10/29/2010 Update:

Judge rejects Lenz Campaign voter supression effort

Judge finds no evidence of criminal activity

Today, Judge Gallipoli laughed Hoboken appointed councilman Mike Lenz out of court.

4th Ward Candidate Tim Occhipinti offered this statement: “While we are pleased by Judge Gallipoli’s decision, it comes as no surprise. We knew from the beginning that this motion was bogus on its face. It was a publicity stunt concocted by a desperate campaign and an insult to the good people of the Hoboken Housing Authority. Michael Lenz should apologize for insulting them and for wasting the court’s time with this frivolous motion.”

All previous updates after the break!

10/29/2010 Update:

And so it has come to this (once again…)

You can set your watch by the perennial 4th Ward “Ballot Bickering”

It wouldn’t be a 4th ward race in Hoboken without somebody claiming somebody else did something wrong.

Usually it’s the losing party who makes the charge that the winning party cut corners. Chris Campos made the charge against Dawn Zimmer in 2007, Mike Lenz and Tony Soares made noises against Campos in ’01 and ’03, and others made the charge against the late 4th ward Councilman Andrew Amato. Usually when somebody is alleging ballot hinkyness it’s because they’re looking down the lonely barrel of defeat.

Here’s a blast from the past from Dawn Zimmer’s 2007 deposition regarding allegations her campaign paid for absentee ballots:

“The deposition then turned to the collection of absentee ballots, and the challenging of absentees by the Zimmer campaign. Paying for work on Election Day is allowed, but paying for signed absentee ballots is not.

Campos Attorney: Do you know whether or not any of the workers who were paid by your campaign, whether any of those workers voted by way of absentee ballot?

Dawn Zimmer: Um, I believe that some of them did.”

(This is followed by discussion of Zimmer’s counterclaim to toss out some of the absentee votes for Campos.)

Zimmer’s 2007 ELEC report has pages and pages of paid campaign workers, many of whom also voted by absentee. Absentees are a thing of the past, as the new Vote By Mail reforms allow – and actually encourage – more people to vote without showing up at the polling place.

During Dawn Zimmer’s Mayoral campaign, Ravi Bhalla sent out email blasts urging supporters to Vote-by-Mail early for him and Zimmer.

Lenz says people were paid to vote, Occhipinti: wrong, again

In the waning hours of the latest 4th ward campaign, unelected incumbent Michael Lenz is launching just such a charge. Lenz, Carol Marsh and Board of Ed employee Hovie Forman have been harassing people to sign statements alleging irregularities. Why? Because the Earth trail to likely defeat is often scorched by the desperate.

Hoboken411 has learned that attempts by the Lenz campaign to get the State Attorney General involved in this race have been rebuffed for lack of evidence, so Lenz is taking what little he has and filing suit at the county level.

Charges filed by Lenz incomplete and likely to be tossed

A source in the Occhipinti campaign says they’ve already come up with evidence to refute every charge made by the Lenz campaign, and have signed statements by every paid worker regarding the work they have done for the campaign, and a pledge to do everything lawfully.

The Lenz suit is so sloppy, and enters so much data that has nothing to do with allegations of fraud, that one attorney said it was nothing but a stunt to take the attention away from the ongoing controversy surrounding Lenz’s diner meetings with a developer.

By the way, when the Jersey Journal asked Lenz point blank about the Hoboken411 story, Lenz “declined to comment” on it. Yup. He took The Fifth. Surprised?

Where is this all going? This late in the campaign?

What will the outcome be? It’s possible a small number of Vote-by-Mail ballots may be impounded and closely reviewed. This is typical for all sides in 4th ward battles.

Lenz is also trying to do anything to change the subject from the much bigger story regarding his dealings with developers who contributed to his campaign after he agreed to fight for their zoning variances.

While you separate the wheat from the chaff – and the cream from the mud – this is probably a good time to recall Michael Lenz was mentioned prominently in the absentee ballot fraud case of 2007.

He was subpoenaed, but never deposed because Dawn Zimmer stepped down before Lenz could face the threat of perjury. Just take look at some of the shenanigans from that race 3 years ago, and ask yourself “Whatever happened with that?” A lot of noise, then pretty much nothing.

4/20/2009:

The race for the Fourth Ward seemed to go on forever in 2007. Three election days with legal challenges in between. Allegations flew about voter fraud, absentee ballot shenanigans, and a money-for-votes campaign. Dawn Zimmer shocked many when she gave up her seat on the City Council rather than continue a string of depositions seeking information about a campaign that morphed – from a grassroots effort – into ground zero of a countywide political war. Critics say rather than make a bad legal situation worse, Zimmer made the calculated (and ultimately, wise) decision that taking another shot at a third election was better than watching people who worked on her behalf possibly prosecuted for mishandling the electoral process.

hoboken-councilwoman-dawn-zimmers-deposition-revealed-hoboken411-montage.jpg

Mayoral run forces a new review of the record

Now, with Zimmer seeking the top job at City Hall, the old wounds – and unanswered allegations – of that campaign are coming back into the news. The Political Insider column of the daily newspaper ran some excerpts of Zimmer’s deposition this weekend, focusing on Dawn’s answers to questions regarding the illegal distribution of lottery tickets to seniors. Augie Torres pointed out that Zimmer lays the blame for that blunder at the feet of Forde Prigot and HCDO operative Jenny Davis – who ran Dawn’s third race and is currently working on Jersey City Mayor Jerry Healy’s re-election campaign.

Copies of the depositions given by Zimmer and her supporters have also made their way to my doorstep, and I’ve been looking them over. These depositions have never before been made public, until now:

*** CLICK TO READ DAWN ZIMMER’S DEPOSITION ***

On August 14, 2008, Dawn Zimmer was deposed by attorneys looking to have the results of the June runoff thrown out. She was represented by HCDO-connected attorney Bill Northgrave of McManimon and Scotland. Kraig Dowd of Brownstein, Booth and Associates did the questioning for Chris Campos. Zimmer was sworn in, and it was explained to her that the deposition is a formal court proceeding. A court reporter was present to take down every word.

Q & A

dawn-zimmer-deposition-q-and-a.jpgThe first question was easy, as Dowd asked Zimmer to confirm she was a candidate for City Council. The second question was where a pattern began of incomplete answers to questions that should have gotten an easy response.

Q: Did you have a specific name for your campaign committee?

Dawn: You know, we probably did. I’m not even sure. What it was. I think it was the Dawn Zimmer for Council Committee. I’m not sure.

Over the course of a long campaign that ran from February through June, the correct name of the campaign committee would have had to have been published on every piece of campaign literature, every advertisement, and every T-Shirt worn by campaign workers, yet Dawn could not recall it. A minor point to be sure, but the start of a pattern of many ”I don’t know” and “I’m not sure” answers from a candidate who now wants to be Chief Executive of the city.

Q: As part of that campaign, did you have any staff?

A: I did not have any paid, um – well, most of my, quote, unquote, staff was volunteer basis.

ELEC forms clearly show that dozens of people were paid to work by the Zimmer campaign. The first out-and-out lie in the deposition regards the status of Zimmer’s many campaign managers over the course of her campaigns. When asked if Doug Snyder was the campaign manager in both the May and June elections, she says he came in about two weeks before the May 8th election. She went on to volunteer an answer to a question not asked:

A: My former campaign manager quit.

Q: What was the name of your former campaign manager?

A: Sarah Stojkovic

Q: Could you spell that last name?

A: S-t-o – I’m not even sure how you spell it S-t-o-j-o-v-i-c.

Q: Do you know why she quit?

A: Personal reasons.

Q: Do you know what they were?

A: I think she had some family issues going on.

Family issues did not lead Sara Stojkovic to leave the campaign. Zimmer herself admitted this in this press release she sent to Hoboken411 on April 30th of 2007:

In the end, the candidate makes the final decision, and that is why I chose Doug Snyder to run my inclusive campaign for the final leg of what has become a vicious race for the 4th Ward Hoboken City Council position. Doug has been active in my campaign since I announced, and after playing an integral role in the Kids First 2007 win for the School Board elections, he gladly accepted my request to take a more formal role.

Zimmer’s own words tell the story. Her statement alluded to strong differences of opinion about the direction of the campaign with Stojkovic. The first line of that statement regards Zimmer’s insistence that she would secretly allow Michael Lenz, Tony Soares, and the HCDO to have a role in her campaign even after Stojkovic and others raised tens of thousands of dollars from people who were told Dawn would make a point to steer clear of them and run a campaign truly independent of the HCDO. At that time, that organization had brought Hoboken six years of Campos and Mayor David Roberts.

Trying to hide the HCDO involvement

On March 25, 2007, Hoboken411 poster “Naf” posted in the Fourth Ward Race thread here on 411 that he was hearing Zimmer was taking assistance from the HCDO. A few hours later Dawn herself logged on after midnight to protest:

6. DawnZimmer | March 26th, 2007 at 12:06 am

Naf, I’m not sure where you are getting your information from, but whatever your source is, you might want to let them know the truth so you are not in the position of spreading falsehoods.

I am completely independent. I am not affilated with any side in the distasteful war being waged in Hudson County over patronage rights. My campaign is funded entirely by contributions from individuals interested in a better Hoboken.

As the conversation continued, Dawn came back with an even stronger statement:

33. DawnZimmer | March 26th, 2007 at 10:23 am

Apparently, my previous post was not sufficiently clear so let me clarify my position. My campaign has not received, and will not accept, any contributions on a personal or organizational level from the Mayor, the Hudson County Democratic Organization, Brian Stack, or any of the other players involved in the battle for control over the Hudson County patronage machine. We have had no discussions whatsoever with any of those people or organizations in which support has either been solicited or offered.

Of course, Dawn later contradicted herself and proved Naf correct when she accepted $6000 in donations from the campaign funds of HCDO Chair Jerry Healy and County Executive Tom DeGise.

When lies about Dawn’s entanglements with the HCDO could no longer be hidden, a number of her volunteers left the campaign rather than run the risk of ending up having to give a deposition someday. Instead of going public with their grievances, Sara Stojkovic instead went to work on the effort to create the SW6 Action Plan. Other volunteers and campaign professionals left Zimmer’s campaign to assist Beth Mason in the second ward.

Q: Can you name some of the other volunteer campaign staff members of yours?

A: Rachel Goldberg. Um, Susan Chait. Um, Andrew Amato. Andrew may have been paid for some of the work that he did. I’m not really sure.

Andrew Amato is the former longtime Fourth Ward councilman who has on occasions been accused – but never convicted – of absentee ballot fraud. One of those times was noted in the New York Times. Lenz was one of the people who had accused Amato in the past, but was happy to keep quiet once he found himself on the same side of a fight with him.

Q: How did Andrew Amato come to be a volunteer for your campaign?

A: I went – I was told he was a person to talk to, and I went and befriended him.

Q: Do you recall who told you that?

A: I think it was Michael Lenz.

This would have also been an interesting conversation under cross-examination. We hear Zimmer was actually first told to consult with Andrew Amato by Michael Russo and Theresa Castellano. Russo and Castellano were quietly advising Zimmer early in the campaign. This was back when Michael Lenz was still trying to get members of the Southwest Parks Coalition to support him as a candidate in the Fourth Ward race. Seeing that as a guaranteed loser, Stojkovic and others convinced Dawn to take the plunge instead. Like many others, Russo and Castellano were willing to support Zimmer on the promise that she would avoid Lenz and the HCDO.

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What’s a Voter Participation Program?

Zimmer was also asked many questions about the many people who had been paid as part of her campaign’s “Voter Participation” program. While many Hoboken411 posters had been accusing Campos and his allies of “Paying for votes” in the past by hiring many Hoboken Housing Authority residents on election day, they were apparently unaware that Zimmer and consultants recommended by the HCDO were doing the same for Dawn.

Q: Who was Belinda Mc Donald?

A: She was one of captains in the Housing Authority.

Q: What’s a captain?

A: Well, it’s someone who is in charge of, you know, coordinating a group of workers in the housing authority.

Later, Zimmer was asked about how these Captains were chosen, and she deferred to Doug Snyder and Vonda McKeithan, who was a consultant suggested by the HCDO to come in and help coordinate. Zimmer later admitted that she was unaware whether McKeithan was paid by her campaign or as part of an “in kind contribution”, presumably by the HCDO. There is also some discussion about people who may or may not have been paid with personal checks, who may or may not have worked although they were paid (and filed absentee ballots for Zimmer)

Who runs Vote Hoboken?

Zimmer was also asked about the Vote Hoboken political action committee, which was set up to build campaign support for candidates in the 2007 council election who were not seeking political machine support. Zimmer’s ELEC campaign finance disclosure forms indicated she accepted $3462 in in-kind contributions from Vote Hoboken, as well as an additional $2000 from its Chairman Randall Brumette. Vote Hoboken Treasurer Jim Vance also gave $2500 to the Zimmer campaign, and his wife Joan Abel also gave $2500. Consider that when you read this:

Q: Did you receive any contributions from Vote Hoboken, Inc?

A: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Do you know who runs the organization?

A: Who, um – I don’t know his name. Like, I don’t know his name.

Dawn Zimmer couldn’t name the leader of the group who had signed a personal check for $2000 to her campaign and approved nearly $3500 more in in-kind contributions.

Q: Does Vote Hoboken, Inc. have some kind of agenda that’s recognizable that could help describe what that organization is?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Do you know whether they’re a formal political organization?

A: I don’t know exactly. Like, technically, what they are. I’m not sure.

Dawn, Gerry McCann, and the N-word

The conversation later turned to allegations that people investigating claims of wrongdoing for Campos had been harassing some of Zimmer’s voters in the HHA. Zimmer explained that she had called former Hoboken Reporter writer Michael Mullins to have Vivian Watts explain her encounter:

Q: What did she tell the reporter?

A: I think that was when she told him about – and thought that Gerry McCann had called, she heard Gerry McCann call Frank Ladson an arrogant ni—-.

Dawn Zimmer just came out and used the full N-word in the deposition. When others were asked about the exchange they referred to it as “The N word”, but Zimmer shocked some in the room when she just came out and said it.

The HCDO’s involvement

Despite comments to the contrary by Zimmer supporters here and elsewhere, it turns out from reading the depositions and studying the ELEC forms of both Zimmer and the HCDO primary campaign that the HCDO had very much to do with the hiring of workers in both campaigns. This was mention in this Q&A of Zimmer:

Q: Did you have any workers for the campaign that did not reside within the fourth ward, other than the people you’ve already talked about?

A: Yes, I believe we did.

Q: Do you know how your workers were recruited?

A: Um, I’m not sure how that came about.

Q: Did you have any assistance from the Hudson County Democratic Organization in recruiting workers?

A: No, it was more – it was from the – I believe it was Ryan from that special company that recruited the workers.

Q: Did you know if the company that this person Ryan worked for or owned, do you know whether they were hired by Hudson County Democratic Organization?

A: Yes, they were hired for the June 5th (primary) election by them.

Q: But they did work for you on your June 12th runoff election?

A: Yes.

Q: How do you know that they were hired by the Hudson County Democratic Organization?

A: Um, I’m not sure how I know it. I think, through Carol Marsh.

Dawn Zimmer’s supporters were still hiding her ties to the HCDO after the runoff, even people pointed out that they saw the same workers who handed out fliers for the HCDO primary campaign, then back at it working for Zimmer in the runoff and working out of the same office on Washington Street for both elections. The storefront was the old EXIT Realty that happens to be right next door to Zimmer’s current “Change that works” campaign headquarters.

Paying for absentee ballots?

The deposition then turned to the collection of absentee ballots, and the challenging of absentees by the Zimmer campaign. Paying for work on election day is allowed, but paying for signed absentee ballots is not.

Q: Do you know whether or not any of the workers who were paid by your campaign, whether any of those workers voted by way of absentee ballot?

A: Um, I believe that some of them did.

This is followed by discussion of Zimmer’s counterclaim to toss out some of the absentee votes for Campos. Zimmer is also asked about how the campaign came up with a list of absentee ballots for her husband Stan Grossbard to challenge at the county clerk, but had no answers.

Completed Ballots stored in headquarters

There are also several questions about whether or not ballots that included signed affidavits concerning how they were handled were actually handled properly. Questions were asked as to whether the ballots were stored at campaign headquarters, and how they got the county. Zimmer’s deposition lasted about three hours, and was one of many before the two sides agreed to a third election.

More to come…