Friday, September 19, 2003
NJ DEMOCRATS AND "POLLUTERS" - PERFECT TOGETHER?
Party seems to play "polluter card" everywhere - but in Maywood
By Chris Neidenberg
In light of the recent passing of Concerned Citizen environmental activist Mike Nolan, and given a recent radio "scare" ad I heard - from the New Jersey State Democratic Committee - I just had to say something.
Seems like every time Garden State Democrats, at the federal, state, local level, whatever, want to whip the voters into a frenzy, they just love playing "the polluter card."
We saw it last year, in the Bergen County executive race.
There, county Democratic bigwig Joe Ferrerio and successful Democratic county executive candidate Dennis McNerney, ran blistering broadcast "fright" attack ads against Republican State Senator Henry McNamara (R-40).
In them, McNerney chided McNamara for having family ties to - and coddling - "a polluter."
We've seen it again this year, in the current statewide contest for control of the legislature.
In these radio ads, New Jersey Democrats warn the voters that, if they don't pull down the entire Democratic column, then they are giving tacit support to the Republicans for coddling? You guessed it, "polluters."
Yet, here in Maywood, the likes of Ferrerio, McNerney, and other Bergen Democrats, such as 37th District state Assemblypersons Loretta Weinberg, Gordon Johnson, State Senator Byron Baer, and Ninth District Congressman Steve Rothman, are fawning and gushing all over the one candidate in Bergen County who - with former U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli - has the most extensive and clear record in obsessively (and rather nastily) defending certainly his community's worst polluter..
That person is, Democratic mayoral candidate - Councilman Thomas Richards.
His "polluter" ally? Stepan Chemical Company.
Throw into the mix: Democratic U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine.
Lautenberg wrapped himself all around Richards - Stepan's obsessed and unabashed advocate - at a June event honoring efforts for renovating the Maywood Avenue train station.
Yet this so called "anti-polluter" advocate did so without uttering a single word on the status of Maywood's titanic, ridiculously long struggle to start getting the town cleaned up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Key to helping resolve this prolonged matter is getting some kind of cleanup plan from Stepan - long one of Torricelli's favorite campaign donors.
Ditto to Corzine. His aides were more than happy to give Mr. Richards publicity on a trip last year to Washington with-now former Democratic Councilwoman Jeanne Matullo.
The agenda? To discuss Richards' and Rothman's efforts at passing federal legislation turning over ownership of the Maywood Interim Storage Site to Maywood.
Stepan once owned this property before Torricelli made the federal government (and its taxpayers) ultimately responsible for the plant's thorium problem through his wheeling and dealing.
This is not, I repeat, not, a last-minute attack against Mr. Richards for the upcoming mayoral election.
If the Democrats didn't play "the polluter card" again in their radio ad, then I wouldn't be raising this.
And, for sure, New Jersey Republicans - be they in the state - or in Maywood (namely Mr. Richards' mayoral opponent. Republican Councilman Thomas Gaffney) have many legitimate questions to answer regarding their own support for polluters through the years.
Mr. Gaffney - running as a council candidate in 1992 - told a local resident that, "from my heart," he opposed having the federal government use Maywood as a base to truck contamination in from neighboring Lodi while leaving Maywood with no guarantee of any final cleanup outcome.
In fact, this responsibility would have remained solely in Stepan's own hands - if not for Torricelli's political intervention.
Yet upon taking office a year later (1994), he almost immediately began working in the opposite direction (embracing Mr. Richards' own position).
Getting back to Mr. Richards, the Democrats have always nationally taken pride for creating the federal government's Superfund program (particularly one-time Congressman James Florio, who later became governor, and was the program's chief architect).
And under the EPA's own Superfund law, Stepan was originally defined as the polluter (PRPs - potentially responsible parties - they call them) for both thorium and chemical pollution..
In fact, barring some clandestine maneuvering, always a possibility when it comes to Maywood and thorium. the EPA has never rescinded this definition - even with Torricelli's earlier obstruction on his campaign donor''s behalf.
Where does Mike Nolan enter into the picture?
For years, the late resident used the federal government's own documents to point this out.
Yes, Mike Nolan - Richards' hated enemy - essentially adopted the NJ Democrats' own position, which Richards has historically opposed - at least in his own community.
Mr. Nolan, from his vantage point, tried to throw some balance into the whole equation on Maywood's behalf, as the community was getting hammered with contamination - seemingly from everywhere else - under Torricelli's "DOE-Stepan agreement."
Clearly, Mr. Richards took any criticism leveled against Stepan quite personally.
And his repeated and specious defenses on Stepan's behalf often turned nasty against the plant's crttics.
Why the nastiness? Why his attempts to badger, harass and intimidate anyone who raised legitimate criticisms concerning Stepan?
Why all the false inuendos in defending Stepan?
It would be one thing if Mr. Richards simply disagreed with the aims of Superfund, and let Stepan's critics have their say.
But it was much more than that.
Mr. Nolan and others were falsely branded for providing "misinformation" by the councilman - always in an apparent and rather contorted state of denial on Stepan - as evidence against tis "polluter" friends mounted.
This troubling behavior was clear for all the world to see.
And when he was appointed chairman of his failed Environmental Legislative Action Committee - the councilman was determined to keep Mr. Nolan and others from addressing the body during their meetings.
Yet, where were the "fawning and smitten Richardites" then?
Namely, where were Rothman, Baer, Johnson, Weinberg, Ferrerio and McNerney (throw in Lautenberg and Corzine) as Richards obsessed, on and on, loudly, nastily and abusively (particularly toward Mr. Nolan) , for the kind of "polluter" these Democrats now claim they want to fight?
Thus, those Bergen Democrats now boasting of their alliance with chief Stepan advocate Richards - in stark contrast to the theme they are preaching to voters everywhere else but in Maywood - illuminate this fact:
That is, New Jersey Democrats will apparently fight only those "polluters" failing to line their pockets with campaign cash.
Governor James McGreevey, Chief of Staff Jamie Fox and state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell, please take notice of your party's apparent Maywood contradiction.
NEW JERSEY DEMOCRATS "CODDLING" POLLUTERS: -ARE RICHARDS, TORRICELLI AND STEPAN THE "SMOKING GUNS?"
LET'S CONNECT THE DOTS.
A. IN A 1996 PRESS INTERVIEW, GOVERNOR JAMES MCGREEVEY'S CURRENT CHIEF OF STAFF JAMIE FOX, A CLOSE ALLY OF COUNCILMAN TOM RICHARDS. AND WHO WAS WORKING FOR THEN-SENATOR ROBERT TORRICELLI, SAID TORRICELLI MOVED TO LOWER THE BILL THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT (NAMELY EPA) WANTED STEPAN CHEMICAL COMPANY TO PAY - FOR CLEANING UP ITS LOCAL POLLUTION MESS - "TO HELP A BUSINESSMAN IN HIS DISTRICT."
WHAT WAS FOX REFERRING TO?
IT WAS TORRICELLI'S "DOE-STEPAN AGREEMENT," WHEREBY TORRICELLI HELPED SHIFT THE COSTS FOR CLEANING UP THE VAST BULK OF STEPAN'S RADIOLOGICAL PORTION OF MAYWOOD'S OVERALL SUPERFUND MESS FROM THE COMPANY TO THE TAXPAYER - THUS, BLOCKING THE EPA'S EARLY ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS AT MAKING STEPAN PAY FOR BOTH THORIUM AND CHEMICALS.
FOX WAS REACTING TO THE (ULTIMATELY UNSUCCESSFUL) EFFORTS OF TORRICELLI'S REPUBLICAN SENATE OPPONENT AT THE TIME, THEN-U.S. CONGRESSMAN DICK ZIMMER. HE WANTED TO PASS A BILL ABOLISHING TORRICELLI'S AGREEMENT WITH STEPAN.
STEPAN CHEMICAL ADVOCATE RICHARDS WORKED LOCALLY TO PROMOTE - AND HELP IMPLEMENT AND SUSTAIN - THIS "POLLUTER COST-SAVING" AGREEMENT.
B. THIS IS THE SAME JAMIE FOX NOW HELPING TO DIRECT THE DEMOCRATIC STATE COMMITTEE'S EFFORTS AT SCARING VOTERS INTO THINKING NEW JERSEY REPUBLICANS CODDLE "POLLUTERS" -- VIA RADIO ADS PRODUCED FOR THE UPCOMING STATE LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS.
C. YET IN 1999 - TORRICELLI LOBBIED THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TO ELIMINATE AN AGREEMENT - NEGOTIATED BY ONE-TIME DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN ROBERT ROE - TO HAVE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHARE CLEANUP COSTS AT THE W&R GRACE THORIUM SITE IN WAYNE. THE SAME TORRICELLI - WHO TOOK POLITICAL ACTION IN LOWERING HIS CAMPAIGN DONOR'S CLEANUP BILL "TO HELP" STEPAN - TURNED 180 DEGREES IN WAYNE. THERE, HE CLAIMED TO BE "OUTRAGED" OVER THE FACT THAT TAXPAYERS WERE "SUBSIDIZING" W&R GRACE"S CLEANUP COSTS.
AND NOW - FOX' OLD BOSS - TORRICELLI, THROUGH A COURT-ORDERED POLITICAL APPOINTMENT, HAS BEEN TASKED WITH NEGOTIATING WITH HONEYWELL CORP. - A "POLLUTER" - TO CLEAN UP A CHROMIUM_CONTAMINATED JERSEY CITY SITE..
RICHARDS MAY VERY WELL PULL ALL THE STRINGS NEEDED IN MAYWOOD'S DYSFUNCTIONAL POLITICAL SYSTEM TO WIN THE UPCOMING ELECTION. EVEN IF HE DOES, HE AND HIS OTHER ALLIES, LIKE FOX, STILL MUST ANSWER:
ARE NJ DEMOCRATS - THROUGH RICHARDS - DETERMINED TO ESTABLISH AN ISLAND OF PROTECTION FOR "POLLUTERS" IN MAYWOOD?
For more information, please read the following articles.
"Richards still cozy with town's worst polluter Parts I and II," "Bergen County Dems nominate pro-polluter ticket?," "Richards, Torricelli and the thorium facts," "Maywood's thorium truth,' "Meet some of the players in thorium's 'dirty' game," and, "Torricelli's sad Maywood legacy."
Critics fade into "woodwork," as council settles dispute with contractor
By Chris Neidenberg
It was a controversy which once triggered calls to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, and featured loud community critics vowing to vigorously pursue investigations.
Yet, with little fanfare, the Borough Council recently approved a settlement with the second contractor which finished building the new John A. Steuert Jr. Municipal Complex, affecting the final price tag,
Yet, in unanimously approving resolving a dispute concerning change orders with GRE Construction of Parlin July 23, the council made a point to make sure that residents attending the meeting did not see any dollar figures in the resolution.
Instead, inquiring residents must pay a visit to the third-floor office of Borough Clerk Maryanne Rampolla to review the numbers.
Change orders are made by contractors in construction projects whenever they believe they have encountered unforeseen conditions that drive up costs which exceed the original contract. In public construction, all change orders must be approved by the elected governing body.
The final document with GRE was approved following the council's consultations with former Borough Attorney William Rupp and Raimondo Construction Company of Ft. Lee, designated the official clerk of the works to oversee completion of the controversial and trouble-plagued project two years ago.
Rupp, a close confidant of Democratic Councilman Thomas Richards, who will liikely re-emerge as borough attorney if Richards wins the upcoming mayoral contest and if the Democrats gain council control, was designated a special attorney tasked with investigating potemtial cost overruns associated with the site.
Still, Rupp and the council must provide an important final answer to the taxpayers: Exactly how much did it cost to build the facility, and where were - if any - overruns?
"My congratulations to Attorney Rupp and (Borough Administrator) Jack Terhune in negotiating a settlement," Richards said rather quietly, in offering the only public comments from the council over this significant agreement.
Before examining the GRE deal, a look back at this mammoth building's contentious history
For sure, the new borough hall initiative has a rather curious and contorted "bi-partisan" history, as is quite common (and legend) in conducting government business in Maywood.
The project, started by the now-bankrupt Monument Contracting of Newark in the late 1990s, ultimately run into lengthy delays. In fact, now-former Borough Administrator John Perkins once said he expected the building would be ready for occupation by early 2001 (that is, before plans were radically altered). The council did not officially relocate into the building until March 9, 2003.
When did the plans change? In 2000, shortly after Republican Mayor Wayne Kuss took office.
Kuss persuaded council Democrats and Republicans to back what he deemed as a more cost-effective and massive expansion of an original plan authored by his predecessor, one-time Democratic Mayor Thomas Murphy under plans prepared by Dan Barteluce, former Maywood resident and an architect with the New York-based Barteluce and Associates.
Murphy only wanted to renovate the Maywood Volunteer Ambulance Corps headquarters and Protection Hook and Ladder firehouse sites, while deferring any decision on what to do with the adjacent 75-year-old police building to a later time.
In reversing Murphy, Kuss brought the project back to the original vision preached by Steuert (which Murphy scrapped upon taking office after defeating him in 1996): build an entire new Borough Hall at 15 Park Ave. During local elections in the mid-90s, in fact, Democrats such as Richards, Murphy and Councilman Dr. Tim Eustace harshly attacked the Steuert proposal as folly. But even Murphy eventually signed on to the Kuss/Steuert plan upon leaving office, asserting that the borough was in very good financial shape to build the new borough hall he and his party colleagues once harshly denounced (please read editor's note on this point at end of story).
Once this decision to expand the project was reached, Monument bailed out and Borough Attorney Andrew Fede helped broker a settlement with the company on all outstanding claims, even though some on the council talked about hauling Monument into court for allegedly shoddy work. GRE came on board in 2001 to work on the expamded plan, as revised by Barteluce, and like Monument, and also came under criticism. During the transition between the two building contractors, a clerk of the works was hired and the council conducted hearings on just who - Mellone or Barteluce - was responsible for the prior supervision of Monument.
In a very familiar pattern, some forces within Maywood are now trying to paint Richards as the hero in making changes to bring greater oversight to the project via hiring a clerk of the works (just as they have tried making him a hero in resolving the municipality's unresolved thorium contamination problem - a patently false claim -and for helping broker a deal allowing tenants to park overnight in the National Wholesale Liquidators parking lot in Lodi).
Yet Richards, just like the rest of his colleagues back in 2000, went along with Kuss' idea to implement the original Steuert plan.
Richards' excuse? The councilman claimed that he was misled in 2000 regarding just exactly what altering the less ambitious plan would entail by Mellone - an original proponent of Steuert's ambitious plan.
During a candidates debate last year, Richards revealed that he eventually spoke to an investigator within the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office about opening a criminal investigation into the matter, yet claimed that he was told there was no basis for a criminal inquiry into the strange case.
He and his Republican mayoral opponent, Councilman Thomas Gaffney, said last year that they - in the absence of a commitment from the prosecutor - would support having the borough conduct its own internal investigation of the sordid Steuert building affair, though this matter has not been vigorously pursued in 2003.
Subsequently, Richards has made it a point to praise Mellone for his work as borough liaison to the Bergen County Community Development Program, and for being appointed to the staff of the building department in the City of Hackensack (he now serves both municipalities).
In fact, during the council's first work session in the massive - some say greatly oversized - Steuert complex on March 9, Richards seemed to significantly soften his tone as he tried legitimating all the money spent on the site. The comment marked a radical departure from his earlier call for an investigation.
Richards said in March that the money paid out to build the site was a sound investment, despite the criticisms, since the building will serve the borough's needs for at least another 40 years - far beyond the duration of the life of the bond ordinance adopted in financing it.
Critics of the huge new Borough Hall fade from view - at least for now
John Shanahan, a Jersey Avenue resident who previously seriously studied Maywood's handling of this problem-plagued construction effort, and also contacted the county prosecutor's office, once said he believed the entire job (including the cost of tearing down the older buildings) wouldl wind up costing roughly $9.5 million. Shanahan once tried organizing a Maywood Civic League to better monitor the governing body. He failed.
At one time. Murphy - focusing on his less ambitious plan tailored to just renovating the old fire and ambulance sites - promised taxpayers while in office that the project would not exceed $2.5 million (refer again to editor's note below).
Shanahan, in tandem with borough developer George Haag, examined supposed cost overruns associated with the new site.and repeatedly hammered away at the governing body for their alleged mismanagement of the effort.
In fact, Shanahan told Truth Hurts following the candidates' debate last year that he and Haag would vigorously pursue the issue in 2003. Yet, since the new building opened, Haag, a former school board member and one-time Republican council candidate -(yet occasional Richards ally) - has only questioned minor aspects of the new building, such as the location of its air conditioning unit.
GRE/borough agreement on change orders avoids court litigation
Under terms of the agreement:
A. The proposed settlement between the borough and GRE is approved (no details are spelled out in Resolution 111-03, authorizing the agreement). It settles all outstanding disputes over change orders between the two parties, and releases GRE from the "retainage under the contract."
B. Mayor Wayne Kuss is authorized to execute, and Borough Clerk Maryanne Rampolla to attest, a release and agrement between the two sides.
The agreement - and its more specific details - are available for public inspection in Rampolla's office during regular business hours (weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
Though the building is supposedly done, council is paying two new architects for work related to the site
In an interesting and related development, the council that same night ratified contracts to pay two new architects - other than Barteluce - a total of up to $15,000 for performing "consulting services" on a building presumably completed. They are: A.) Louis DeGeronimo, of DeGeronomo P.A. of Paramus, and B.) Ken Schier, of the Schier/Lesser Architecture Studio in Glen Rock. Their deals call for each to be paid up to $7,500.
For more information, please read, from October 2002, "Candidates seek probe of building mess."
EDITOR'S NOTE - Former Mayor Tom Murphy called to point out that he originally promised residents (before losing to Mayor Wayne Kuss) that no project at 15 Park Ave. - pursued under his own administration - would exceed $1,250,000, not $2.5 million as has been reported. The former mayor also recalled occasions where the council rejected bids exceeding this lower dollar ceiling, during his tenure.
Murphy also said he never suggested that he was comfortable with ultimately supporting an even bigger expansion, after leaving office, under Kuss, due to any improvement in Maywood's financial condition through his (Murphy's) prior administration's efforts. The former mayor added that he opposed the subsequent expansion into the current site.