NEWARK – The campaign credit card bill for Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo may be shrinking after media scrutiny exposed potentially excessive usage in his political account. But if the enforcement of existing law isn’t sufficient for critics, DiVincenzo said today that he would support new legislation to correct the situation.
“I don’t live that type of lifestyle,” DiVincenzo said, minutes after announcing a dinner meet-up with Shaquille O’Neal at McLoone’s in West Orange to talk economic development. This is business, not pleasure, he asserted. “I eliminated all of the perks that the freeholders had,” he said. “I eliminated discretionary grants.”
He said he tries to use the campaign account to help people – which isn’t apparent from the golf trips, meals, and other expenses charged to the account – but DiVincenzo said it means he’s not using any government funds to pay for his expenses.
“There’s a process,” he said of correcting of what may be determined to be non-political expenditures, followed in conjunction with the Election Law Enforcement Commission. “Hopefully it will be resolved quickly.”
The county executive is eager to move the focus onto the good deeds and constructive functions of government, like the $5.9 million community block grant that he announced with the former Lakers center and Newark native today.
“$50 million that I brought to this county,” DiVincenzo said of his bona fides as executive leader of Essex, population 783,969. “It’s a little unfair,” the treatment in the press, he said.
One particular expense his critics have zoned in on was a bike repair from an accident the county chief had while riding through – some say inspecting – a county park. “That’s a bike that I utilize,” he said, for transport to functions and general outreach.
Is he going to Puerto Rico for the Essex annual political “retreat” for the Super Bowl this weekend, another political expense? “Oh, absolutely,” he said, keeping the tradition intact for the “people who supported me politically – my political donors.”
Asked if he would encourage an Essex lawmaker to plug the campaign spending loopholes, he merely said he would back any measure of the sort. “I would support the law,” he said, “(but) I’m not a senator or an assemblyperson.”
This is the second time in the past year that DiVincenzo was beaten up in the press for questionable maneuvering – some say gaming the system. He was found to be collecting a pension for his job as county executive last year by PolitickerNJ, and the loophole was filled by the legislature in Trenton as a result of the attention the story garnered.
DiVincenzo, who was given a grandfathered exemption, said he’s not doing anything illegal. “It’s absurd,” he said of the scrutiny. “Everything I do here is to promote Essex County.”