Hoboken: City for Sale (Part II)
[This is part of a series of article submissions by resident and 411 reader “estevens.”]
Hoboken: City for Sale
Second in a series of articles about the back-room machinations of Hoboken.
In July of 2006, the City of Hoboken awarded a 12-month, no-bid professional services contract to the Trenton law firm Gluck Walrath LLP to provide special legal services as municipal bond counsel. Two weeks later, a $500 campaign contribution was received by Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo from a Paul Bontempo of Trenton whose occupation was described as “self.”
In September of 2007, GluckWalrath LLP was awarded a contract to serve as special bond counsel to the Hoboken Board of Education. The next day, the firm was again awarded the contract to provide bond counsel to the City of Hoboken. A few weeks later, Bontempo again made a $500 campaign contribution, this time to Hoboken Councilman and State Assembly candidate Ruben Ramos. Bontempo was this time listed as a self-employed “consultant.”
Who is this mysterious Mr. Bontempo and why does he have an interest in contributing to Hoboken politicians?
FIND OUT AFTER THE BREAK!
(Hoboken: City for Sale, Part II)
It turns out that Bontempo is not self-employed. Rather, he is Vice-President, Director, and Treasurer of MBI GluckShaw, a Trenton governmental lobbying firm of which Hazel Frank Gluck is a partner. Gluck was the founder of the Gluck Shaw Group, which in 2003 merged with Martin Bontempo Matacera & Bartlett to create New Jersey’s largest lobbying firm – MBI-GluckShaw. Her son, Michael Gluck, is a partner with GluckWalrath LLP, the firm that was awarded the city and school contracts.
Nearly $40,000 in contributions
In 2001, the law firm DeCotiis Fitzpatrick Gluck Hayden & Cole LLP served as bond counsel to the City of Hoboken. In 2002, Michael Gluck left Decotiis to start his own firm. GluckWalrath LLP (formerly Gluck Walrath & Lanciano LLP) has since been awarded a number of professional no-bid contracts to serve as special bond counsel to Hoboken. These firms and their members have routinely made campaign contributions to Hoboken political committees, including those of Anthony Russo, David Roberts, and the Hoboken Democratic Party. Contributions totaling more than $38,000 have been made to local candidates and parties since 2000.
Such contributions are commonly referred to as “pay-to-play” as they routinely accompany the awarding of lucrative governmental contracts. Under state law, professional services (legal, architectural, engineering, accounting, etc) do not have to be awarded to the lowest bidder. Instead, experience and reputations are to be considered when choosing a firm. This system is ripe for abuse, as all too often contracts are given to those who regularly make campaign contributions. It is believed that the contribution dollars may be “padded” into the cost of providing services. Services provided may not be of the highest caliber. Otherwise decent and upstanding firms may be required to kick back a fee to awarding officials in order to obtain work.
In the summer of 2004, People for Open Government introduced a public contracting ordinance that would limit and/or prohibit such contributions by professional entities. The ordinance was overwhelmingly approved by Hoboken voters in the November 2004 election. A revised ordinance was introduced by POG in 2007 and approved by the City Council. Prior to the adoption of these pay-to-pay reform laws, contributions were made by the DeCotiis/Gluck firms and their members with no effort to conceal their identities. These contributions ceased in 2005. Only in 2006 did the mysterious Paul Bontempo begin to make contributions to local candidates. While not technically illegal, this activity suggests an end-run around restrictions set by the ordinances and violates the spirit of the pay-to-play laws. The quality and costs of these services are called in question, while certain city officials appear to be funding their campaign coffers at taxpayer expense.
More to come…