More on the “Jersey Sting”
Jersey Sting authors defend Michael Russo,
call Pay-to-Play law a “well-intentioned failure.”
The authors of The Jersey Sting were back in Hoboken Saturday afternoon to discuss their book at the library on 5th and Park. By request of the Mayor (and to promote publicity for their book) writers Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin released the videotape of Russo’s meeting with FBI informant Solomon Dwek. Russo said some stupid things he has since apologized for, but nothing seen on the videotape was illegal, and there were never any charges filed against him.
The Q&A session was designed to give Zimmer’s supporters another shot at headlines attacking Russo. It backfired when Margolin took the opportunity to clear the record and lay out a very different take on Russo’s actions:
“Whatever you want to say about Councilman Russo and what he said or did not say on the tape or what he said or did not say about that meeting afterwards, lets understand he did not take any money. We were surprised there were not more people like that on the surveillance tapes… Regardless of the spiel at the diner, he didn’t come back for the cash. He was a good guy because he didn’t come back for the cash.”– Jersey Sting co-author Josh Margolin
Margolin also went on to personally support Russo’s videotaped claims that the Pay-to-Play laws had not been the effective deterrents their authors hoped they to be.
“I personally believe that we need to throw out all campaign finance regulations and start from scratch. I think that Pay to Play Reform has been a well-intentioned failure because I can tell you as somebody that spent a considerable amount of time in front of a computer screen trying to figure out who is giving money to whom, Pay-to-Play reform has made it that much more difficult.”– Josh Margolin
Sherman backed Margolin up, saying, “It’s just murkied the waters so much. People find ways around… you put up a roadblock someplace and the money flows someplace else.” He noted it’s now harder for truth-seekers and reporters to find out who is actually funding certain campaigns than it was before Pay-to-Play laws were enacted in New Jersey.
Authors don’t take the bait…
…Zimmer supporters offer politically loaded questions
The audience was predominantly made up of supporters of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, including appointees to the Zoning, Planning, Housing Authority and Library boards along with her husband (aka The Shadow Mayor) and candidates for City Council. They were hoping for more bombshells to drop on their opponents. Instead, they were handed a big dose of reality.
Authors clear the air on how they got the non-public videos
Margolin and Sherman also made it clear that the videotapes were leaked to them by their sources and were not obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark (then staffed with loyalists to now-Governor Chris Christie) has been accused of using Operation Bid Rig for maximum political impact against Christie’s enemies during the gubernatorial election.
Zimmer attempted to do the same with the release of the Russo video. Though her minions claim the video was originally given to the authors through official channels, Sherman and Margolin laid that lie to rest with their statement that the tapes were in fact given to them by sources.
These sources later allowed them to be released, and ultimately used for political gain by the Mayor and her choice for 3rd ward council. That candidate – Greg “lincolnlogger” Lincoln, has called Hoboken411 “a site for neo-Nazis” because it doesn’t tow the Mayor’s party line. Ironically, inviting Margolin and Sherman back to Hoboken for political gain backfired on Zimmer.
See the original Russo/Dwek videotapes, and the councilman’s apology below…
Russo’s repentance follows weak “protest” from usual political players
April 7, 2011
At last night’s regular Hoboken City Council meeting, 3rd Ward representative Michael Russo listened as speakers criticized his words on a just-released FBI surveillance tape.
His comments came at the end of debate of a resolution to denounce his actions and call for the release of video and audio tapes of other Hoboken political figures who spoke with and/or met with Solomon Dwek. Russo resigned his post as Vice President of the City Council, and Council President Beth Mason – who unleashed a stinging rebuke of Russo’s actions this week – personally removed him as Chairman of the Revenue and Finance committee when he declined to resign that role. Here are Russo’s comments at the meeting:
A pre-meeting “rally” in front of city hall was little more than a staged event by (a few dozen) political appointees of Dawn Zimmer and wanna-be council people running with Zimmer’s endorsement in the May elections.
Many people commented the rally was a pathetic joke compared with the much larger community turnout against former Mayor Peter Cammarano who – unlike Russo – actually took illegal bribes from Dwek.
Meanwhile, there were calls for the public to see ALL of the videotaped meetings with Dwek, including those reported involving Zimmer Public Safety Director Angel Alicea (who ran on Peter Cammarano’s ticket for City Council in 2009) as well as Hoboken Housing Authority board member Jake Stuiver and Council President Beth Mason.
There were also calls to release the recorded phone calls of Solomon Dwek and Hoboken Shadow Mayor Stan Grossbard. The Mayor’s diamond-dealing husband wanted Zimmer to meet with Dwek, and tried to schedule a meeting to make it happen.
Russo steps down as Council VP; Occhipinti sworn in to replace
Michael Russo steps down from VP job and Beth Mason removes him as Revenue and Finance committee chair.
Tim Occhipinti is the new City Council Vice President in a 7-2 vote, with Peter Cunningham and Carol Marsh voting against. Ravi Bhalla and Dave Mello voted for Occhipinti after a motion to elect Mello VP failed.
Russo meets with Dwek; accepts no money
The people that follow Hudson County Politics closely, most certainly have already seen the hidden camera footage of 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo having lunch with Solomon Dwek (who was the mole that got many polticians, Rabbi’s and more arrested as part of the 2009 FBI sting operation – which sent former Mayor Peter Cammarano to jail).
How would you ultimately judge Russo?
Here are some points to consider:
- Russo wasn’t arrested, nor did he commit a crime.
- When entertaining possible campaign donors – one might expect a candidate to “play along” with the potential contributor, to vet them out, see what their true intentions are. In this case – Russo claimed he felt uncomfortable by the end of the meeting, and never received money or met with Dwek and his friends again.
- However, in the video – Russo did say things that should never come out of any politicians mouth – whether he intended to follow through or not. Bragging about governmental power & control, and shrugging off the importance of Pay to Play ethics are strong statements – and you certainly expect more from your councilman.
- 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason issued this statement today regarding the videos that surfaced. She said she was “shocked and disturbed” about how Russo represented himself at the meeting, and re-confirmed her independence and support of strong pay-to-play laws.
- For arguments sake, you can also draw comparisons if you want. Zimmer supporters aren’t holding her feet to the fire – despite bold public promises of a “detailed plan to cut taxes 25% in the first year alone” – and not following through. If the “public criticism” playing field was equal, her own supporters would be lambasting her for failed promises & spoken words. While Russo exhibited very poor character, his opponents are convicting him for actions he never took.
- I guess in the end – it’s along the same lines as flirting at a bar. If he was out with his buddies after a softball game, and a conversation with a woman had suggestive innuendos, but he ended up going home to his wife & kid instead. While his bold words don’t speak well for integrity, he should have represented Hoboken with more respect and honor.
What do you think of this whole situation? Should Russo’s feet be held to the fire? Or was it his ultimate response all that counts?