Going too far
The separation between politics and personal lives became an issue again last week. Republican Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who sent out a campaign fundraising form letter to a supporter and board member of a local bank, apparently scrawled a personal note at the end of the letter, saying that a bank employee was part of an activist group working against him.
The group she was apparently involved with, the anti-Trump group NJ11th for Change, is waging a campaign to force Frelinghuysen to abandon his support for President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Frelinghuysen has the right to publicly criticize the group’s agenda, just as the group has every right to apply public pressure against the congressman. However, putting someone’s livelihood at risk is going too far.
Although the employee held a senior executive position with the bank, the warning appears to have been intended to deny her the basic right to work and campaign for candidates of her choice without risk of retaliation.
Citing pressure over her political activity, the woman ultimately resigned her position with the bank.
This may be grounds for a potential lawsuit.
However, under similar circumstances in legal action involving two Hoboken bloggers in 2012, the court sided with a blogger who had attacked a political opponent in a similar way, sending a letter endangering his job. As in the Hoboken incident, the court may well decide in favor of Frelinghuysen.
Both cases denote a lack of civility on the part of political opponents who are willing to take politics to a personal level.
While some employers set limits on an employee’s ability to seek public office, the Constitution protects a person’s right to contribute and support candidates.
This also became an issue recently when an opponent of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said she had gone too far when she sent out a rezoning communication to members of a property association that reminded them of pay-to-play laws prohibiting contributions to political causes. Although it didn’t call out a political side, it could have been taken as subtle intimidation about making donations.
Jersey City political landscape becomes clearer
An email blast by Jersey City mayoral hopeful Bill Matsikoudis has laid out the battleground in his November election campaign against Mayor Steven Fulop.
In Matsikoudis’s email to constituents, he appears to jump on the anti-Jared Kushner and anti-Trump band wagon, while attempting to connect Fulop with the unpopular president by way of Kushner.
Quoting from other published sources, the email piggybacks on a push among local activists demanding that Fulop cut his ties to the Kushner family, one of the prominent developers in Jersey City and among the most important for the redevelopment of Journal Square.
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and close advisor to President Trump, withdrew as the head of Kushner Companies after he took his position in the Trump administration, but continues to be the focus of the local protest.
The Kushner family, including Jared’s father Charles Kushner and his uncle Murray Kushner, have made significant investments in the city, such as a $2 million commitment to the new Journal Square Arts district.
But media attention has focused on two projects, One Journal Square – which came under fire when Jared’s sister tried to raise money for it while on a trip to China – and the large Route 440 project called Bayside.
In reaction to the China fundraising trip and other recent issues, Fulop announced that the city would not grant a tax abatement to One Journal Square. A New York-based publication claimed the Kushner Companies pulled their bid for the Bayside project as a retaliation against the canceled abatement. In truth, partners in the project — which also include the city of Jersey City and the Honeywell corporation — were not comfortable with the Kushner concept for the site. So even though Kushner was the high bidder on the 100-acre site, the city had already made plans to seek additional bids prior to the China incident.
One valid point of criticism, however, remains: to the large contributions the Kushner family has made to a superpac supporting Fulop.
Will Osborne withdraw from Ward E race?
Michael “Billy” Bisogno has announced he will seek to become the Ward E councilman, challenging incumbent Candice Osborne and independent Nicholas Grillo.
Bisogno is an up and coming civic leader and has become one of the leading voices against Trump-era changes to government. His announcement seems to create a split in Fulop’s political base, and perhaps introduces a sour note into the upcoming campaign.
Bisogno, who is a leader in the LBTGQ community and activist deeply involved in many of the protests against changes in federal healthcare, was considered a strong supporter of Fulop and Osborne up to this point. Fulop needs the solid support of Ward E in order to win reelection in November.
Bisogno’s entrance into the race may send a message for Fulop to get back on board with the progressive movement in Jersey City – in regards to Kushner development at least.
If elected this November, the 35-year-old Bisogno would be the first openly gay person to serve on the Jersey City council.
Hoboken opposition set to announce
The political grapevine continues to buzz with rumors that an opposition ticket to Mayor Dawn Zimmer will shortly be announced.
This throws into question the already-declared mayoral candidacy of local café owner Karen Nason and whether she will remain in the race, or risk splitting the opposition vote to Zimmer the way Tim Occhipinti did four years ago.
Many people are waiting for Zimmer to unveil her ticket and reveal whether Councilman David Mello will be included. Rumor says Mello will be invited to join the opposition ticket if Zimmer rejects him. Freeholder Anthony Romano, who is also a possible mayoral candidate, said he would like Mello on his ticket if he is available. Mello said last month he will not run with the opposition unless Zimmer dumps him.
Meanwhile, political opponents of Zimmer floated a theory that her early support of Democrat Phil Murphy for governor will result in her being awarded an appointment to a state government position if Murphy wins. That would allow Zimmer’s majority on the City Council to name Ravi Bhalla as interim mayor.
One of interesting questions is why former Mayor Dave Roberts attended a Zimmer fundraiser earlier this month.
HCDO stresses unity as usual
The old Democratic campaign slogan “All the way with line A” went out the window this year, as the ticket headed by Murphy for governor and endorsed by the Hudson County Democratic Organization was assigned line E on the primary ballot.
This is not as bad as it sounds, since line E is the last on the ballot and easier to find than if the ticket was stuck somewhere in the middle.
Although the pre-election HCDO rally stressed unity last week, it is hardly unified. There is still grumbling behind the scenes, in particular over some private battle between former state Senator Bernard Kenny and state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco. Whatever it was apparently got patched up just in time for the primary, but these feelings always linger to later resurface.
Al Sullivan may be reached at [email protected]