Good Villains – Trentonian

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Luckily for this political junkie, I hit the lottery in 1970 when a short stint as a consultant with the Jersey City Model Cities Agency led to me spending six years in Jersey City at St. Peter’s College and Jersey City Board of Education. For the last two and a half years of this stint, I served as the school district’s chief financial officer. Jersey City was the second largest school district in the state at that time.

I replaced John Krijewski as district business manager when this former councilman and state assemblyman was named in an antitrust lawsuit against 186 companies and 24 former Hudson and Jersey county officials City who allegedly received bribes to receive preferential treatment in the awarding of contracts. by the department and the city.

It would be an understatement to say that I received a fairly political upbringing during my time in Jersey City.

In 1971, there was a political tsunami in Hudson County, when after a two-month trial of the “Hudson Eight”, most of the county’s leading political figures were convicted in federal court of conspiracy and extorted millions of dollars in political bribes. Twelve defendants were initially charged with extortion and conspiracy, but four of them, including former Jersey City mayor, Hudson County Democratic chairman and longtime political leader John V. Kenny, have had their trial interrupted.

The remaining defendants – “the Hudson County Eight” – were Jersey City Mayor Thomas J. Whelan, Jersey City Council Speaker Thomas Flaherty, City Purchasing Officer Bernard Murphy, Commissioner of Port Authority William Sternkopf Jr., Hudson County Police Chief Fred J. Kropke, Hudson County Treasurer Joseph P. Stapleton, Jersey City Business Administrator Philip Kunz, and the Freeholder and Democratic Hudson County Chairman Walter Wolfe.

All of the defendants were found guilty of taking bribes totaling more than $3.5 million from contractors over a period of nearly eight years.

The conviction and subsequent imprisonment of former Mayor Whelan and other members of the Kenny Organization resulted in a special election in 1971. Reformer Dr. Paul Jordan ran for mayor under the slogan ‘Kick the Kenny”, has won an election several times. candidate race that included organizational candidate, Moe Longo, who ran a poor third. The election of Jordan, whom I helped campaign for, was the final nail in the coffin of Kenny’s mighty political machine.

During the trial, the ubiquity of “ten percent more” became very clear. Witnesses spoke of systematic collections and the solicitation of “10% off” from any company wishing to do business with Jersey City or Hudson County.

What didn’t come out of the lawsuit, because it wasn’t illegal, but totally wrong, was the pressure on companies that did business with the Hudson County government to make contributions. policies.

Those who did not comply would simply not be invited to submit offers in the future.

That’s why, when I was Business Manager for the Jersey City School Board, I sent a note to William Fisher (known as “Mr. Tickets”), Manager of Maintenance Services, on May 3, 1975 regarding ticket sales. for political affairs.

I wrote: “When I took up my duties as commercial director in January 1974, I explained to you my position concerning the sale of tickets for political affairs. I think this is a good time to reiterate my position…. No vendor doing business with the Board of Education or employee of the Board of Education should be coerced, coerced, influenced or even enticed into purchasing a ticket for a political matter as a condition of doing business with the Council or remain in the employ of the board of directors… It should be abundantly clear to any vendor or employee who does not choose to purchase a ticket that they will not suffer or be penalized in any way as a result of for not having purchased a ticket.

On June 16, 1988, William Fisher’s Jersey Shore retirement was cut short when U.S. attorney Samuel Alito, Jr. announced that Fisher had been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly extorting $250,000 over a six years to a welding contractor. Fisher was later convicted by a federal jury.

During Kenny’s reign, it became acceptable for businesses to give a few dollars to the local cop to look the other way when one of their employees goes over the time shown on their meter, for public employees to reimburse a portion of their check to keep their job. and for public employees to pressure vendors and employees to buy tickets for political events.

What also developed was a new term to describe politicians who ripped off the system, but continued to live in the neighborhood, didn’t flaunt their newly acquired wealth and gave away some of what ‘they brought back to the neighborhood either through turkeys given out at Christmas or by being charitable to those in need. These people were known as “good bad guys”.

William Vincent Musto served as mayor of Union City from 1962 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1982 and to the New Jersey General Assembly from 1947 to 1966 and to the New Jersey Senate from 1966 to 1982.

The New York Times, in its March 6, 2006 obituary, wrote, “Whether Mr. Musto devours huge Italian sandwiches from La Bella restaurant in Union City, takes groups of friends to the racetrack, or expresses himself as one of the first lottery champions, he lived with uncontrolled enthusiasm. He was so popular in his hometown that the day after he was convicted of helping gangsters and entrepreneurs pocket public money for schools, voters still re-elected him. His supporters insisted he had been framed.

Despite being convicted of skimming $600,000 in bribes from school building projects and sentenced to seven years in prison, Musto continued to be widely adored in Union City.

On June 18, 2011, Union City honored Musto and preserved his positive legacy by opening the William V. Musto Cultural Center, which houses the Union City History Museum. Bill Musto was your classic Hudson County “good bad guy.”

Irwin Stoolmacher is president of the Stoolmacher Consulting Group, a fundraising and strategic planning firm that works with nonprofits that serve those most in need among us.

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