The Chronically Ironic Dawn Zimmer
Hoboken411 editorial: The situational ethics of City Hall
…and what the local press corps should be doing today to expose it.
Dawn Zimmer has an ethics problem.
Actually, she has several. Many of her political allies continuously find themselves caught crossing the line on ethics even as they lay claim to the overused “reformer” label. Zimmer claims to be ethical and transparent, but takes official action that makes a mockery of her campaign slogans. In her continuing effort to fool some of the people most of the time, the Mayor will be unveiling what she calls an “Ethics Reform Package” this afternoon. The move is a political salvo to counteract the many stories that have plagued her allies and administration.
Here’s a recap of some of them, in case some of our local newspaper reporters and editors (who read Hoboken411 religiously) care do more than just repeat, reprint and regurgitate the latest City Hall press release with no questions asked.
Zimmer hires crony for $80k job with no search
Dawn Zimmer’s claim that she would conduct “wide searches for qualified city employees” took another hit this week when she announced the hiring of friend and political supporter Tejal Desai to work in the Finance Office. Desai will be paid $80,000 a year to serve as Assistant Comptroller.
It’s essentially a position created by Zimmer specifically for Desai, who spent 14 months on the Municipal Hospital Authority Board before stepping down to take the new city job. The $80,000 a year position was never publicly advertised by the city. There was no open search for the best candidate. A political ally was rewarded with a job, again. While Desai has an MBA, she apparently doesn’t have any experience or credentials in New Jersey Municipal Finance. Sources say Desai needed a job, and Zimmer was there to give it to her. Ethical?
More Zimmer allies like developer dealing Lenz
Ethics were a key issue in the November special election for the 4th ward council seat. Specifically, the ethics of Zimmer’s hand-picked choice Michael Lenz.
The conversation often turned to his many political deals in exchange for paychecks, as well as his secret meeting in a North Bergen diner with developers who wanted his help securing D variances.
Lenz made that deal, lobbied his colleagues to secure the variances of public opposition, and later accepted $1000 in campaign contributions from the developers.
Hoboken411 broke that story and the rest of the local media followed. What they didn’t do was get Mayor Dawn Zimmer on the record with her reaction to Lenz’s latest ethical lapse.
Will the newspaper reporters ask her about this today when she unveils her “Ethics Package?” Probably not.
Zimmer ally Ravi Bhalla is a Pay to Play king
Will Dawn Zimmer place new ethics controls on Councilman Ravi Bhalla? Hoboken’s Pay-to-Play king – called out in the Star Ledger and other newspapers for his ability to make large campaign contributions to Political Action Committees in exchange for no-bid public contracts – is a staunch ally of the Mayor. Bhalla plays the campaign finance game to his own benefit, as Hoboken411 exposed in great detail. Bhalla also found himself at the center of an ethical firestorm when he voted to award a no-bid city contract to an attorney he shared an office and staff with.
Again, Zimmer said nothing, and the local newspapers let her off the hook. Will they do it again today? Most likely.
And what about Zimmer’s Pay-to-Play policy for Municipal Board members? That, and the ethics questions reporters should be asking the Mayor today, after the jump!
Get on a Zimmer board? Bring your checkbook.
Dawn Zimmer and her allies have awarded board positions to the highest bidder, or in this case, the biggest campaign contributors in Hoboken.
The list of Planning, Zoning, Hospital, Housing Authority, ABC and Library board members who contributed thousands of dollars to Zimmer’s campaigns before and after being appointed to those boards is now legendary.
James Aibel gave $3000 and became Vice Chair of the Zoning Board. Keith Furman coughed up $3681 before he became Vice Chair of the Planning Board. Phil Cohen coughed up $3600 and changed political teams to secure a seat on the Zoning Board, and the list goes on and on and on…
Speaking of the Zoning Board…
Mayor Dawn Zimmer “demands the respect” of her office and wants to be recognized as a leader for good government and ethics. Why then has she never made a public comment denouncing her ally Nancy Pincus’ use of Nazi-themed graphics to attack the Mayor’s political opposition? Pincus was placed on the Zoning Board with Zimmer’s blessing by her allies on the council, yet Zimmer has never been forced to go on the record by the local press about what she thinks of Pincus’ repeated actions unbecoming of a public official.
Members of the City Council denounced the images. National Jewish groups weighed in on the issue, and even the local Rabbi stepped up with a comment, but Zimmer – who wants to be taken seriously on ethics today – stayed silent.
Today is your chance to ask the questions Zimmer keeps ducking. When you call City Hall for comment from the Mayor on the tough issues her secretary has $75,000 a year political operative Juan Melli call you back with spin. Today Zimmer is inviting you into her office get her message out. Are you going to ask the questions journalists are supposed to ask, or cut and paste from Melli’s press release again?
Here are some of the questions that should be asked today:
On the hiring of Desai:
- Why wasn’t this position publicly advertised?
- Why did you wait so long to fill the job?
- If it wasn’t necessary for years, why did you decide to fill it now?
- Did Desai just lose her job and need a new one fast?
- If so, is that ethical?
Lenz diner dealings with a developer:
- Do you denounce Michael Lenz for using his influence as a council member to secure variances for a developer he met with in a diner before a public meeting on the issue was held?
- You gave thousands of dollars to his campaign; do you think Lenz should be forced to return the $1000 contribution from the developer he secured the variance for?
- Were his actions ethical?
On Pay to Play King Bhalla:
Ravi Bhalla was given a $120,000 no-bid contract with the City of Newark after making a $2500 donation to a PAC that supports the Mayor there. He also gave $2350 to a PAC controlled by the Mayor of Union City before he was awarded a $127,000 no-bid contract there.
- Do you condone Bhalla’s pro Pay-to-Play tactics to enrich himself?
- Do you find his recent claim to be concerned about campaign finance law ironic?
Sale of board seats to the highest bidders:
- Do you agree that it would be ethical to award board positions only to the best candidates for these positions?
- If so, will you stop the checkbook politics that has dominated the appointments made by you and your allies on the council?
And finally, on ethics and character:
Mayor, you are here today talking about ethics because you want to be perceived by the public as an ethical community leader.
- Is it ethical to place the faces of your political counterparts in a punch bowl full of human excrement?
- Is it ethical to use images from Hitler’s Nazi Germany to denigrate members of the City Council who may not agree with you 100% of the time?
- Does this kind of conduct by a member of the Hoboken Zoning Board lift the moral and ethical compass of your government, or does it trivialize the Holocaust and lower the standard of our civic life?
These are the questions
repeaters reporters should be asking the Mayor today. Will any of them have the guts to do it?
Hoboken411 would, but despite holding statewide press credentials, Zimmer doesn’t invite this website – the most read in Hoboken by far – to her little press conferences. She’s too busy trying to fool some of the people most of the time. That’s not how 411 rolls.
More on all of this later…