Bergen County Exec’s Race: Donovan, Tedesco counterpunch over TV ad accusations

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PARAMUS – Republican incumbent Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan and her Democratic challenger, Freeholder Jim Tedesco, took their TV ad war to the streets on Sunday, 16 days before voters go the polls.

The two candidates have hammered each other in recent days with dueling TV ads presented in a faux-news format. In one campaign spot, Donovan accuses Tedesco of having “illegally transferred and lost nearly four million of our tax dollars” and that Tedesco “raised property taxes for seniors and families while not paying his own taxes.”

Tedesco, joined by some of his political allies, struck back on Sunday morning while standing in front of an affordable housing project in Paramus.

“Paramus transferred that $3.6 million [in 2004] to the State of New Jersey for the purpose of building these two beautiful affordable housing facilities behind me that continue to assist families in need,” said Freeholder Steve Tanelli, joined by some of the project’s tenants. “[Tedesco] is honest.”

“Since its inception, money collected by Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) fees has been put to good use here in the borough, and it has always been a bipartisan approach,” said Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera, a Democrat. “Jim Tedesco showed me the way how to change people’s lives for the better. What’s most unfortunate and disgusting this year is how this has been used as a political football in an orchestrated effort to blemish and disgrace a program that has been so successful.”

“On Friday, I filed a defamation lawsuit against [Donovan] and the Republican State Committee for deliberately putting out these false accusations and lies,” said Tedesco, who served as mayor of Paramus from 2003 to 2010. “Paramus used $3.6 million of COAH funds, which come from developer fees, not tax dollars, to build these beautiful homes, a project that was completed in partnership with Bergen County and the State of New Jersey. Dozens of families have benefited from this project. The funds were never lost – they were transferred.”

Tedesco admitted that he at one point did not fully pay his taxes, but still took umbrage at the assertions made in a recent Donovan TV ad.

“While caring for my wife, who was ill and in need of a double lung transplant, the outstanding bills accidentally went unpaid,” Tedesco said, his voice breaking with emotion when speaking about his late wife, who died in 2009. “Kathe Donovan is lucky – she never had to care for a spouse on her deathbed…who is willing to use a $500 oversight against you even though they know the hardships you’re facing?

“My integrity, my family and my children are all affected by the TV and print ad she put out, knowing that they were lies,” Tedesco added when asked why he filed the lawsuit. “We asked [the Donovan campaign] to take it down. We asked them to stop, and they refused to.”

Donovan did not back down from her accusations.

“I stand by everything we said in our commercials. We’ve provided substantiation for every claim we made. We believe that every thing that we have said is correct and true,” Donovan told PolitickerNJ before the start of a parade in Hackensack on Sunday afternoon. “He didn’t pay his taxes. What’s true is true.”

The Tedesco campaign inferred in a recent commercial that Donovan is a pension double-dipper, stating that between her county executive salary and “using a state pension loophole,” she collects $207,000 a year.

Any alleged double-dipping strategically “resonates with our polling” and makes [voters] think a little harder, ” said Tedesco spokesman Michael Pagan. “For all the working families that are struggling, $207,000 is a lot of money.”

In Hackensack, Donovan fought back.

“That’s never been a secret. When I finished my term as County Clerk, they had changed the pension system,” Donovan said, who was elected clerk in 1988 and served in that office until she was elected county executive in 2010. “In essence, I got kicked out of the pension system. I worked almost 30 years in government. Nobody was going to take my pension away from me. I wasn’t going to take a chance that I wasn’t going to be able to collect it, so I did take my pension. I’m not double-dipping.”

Donovan countered that Tedesco was collecting a pension of his own. According to his profile on the county website, Tedesco is a retired manager from PSE&G.

“[Tedesco] collects a pension from Public Service. That’s no secret,” Donovan said. “He’s collecting a pension, and now he’s working as a freeholder.”

“Jim Tedesco declined the pension he was eligible to take from the State of New Jersey when he finished his second term as mayor in 2010. There is a big difference between collecting a pension from a private business and collecting a full government pension while still collecting a full-time salary like Kathe Donovan does – $207,000 a year on the back of taxpayers,” replied Pagan in an email, noting that Tedesco declined to collect his pension from his time as Paramus’ mayor. “Jim Tedesco makes $27,000 a year.”

Bergen County Exec’s Race: Donovan, Tedesco counterpunch over TV ad accusations