission is unduly taxing the businesses, he played a major role in codifying those costs.
“I make no bones about it,” Lesniak said, but things are different now. “I’ve made myself loud and clear.”
Executive Director Walter Arsenault testified before the Senate Economic Growth Committee, chaired by Lesniak, last week.
Lesniak voiced his displeasure about the continued existence of the commission then, as did the International Longshoreman Association (ILA) Local 1235.
Whether the current pushbacks against the commission are proportionate to the amount of pressure the dock watchers are exerting on the recently mob-connected unions is indeterminable.
But in that recent past, several parties were banned from doing business on the docks after being accused of having ties to the Mafia.
So, as to provide an alternative to being shut down, the WC proposed that stevedoring companies have the option to retain independent private sector Inspectors General (IPSIGs) rather than face the potential of losing their licensing.
The IPSIGs are chosen by the WC and paid for by the stevedore companies, which potentially adds more cost to a port that is less business-friendly than its neighbors.
Yes, it increases costs; but the company could be shut out completely otherwise, commission officials say.
From the docks, Arsenault is being painted as an ex-mob-buster with a hard-on for the unions.
But he’s not worried.
He told PolitickerNJ that the question of the Evenchick appointment is one better addressed to Gov. Chris Christie’ office.
“This is an issue that we raised with the New Jersey governor over a year ago,” Arsenault said. “We were assured (that it would be resolved).”
“It’s not our call to make,” he said. “We’ve asked the governor’s office to do that.”
Several calls to the governor’s office concerning the appointment were not returned.