In Hackensack, Mayor’s Team Praises Judge for Ballot Decision

Battle continues over claims that campaign manager was doing political work while at his public teaching job

Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse is pursuing his second term. City of Hackensack website

The team of incumbent Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse on Wednesday praised Bergen County Judge Robert Wilson for his ruling on a dispute over the ballot in the upcoming May municipal race. The ballots were challenged by a slate opposing the mayor — Hackensack United for Progress — due to a change in format decided by the clerk. This year, City Clerk Deborah Karlsson designed the ballot so that the three slates would be listed horizontally, a departure from previous elections when the names were listed vertically in columns.

According to the mayor’s team, the challenge was put forth by their opposition in order to delay printing of promotional materials. The HUP slate, however, said that the format change negatively impacts voters accustomed to seeing the ballot printed vertically.

Labrosse Team Spokesman Phil Swibinski on Wednesday issued a statement on the judge’s decision. In that statement, Swibinski tied the HUP slate to the once-powerful Zisa family of Hackensack. HUP has regularly denied any association with members of the Zisa family.

“We thank Judge Wilson for denying this attempt to misuse the legal system for political gain and allowing the City Clerk to continue in her duty to run a fair, free and open election without interference from the Zisa machine,” said Labrosse Team spokesman Philip Swibinski. “This wasteful lawsuit should never have been filed in the first place and it is all the more telling how little respect the Zisas and their allies have for Hackensack taxpayers given that their own campaign began distributing lawn signs with Column 1 printed on them last week, before their own court case was even decided.”

In Wilson’s decision, he stated that Karlsson’s ballot design “was created to aid the voters,” and mitigate confusion due to the 15 candidates who will be on the ballot.

“HUP will not suffer and irreparable harm if the interim relief is denied,” Wilson wrote in his decision. “HUP has been selected first in the drawing for position. Its candidates have a full and fair chance of winning the election, and thus have not been harmed by Karlsson’s actions.”

While the ballot issue was resolved, the Labrosse team and HUP Campaign Manger Caseen Gaines are still battling over allegations that Gaines issued campaign materials while at his teaching job at Hackensack High School, something that violates school policy. On Tuesday, Labrosse and Council candidate Stephanie Von Rudenborg addressed the Hackensack Board of Education to discuss the Gaines issue. During that meeting,  Labrosse and school board attorney Richard Salkin argued about Gaines’ actions and the alleged policy violation. Documents obtained via an Open Public Records Act request made by the Labrosse team show that Gaines was on school property at the time campaign-related e-mails were received by Observer and other publications. Gaines has claimed that he drafted the release the night before it was sent. Swibinski claims the release was not distributed at the time Gaines said he received it.

The HUP slate called Labrosse’s decision to attend the BOE meeting an “unhinged political attack on the public school system and well-respected public servants.” According to a release issued by HUP following the meeting, “the Mayor was advised by Board President that his allegations had been investigated by the Superintendent of Schools – at the Mayor’s request and taxpayers’ expense – and that Labrosse’s claims were proven false.”

The Labrosse Team, Hackensack United for Progress and another slate called Hackensack Strong will face off during the May 9 municipal election.

In Hackensack, Mayor’s Team Praises Judge for Ballot Decision