Thursday, December 25, 2003
We understand that there is a “new guard” on the council which has, on occasion, positively addressed concerns important to residents (such as the state of the municipality’s finances) and has not been around for all of the seedy goings on which preceded it.
Let’s just say that the bulk of our concerns deal with current governing body members elected - or who previously served - before November 2001.
Still, we find it hard to believe that even the “new guard” knows absolutely nothing about some of the goings on which preceded it. After all, these officials are still products of the same “Republicrat” bosses who are well aware of some of the concerns we will be raising.
We just hope that these newer elected representatives aren’t intimidated into showing even more independence against Maywood’s “political elites.”
If they have been, then we say, “Time to blow the whistle.”
EXAMINING MAYWOOD’S INCOMING MAJORITY
Will this group comprise “Toxic Wing” of NJ Dem party?
By Chris Neidenberg
PART I The Prelude - a rather arrogant group of people.
It’s armed (seemingly with an inordinate amount of political power) - and dangerous.
Its members benefit from the fact that they are local agents and functionaries of a seriously-flawed, amoral state and federal political system – one which seems to let them operate under a different set of rules and values than the average and non-politically connected citizen.
In other words, you and me.
Ideally, just being a member of it does not give one the right to abuse – or misuse – power and authority.
Its worst elements operate with a frighteningly arrogant swagger.
And they operate in an environment where bad behavior is apparently rewarded with political advancement.
This environment seems devoid of any internal traffic cop (checks and balances, if you will) capable of “stopping the madness.”
As we clearly saw with Maywood’s thorium quagmire (is it really over?), any vigilant citizen possessing credible information, who seeks to blow the whistle himself or herself from the outside – anyone who is perceived as a real threat to their abusive power – is ostracized, verbally badgered, harassed, ignored and intimidated.
Its worst elements have little sense of morality, decency, integrity – or any sense of fair play.
Its members lead double lives - perhaps unbeknownst to many of their neighbors.
By day, you may meet them smiling as they participate in the local church choir, assist in the running of a borough civic organization or youth activities and groups.
But by night, they could very well be engaged in secretive and clandestine political activities -.including those that weaken their own community’s interests, and those of their neighbors, perhaps for selfish political motivations?
It frighteningly controls local law enforcement, whose employees rely on it for their salaries, raises and promotions.
At the sadly politicized state, county and federal levels of law enforcement, one can only wonder if at least some of its elected members are emboldened by the fact that they are allied with higher-powered "untouchable" law enforcement, agency and elected officials (members of Congress or the state legislature, for example).
Could it be that these higher ups – for whatever reason - have some self-interest in perpetuating Maywood’s continued apparent chicanery?
Worse yet, it seems to currently have Bergen County’s “establishment, mainstream print media” in its hip pocket.
This media includes politically sympathetic employees and executives, eager to help it “cover up,” rather than “cover,” the truth.
The most important player here is a family that has a virtual monopoly on the allegedly serious daily and weekly print press in Bergen County.
Perhaps because of some self-interest or personal relationship, this family seems to have some kind of pathological and historic aversion – at least within Maywood – to shedding any real light on the municipality’s continuously shady dealings
“It” is Maywood’s elected government.
And in January, it will be led by a new chief executive who has used this dysfunctional system to full advantage - an individual who clawed his way to the top, despite having heavy baggage, displaying serious ethical lapses and conflicts of interest.
Part II – A look at the new mayor, his skeletons, demons - and some of what he faces
I. Tom Richards – a man who contradicts himself time and time again.
Mayor-elect Tom Richards moves to the mayor’s chair at a critical juncture in the borough’s history.
In the coming weeks and months ahead, Richards and his bi-partisan group of governing partners hope gobs of money will flow into the municipality to pursue a massive redevelopment initiative, tied, in part, to a final resolution of the community’s thorium cleanup.
Given Richards’ highly-checkered past on all matters thorium, and the borough’s longstanding dishonest and abusive partnership with the federal government - that has led to a historic misrepresentation of Maywood’s interests in this area, the fact that Richards will carry any clout in the matter at all is cause for great concern.
As the old saying goes, and in Maywood particularly this year under Richards, “Just follow the money.”
Richards will start year one governing with a 4-3 “nominal” Democratic majority. though expect him, as he always has, to try currying favor with the Republican minority in attempting to implement his self-labeled “agenda.”
After all, this is an individual who, only last year, advocated changing Maywood to a “non-partisan” form of government. He further insisted that there are no serious differences between the municipality’s “Democrats” and “Republicans.”
Now, he will start his “partisan Democratic” administration trying to implement a “party agenda” for Maywood, called, “Direction 2004.”
Yet will Richards soon start abandoning this “partisan” message by shifting back into a “non-partisan” mode?
More than likely, Richards will do whatever it takes to keep as many of his own (as well as the borough’s) “skeletons” in the closet as possible.
II. Will New Jersey Democrats use Richards to perpetuate yet another contradiction? That is, will Maywood’s four Democratic elected officials comprise the party’s “toxic, pro-polluter” wing? Will the state party strive to continue making Maywood a safe haven and tiny enclave for “polluters”- who curry favors with the party – despite the “anti-polluter” message it sent voters elsewhere in 2003?
In a stunning contradiction, Richards and his two running mates were actually elected on an “anti-polluter” platform – a platform that has gone against Richards’ grain for the past 21 years.
That’s because, almost every day in the final weeks of the campaign, New Jersey’s State Democratic Committee blitzed the radio airwaves with ads attacking state Republicans for their environmental record, and promising to make “polluters pay for causing environmental damage.”
Using the hot-button environmental issue to get votes via radio ads was a tack similarly taken by Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joe Fererrio and County Executive Dennis McNerney in 2002 against McNerney’s opponent, Republican State Senator Henry McNamara (R-40)..
For McNerney and Democratic Governor Jim McGreevey to embrace and fawn all over Richards – who most likely will be saluted by his smiling county and state party allies during the coming reorganization - has to be one of the state and county Democratic Party’s worst contradictions ever.
That is, if their “anti-polluter” message is to be believed.
Richards’ overt and longstanding support for Stepan Chenical Company, long one of Maywood’s worst polluters, certainly places him in the same stratosphere as McNamara or any other “pro-polluter” New Jersey Republican McNerney and McGreevey have attacked.
Neither McNerney nor McGreevey were likely around during the times Richards repeatedly and verbally bashed and harassed members of the Concerned Citizens of Maywood, the former environmental watchdog group, led by the late Michael Nolan.
They incurred Richards’ wrath because they essentially asked the borough to push for aggressively enforcing federal environmental laws against Stepan in paying for the best possible cleanup.
Thus, the Concerned Citizens back then essentially argued the same position (which Richards always attacked) that the state Democratic committee made to voters throughout New Jersey earlier this year, as part of the very platform Richards ran on (in accepting his party’s nomination).
Richards’ fervent “pro-Stepan” stance is predicated on his belief that the company is not historically liable for addressing the thorium part of the problem. This, even though the federal government has asserted (in past documents and letters) that Stepan meets the criteria (as a “polluter” of thorium) under the Superfund law and should have inherited and addressed the responsibility.
In fact, Stepan inherited the financial assets of the former Maywood Chemical Works in a 1960 stock transaction and incorporated the former company as “a division” of Stepan. EPA has stated that this fact makes Stepan liable under the law.
We also know that Richards is smitten with Stepan over the fact that it has given the borough’s’volunteers an annual awards dinner (the mayor-elect is a longtime member of the volunteer ambulance squad)
Could that be the only major reason Richards obsesses himself with shielding Stepan?
Is it (paying for a nice banquet) really why Richards has been Stepan's "prime fromt man" in town for so long? even as Stepan has suffered a spate of serious accidents (small fires, chemical spills and explosions) that have hurt its employees, other people working near the plant, and defiled the surrounding environment?
Stepan, in fact, also sued some of the plant’s environmental critics, including Nolan and his CCM colleague, longtime anti-Richards Democrat Louise Torell, as the two joined in a suit against Stepan (a move you can be certain Richards gloated over).
This tactic is known in legal circles as SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Stepan took action after Nolan and Torell joined a suit against the company, which alleged that the plant caused sickness and death to area residents. The action led to a multi-million dollar out-of-court settlement in 1999. Stepan subsidizes the periodic health monitoring of the plaintiffs - and paid each a cash settlement.
For their activism in this area, Torell and Nolan were branded “environmental terrorists” by Richards’ ally, then-Democratic Mayor Thomas Murphy.
What would McNerney and McGreevey think about that?
McNerney and McGreevey may also be pitted against Richards’ newfound ally, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).
Rothman, apparently oblivious to Richards’ many misdeeds iand peccadillos in the whole Stepan/thorium affair, has essentially replaced Richards’ one-time mentor, former Congressman and Sen. Robert Torricelli (a major benefactor of Stepan campaign cash) as his new partner. This, as the ongoing thorium saga hits a highly critical stage.
This web site, in various stories, has firmly documented Richards' and Torricelli's past efforts to try insulating Stepan from paying as much money as possible to thoroughly clean up chemical and thorium contamination - which it and Maywood Chemical dumped and buried throughout the site.
On behalf of his campaign donor, Torricelli in 1983 overrode an original enforcement initiative - undertaken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - to make Stepan financially liable for both thorium and chemicals. His efforts, supported locally by Richards, led to bringing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) into Maywood, which took over Stepan’s original obligations in this area.
His deal has, ever since, protected Stepan from paying any more in cleaning up all remaining thorium (beyond the small contribution it made 20 years ago, through Torricelli’s deal).
Richards has historically gone ballistic over any thought that Stepan might have to adhere to the original EPA directive Torricelli overrode, after the agency tried making Stepan fully accountable for the thorium (Stepan has never been taken off the hook for chemicals).
As talk of trying to recover more cleanup monies from PRPs at the Maywood moves to the fore, there ironically has been little focus on how the chemicals will be addressed (even though Stepan is under EPA orders to provide a separate chemical cleanup plan).
Virtually all the publicity has been devoted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for cleaning up thorium beneath commercial buildings and the surrounding properties in Maywood. It’s the one portion of the cleanup Stenan has, thus far, been largely exempted from having to take care of – due to Torricelli’s earlier political action.
True, Rothman and Richards maintain that they want to see the borough’s remaining thorium-contaminated soil, all of it (roughly 300,000 cubic yards), moved “up and out” of the municipality – long the position of the Concerned Citizens
The question is who exactly will pay for it?
Thus far, Rothman, without explaining why, has joined in lockstep with Richards in backing having taxpayers continue subsidizing the cleanup of Stepan’s original thorium problem.
The corps, which replaced the DOE as the lead thorium agency at the site in 1997, has left the door open to aggressively pursuing Stepan in getting it to cough up much more money for cleaning up Maywood’s remaining radiological waste. Doing so would essentially terminate Torricelli’s original agreement - and could make Richards quite nervous.
As 2004 moves closer, will Rothman and the new mayor (as Torricelli did previously) try interfering with any further enforcement actions against Stepan, concerning thorium?
Or will this Richards-Rothman duo join the New Jersey’s State Democratic Committee’s (and, by extension, McGreevey’s) call in the past 2003 campaign to make “polluters pay for causing environmental damage.” .
Also, when will Stepan, and the EPA, publicly unveil Stepan’s separate proposed plan for attacking chemicals?
“Up and out” seems to be the new mantra for resolving Maywood’s thorium debacle. But the details on how this will be accomplished need to be carefully examined.
While the EPA has promised Maywood that “up and out” will be carried out, remember, this same federal agency flat-out lied to the community (with the council's complete ascent) in the early 1990s.
During that period, the EPA once made – and then abandoned – a pledge not to pursue any cleanup requiring use of the Maywood interim site (including trucking soil in from Lodi) until after a record of decision was issued. This switch hurt Maywood, but certainly satisfied Richards (a private citizen when the decision was made).
More than likely, Richards’ ascendancy to the mayoral chair will lead to the designation of longtime confidante William Rupp as borough attorney – barring some new development. Rupp worked with the mayor-elect and Torricelli at the local level while town attorney 20 years ago to help thwart the EPA’s earlier thorium enforcement efforts against Stepan.
He did this via negotiating a “memorandum of understanding” that led to creation of the Maywood Interim Storage Site (MISS). Both men actively supported Stepan’s transferring ownership of some of its property to create the site – made possible when Torricelli negotiated the original deal relieving Stepan of a good part of its original financial liability.
Once Richards and Rupp accomplished this, and joined Torricelli in largely taking Stepan off the hook for thorium, they then repeatedly asserted that the mayor and council was powerless in trying to take on the federal government (the DOE).
They did so even though they themselves directly played a hand in weakening their municipality’s power against Stepan. Rupp subsequently referred to this principle as “the power of federal pre-emption.”
If Rupp’s appointment becomes reality in 2004, given his own checkered past on the whole thorium mess, his activities here must be closely monitored.
II. Two big initiatives on Richards’ plate: getting the federal government to transfer ownership of Stepan’s former and polluted property – the MISS – to the borough, and possibly developing the polluted Sears Distribution Center property. The latter site has been eyed as a potential location for part of a light rail transportation hub the state has studied.
A. On the possible MISS transfer – Richards and Rothman are working to pass federal legislation transferring ownership of the MISS – still held by the DOE - to the municipality. The DOE retained ownership even after thorium cleanup responsibility for Maywood’s area sites was reassigned - six years ago - to the corps.
Stepan originally owned this tract, which extends on to a small portion of neighboring Rochelle Park. The plant deeded it to the DOE through Torricelli’s dealings about 20 years ago. It has been used ever since as a base for taking and storing thorium. Waste has been taken there from the Phase I residential (mostly Lodi and a tiny smattering of Maywood) and Ballod commercial (Rochelle Park) properties prior to transportation via rail into a permanent storage facility (Envirocare of Utah). It has long been cited as a major eyesore and source of controversy.
Richards has said the borough should get the property so it can determine a future use (and potential ratable) for it. Yet, given his longstanding support for Stepan, his activities must be closely watched here.
For example, might Stepan argue that ownership should revert back to it, or might Richards’ friendly administration somehow try turning the site over to Stepan – after taxpayers subsidized a major part of the plant’s cleanup?
B. The future of Sears – Richards has talked about the need to eventually develop this large site into a major new ratable. But to what, and when?
Richards has favored using a large portion of the site to accommodate a light rail transportation system that would run from Paterson to Edgewater, in helping better get commuters from whatever route might be built into New York.
The Sears location has been the subject of clandestine discussions involving the borough and potential developers for at least the last four years, dating back to the days of then-Borough Administrator John Perkins.
Perkins once raised the possibility of building on this site three large commercial buildings under any light rail use. If any such plan were to be implemented, it would require a massive amount of outside financial assistance. Yet consideration of the light rail option has gotten bogged down under the McGreevey administration, so who knows what will happen?
Richards has made much about his friendship with McGreevey’s number two man, Chief of Staff Jamie Fox. The light rail proposal could be an item Richards might want to pitch to someone like Fox, former right-hand man to Torricelli, during some of the controversial years Torricelli dealt with the borough’s thorium mess.
About two years ago, the governing body, which now supposedly wants to get rid of all of the Superfund thorium contamination, entered into a study with the Bergen County Department of Planning and Economic Development to see if the location should be designated a “brownfields” site.
Such a designation might qualify the borough for some federal funding, though, Nolan complained at the time, could result in leaving large amounts of thorium and chemical pollution on the site.
At the corps' Aug. 28 2002 hearing on its proposed thorium cleanup plan for soils and buildings, Richards claimed that the council wanted to eventually develop part of the current Sears site for a recreational use, in part, to force a tougher cleanup in the area.
Richards certainly seems preoccupied with the Sears issue. Don’t be surprised if he announces there is a developer he knows who wants to come forward. But keep in mind, Richards has also desired to save Stepan as much money as possible in paying to help resolve the whole thorium debacle. While he says he wants “up and out” there now, he has proven he can change his spots pretty quickly – and the politically impotent EPA has always catered to the interests of Maywood’s conscience-challenged politicians.
While Richards and his colleagues will likely see sites like the MISS and Sears developed ASAP, by law, nothing can be done until the EPA (barring further political interference) is satisfied that any ROD spelling out a cleanup is met.
As they say, who knows?
IV. Straightening out the borough’s financial house, and resolving the issue of cost overruns to pay for the new “John A. Steuert Municipal Building” fiasco.
A. Financial problems – Borough Auditor Chuck Cuccia has admitted that department heads have routinely overexpended monies in their budgets, that is, spending more money from line items than the council has authorized. He has promised to work with Borough Administrator Jack Terhune on implementing a better accounting system here. If the new mayor wants to restore credibility in this area, he will need to keep close "tabs" on the borough’s performance here.
B The ”new Steuert building mess” continues – Rupp, as a special counsel, has been tasked with evaluating the issue of how much the borough may have spent unnecessarily on the beleaguered initiative – completed last March (2003)
Simply put, the borough - to try and help bring the matter to resolve – needs to prepare a report quantifying what should have been spent to finish the job under ideal conditions and how much might have been wasted due to factors such as alleged shoddy workmanship and alleged lax supervision.
Earlier this year, the council resolved some payment issues in an agreement reached with the site’s second contractor, GRE Construction of Parlin, though some litigation over the project apparently still looms.
During his 2002 council re-election campaign, Richards’ handlers tried painting the candidate as a heroic figure here, citing his push to appoint a clerk of the works (Raimondo Construction) to monitor progress at the site. The fact is, Richards joined everyone else on the council, during a 2000 meeting, in supporting Republican Mayor Wayne Kuss’ sudden and grand expansion plan.
That plan took the project from its original objective of renovating the volunteer ambulance headquarters and Protection Hook and Ladder firehouse to building an entire new borough hall at 15 Park Ave. However, Richards has since insisted he was misled - as to the scope and objectives of the revised project - by Building Inspector Joseph Mellone.
V. Making sure the borough gets its fair share from the state for ceding ratables obliterated by an ongoing Route 17 highway expansio/renovation
Using its considerable muscle, the state Department of Tramsportation has forcibly acquired some private commercial property off Route 17 South to initiate a project linked to providing better access between the highway and Route 80. Richards' running mate, Dr. Tim Eustace, has branded the state's proposed terms for providing payment in lieu of taxes a giveaway that will profoundly impact borough taxpayers for years to come. The state has essentially taken away the borough's ability to collect taxes annually from these previously-assessed properties (requiring the council to find ways for replacing the revenue).
Richards reported earlier this year that he held some private discussions with his friend Fox, who he likely expects will quickly return his phone calls for the rest of the new mayor's tenure. Yet, as we have seen with the borough's thorium debacle, borough officials have a troubling record when it comes to trying to assert the community's rights against powerful state and federal agencies who use politically-weak Maywood in pursuing their own agendas.
VI. Finally, will ballfield lights be installed in Memorial Park?
Richards. in another one of his contradictions, called for holding a non-binding referendum on this hot potato last August, after earlier rejecting some residents' pleas to support the move when the lights were first proposed in late 2002. At the time, the council adopted a roughly $300,000 bond ordinance to finance the undertaking - provided the borough could be significantly reimbursed via government grants and/or private donations.
Richards "switch" on the lights came without even acknowledging his prior opposition to a referendum.
This stand awkwardly put him at odds with Eustace, who supported the lights but opposed a referendum (with a council majority).
Note, Richards did not say he opposed installing the lights. His mayoral opponent, Republican Councilman Tom Gaffney, pulled his own "switch" when his ticket announced it would oppose the lights.
Asked where he thought things were heading, as of late September, Rich Hennion, a leader in the fight to permanently "kill" the lights, said the matter appeared dead - at least as of then.
"The sense I got in talking with the Democrats was that it (lights) was a dead issue because grant monies (to reimburse the borough's costs) could not be found," Hennion told TRUTH HURTS.
As they say, stay tuned.
AN ADDENDUM - RICHARDS' POLITICAL WEATHER VANE SPINS AND SPINS
By Chris Neidenberg
He comes to the mayoral chair likely with the local "mainstream" print media at his beckon call.
He also comes with a party majority that - by the very nature of politics - will likely show hardly any independence against him if needed, and a borough minority party that has even colluded with him at times.
But then again, he sometimes speaks of promoting "non-partisanship."
In fact, his "political weather vane" spins as furiously as a windmill on the windiest day of the year in Holland.
He always appears calculating, taking whatever position seems to best suit his needs at the moment (as you'll see later).
But if you attempt to report or expose such glaring contradictions, or any truths in a way that he perceives as a threat to his political survival, in our so-called free society, watch out!!
He definitely has exhibited behavior in the past that shows he is "a control freak"
The preponderance of evidence shows, at least in his public life, that he operates with "a low moral compass."
More than likely, state and federal agencies, the local EPA site manager, future developers, et al, seeking to do business with the borough, will need to "grovel at his feet.'
He'll like that.
Still, he's expert at working the town's "rubber chicken circuit," and he's been doing it for at least 30 years: MADCAP, Bergen County ARC, The Rotary, the volunteer ambulance squad, Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, et al, where many people only see one side of him.
And indeed, we don't doubt that he has done good community work in these areas.
He's no doubt, well-connected in Bergen County Democratic power structure, and in politics, it's always "who you know" that counts most - often at the expense of all morals and logic
He'll have plenty of political pals blind to his worst excesses.
He has cultivated a legion of local political associates through the years, who, for their own political and personal agendas and needs, don't want to see, know (or even care about) his other side.
The local political environment he will be operating in (a virtual vacuum) certainly creates the potential for executive abuse.
And there's no way anyone can argue that - just because he got more votes than his political opponent - he can do whatever he wants (or done some of the strange things he's done in the past).
Still,Tom Richardswill be mayor come January. He says he wants to take the borough in a new "direction," and we hope he does so in a way that pursues Maywood's best interests first and foremost - and in a completely open and honest environment..
Yet we've seen it all before: the phantom environmental advisory boards, the clandestine meetings he has held, particularly with federal environmental officials, who have long known that they can always count on any Maywood politician to "roll over" in getting what they want to do done.
Then there is Richards' repeated contradictions on policy issues throughout his public life.
In many instances, you never hear him acknowledge his changing a position, thus, many people who don't hear the original position might think the opinion is original.
As the saying goes, "The typical politician always counts on short memories."
Some classic examples:
A. Thorium - In 1994, outside a federal government meeting showcasing a contamination treatment program known as soil washing, opposed by the then-mayor and council Richards (who was not on the council at the time) stated that, because the bulk of the borough's site lied in an area zoned commercial, he did not believe the most thorough cleanup of contamination was essential . The goal has historically been defined as reaching five picocuries per gram.
He did say, even though there was no official report from the feds to prove it, that he was confidant the process would "suck out all of the thorium anyway."
During a public hearing held Aug. 28, 2002 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Maywood's proposed plan to clean up thorium-tainted soils from buildings and under ground, Richards (running for council) boldly declared a radically different policy.
He said that the council would work to force the feds into cleaning up these same commercial properties to five picocuries all the way (the cited "residential, unrestricted use" standard), drawing loud applause. Yet only in 2000, he was still pitching treatment as a very viable option.
He did so in attempting to promote soil separation, a different technology from washing, during a clandestine, non-public meeting involving the corps and state and federal elected officials. The session included Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).
B Thorium again - In 1985, Richards, on the council back then, played a key role in getting his colleagues (a Democratic majority) to support trucking into the borough's then-new interim storage site large volumes of toxic dirt from a vacant and polluted commercially-zoned property in Rochelle Park, the first portion of the site needing action.
The action eventually helped a group of prominent Bergen County Republicans, who later sold the tract so it could be developed into the Bristol Manor Nursing Home.
This batch consisted of about 90 percent of the first wave of soil sent to the site, during a time when both major local parties (before their ultimate collusion on thorium) heatedly debated whether any outside contamination should be brought in at all (with Democrats arguing for the policy). This dirt stayed in town for about 10 years.
The remaining 10 percent of soil at that time came from homes (mostly in Lodi, a few in Maywood). The feds cleaned up the vacant commercial piece of land (Ballod) before acting on many, many other occupied, contaminated homes.
This historical action is very significant because, in the ensuing years, Richards has tried to claim (including during cleanup efforts ateempted in 1989, 1991 and more recently) that the first priority - out of neighborly benevolence - should be to address contamination ihreatening people living in homes - even if Maywood's interests had to be put on the back burner.
Then why did Richards earlier aggressively push the borough to accept dirt from the vacant Ballod commercial piece, while remaining silent about the fact that the feds were leaving behind large volumes of residential-based contamination under many other occupied homes?
C. Partisan v non-partisan government - One of his more recent flips (please read, "The 'two faces' of 'partisan' Mayor-elect Tom Richards").
On Oct. 28, 2002, during a candidates forum, Richards said there are essentially no major differences between Maywood "Republicans" and "Democrats." He further called for changing the municipal charter to turn Maywood into a "non-partisan" form of government with elections once every four years.
Five months later, rather than reaching out to the Republicans in promoting the cause, he runs a "partisan" mayor's race against the GOP, which he wins, and now wants to implement a "Democratic" agenda for the town.
Time will tell if Richards, who has grabbed the mayoral reins using the current 'partisan" system, will again change.
D. Allowing overnight tenant parking at the south-end apartments - Richards can always count on recruiting a band of tenant loyalists from the Essex Street area to generate "partisan" buzz on the tenant parking issue - when it suits his ends.
In fact, he claimed during a meeting last March (2003) that his party (and not the Republicans) has always been willing to help tenants in that area get overnight parking relief.
Ultimately, an agreement was reached with National Wholesale Liquidators for use of a private parking lot across the street (with majority Republican support).
Problem is, Richards' party, when it earlier had a majority, never implemented any kind of relief program for tenants in the general area.
This despite pleas from then-Democratic Councilman Frank Beatrice (with him on the council at the time were Democrats Mayor Thomas Murphy, Councilman Dr. Tim Eustace, Councilwoman Lorraine LaPietra and Councilwoman Joan Winnie)..
Where was Richards then - with his tenant loyalists - to lobby his party colleagues?
E. New Borough Hall debacle - Richards and two other council Democrats in 2000 supported this grand expansion plan, though Richards now says he received bad information in doing so from Building Inspector Joe Mellone (who helped oversee the work).
During a candidates' debate on Oct. 28, 2002, Richards, suggesting that the borough wasted a good deal of money on the effort, revealed he approached the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office on opening a criminal investigation into the matter, but was rebuffed.
That night, he called for the borough to initiate its own investigation over the matter instead.
Yet, during the council's first work session in the new building last March, after Republican Councilman Jim Petrie raised concerns as to the long-term effect the mess might have on the municipality's finances, Richards said that - since the building would serve the borough's needs over the next 50 years - this alone would justify any final price tag.
Thus. talk of pursuing any investigation at all, from Richards, soon faded after his 2002 re-election.
If we are to believe Richards now, the building is fine and all expenses were justified.
F. Referendum on ballfield lights in Memorial Park - Quite simply, Richards last August said he wanted residents to have a voice on the matter. Yet when residents upset with the original proposal pitched this same idea during a a council meeting late in 2002, he said nothing.
Politicians do reserve the right to occasionally evolve in their thinking on an issue.
Yet you seldom - if ever - hear any explanation from Richards over his many policy shifts and contradictions.
Let's simplify the points raised here.
A. THORIUM - In the mid-1980s. Richards plays an influential role in persuading the council to support the interim storage within Maywood of a massive amount of contamination from a then-vacant commercially-zoned piece of property, the Ballod site in Rochelle Park.
It made up about 90 percent of the original interim site pile - clearly visible from backyards on West Central Avenue.
He pushed this while letting the feds leave contamination under many homes in Lodi.
Yet, to hear Richards today, he makes people think he always prioritized taking care of houses - the vast majority which were in Lodi - because his prime concern was to help residents living in the homes.
A glaring contradiction.
B. THORIUM AGAIN - Richards spent years, on the council and as Environmental Legislative Action Committee chairman, trying to help the feds impose what, they eventually conceded, was an unworkable soil treatment plan upon his borough.
To do this, he even knowingly tolerated allowing the feds to delay finally releasing any kimd of thorium cleamup plan to his Maywood neighbors for over eight years.
Yet, during a public hearing convened by the feds on Aug. 28, 2002, Richards - playing to a receptive audience - suddenly declared he supported mandating the full excavation of all of Maywood's remaining waste - a view he seemed to spend years fighting.
A glaring contradiction.
C. ESTABLISHING A NON-PARTISAN FORM OF GVERNMENT - On Oct. 28, 2002, Richards declares that there are no real differences between Maywood's "Democrats" and "Republicans.
He calls for changing the municipal charter to a non-partisan form of government. He is joined by his GOP council opponent, Councilman Tom Gaffney.
Instead of pursuing this goal, six months later, he accepts the Democratic Party nomination for mayor and engages in a "partisan" mayoral campaign against his pal, Gaffney, which he wins.
He then announces he will govern pushing a Democratic-backed "agenda," called, "Direction 2004"
A glaring contradiction.
D. HELPING TENANTS IN THE SOUTH-END APARTMENTS GET OVERNIGHT PARKING - In March 2003, Richards - back in :partisan" drive - infers that Maywood Democrats always favored helping tenants secure overnight parking compared to the borough's Republicans.
Yet, during some prior years when his party had control (but while he was off the council), nothing was done to help the tenants.
This despite pleas from then-Democratic Councilman Frank Beatrice.
Richards. a major force in the borough's Democratic Party whether he's been on or off the council, is nowhere to be found in lobbying for the tenants.
A glaring contradiction.
E. LAUNCHING AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE BOROUGH HALL CONSTRUCTION MESS - On Oct. 28, 2002, he announces that he earlier petitioned the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office to launch a criminal investigation into the saga.
He suggests that a tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars was wasted due to the borough's questionable handling of the project.
Yet, in early March of this year (2003) Richards suddenly declares everything is fine.
Given the new building will meet the borough's needs for another 50 years. he said, the expenses put into it were justified.
A glaring contradiction.
F. HOLDING A REFERENDUM ON MEMORIAL PARK LIGHTS - Richards' ignores residents' pleas to approve holding a non-binding referendum on the project around the time it is first unveiled during the fall-winter of 2002.
Then, in August of 2003, he declares he wants to give residents some kind of voice on the issue - without explaining his prior lack of support.
A glaring contradiction
For much more on the mindset of new Mayor Tom Richards, please read numerous articles throughout this site.
They include, "The 'two faces' of 'partisan' Democratic Mayor-elect Tom Richards," "Richards 'switches on' Memorial lights issue," "Bergen County Dems nominate 'pro-polluter' ticket?" and its follow-up, "An addendum - Do the pols really want 'non-partisan' government?" Also see, "Richards still cozy with town's worst polluter - Parts I and II," "Dem, GOP hopefuls admit, 'Parties not different,'" and "Candidates urge probe of building mess."
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
What happened to mayor-elect's "non-partisan" push?
By Chris Neidenberg
Wearing "two faces" when it comes to stating positions on borough issues almost seems as though it has become a cute little gimmick (not to mention a pleasant and iversionary pastime) for new Democratic Mayor-elect Thomas Richards.
And Maywood Truth has repeatedly proven this point - beyond a reasonable doubt - time and time again.
Barring some new "flip flop" coming in early January, which one can never rule out in the crazy, contorted political worlds of Maywood and Richards - we think we've found yet another example: the issue of turning Maywood into a non-partisan form of government.
Remember all the "non-partisan bluster" which howled loudly during the 2002 Borough Council race?
What happened to it?
At that time, Richards and his political Siamese twin, Republican Councilman Tom Gaffney, espoused the virtues of changing Maywood's municipal charter to bring about a "non-partisan" form of government. Once considered one of Richards' babies, this plan (if approved by voters) would see Maywood conduct "non-partisan" council elections in May once every four years, devoid of direct "Democrat" and "Republican" party labels.
A mayor would be selected annually by members of the governing body, taking that duty away from the voters. Annual local elections, now held every November, would be abolished. In favorong this plan, at least in 2002, Richards conceded it would likely lower voter turnout.
During Campaign '02, Richards and Gaffney gushed and blushed all over each other to the point where it seemed as though their bond amounted to a "stealth unity ticket" that was quietly (and underhandedly) being promoted by their respective "Republicrat" political bosses.
Call it, "Maywood's mutual admiration society."
Looking back, did you ever really hear anything from their respective running mates that year, Erich Fleischmann (Republican) and Herbert Heaney (Democrat)?
During a candidates' debate held in Trinka Hall on Oct. 28, 2002, Richards and Gaffney practically admitted that the labels "Democrat" and "Republican" within Maywood only offered voters the illusion of any real differences between the local parties.
In fact, the editor of the borough's "establishment" weekly media print organ - the wife of a former Democratic mayor, who twice ran with Richards himself said the '02 race was the quietest local campaign she had ever seen.
Shortly after the dust settled from the 2002 campaign, both sides started shifting gears. The groundwork seemingly immediately was being laid to conduct a "highly partisan" mayoral campaign - pitting Richards against Gaffney. Both sides, in building upon the "non-partisan" theme, could have instead offered voters an "unopposed bi-partisan unity slate," with candidates endorsed by leaders from the two political parties. Of course, that did not happen.
Perhaps that would have been too honest (or maybe dishonest?).
Voters were now being told that the local "Democratic" and "Republican" parties really do differ, on issues such as giving tenants overnight parking and managing the police department.
On Sept. 17, Gaffney proposed replacing the police chief's position with a civilian police director as a cost-cutting move, and he wanted to give it to Borough Administrator Jack Terhune, the former Republican Bergen County sheriff, state corrections commissioner, and one-time Teaneck police detective. Unless Terhune knew of Gaffney's intentions in advance, the idea certainly could have left the adminstrator - who must work with council members from both parties - feeling somewhat awkward
The seemingly sudden and controversial proposal - made with about two months left in the mayoral campaign - mobilized the rank and file, through the local police officers' association, to protest Gaffney's idea. Additionally, it gave Richards the ammo needed to suddenly make his close political pal, Gaffney, look like "the bad guy."
Only a scientific opinion poll could provide some clue as to how many votes thi controversy could have affected. Yet a cynic might very well conclude that Gaffney's whole civilian police director brouhaha was staged.
So will Maywood's dysfunctional "Republicratic" political establishment, come January, offer residents a "partisan" or "non-partisan" face?
If a letter to the editor from Richards and his running mates, which ran in at least one local "establishment" newspaper on Nov. 15 is any indication, their message could very well be, "partisan Democratic."
In fact, compared to the now-hollow "non-partisan" words uttered by Richards in 2002, the Dems currently seem to be saying they have a "party agenda."
In the joint letter, the three winning Democratic candidates said, "The margins of victory were significant and a clear endorsement of "Direction 2004" - our (the Democrats that is) agenda for moving Maywood forward in the years to come."
But, turn back the clock to the debate of Oct. 28, 2002, and you'll see the Democrats pitched a far different message. No talk of a "Democratic agenda" at all.
At that time, Richards said, "I believe when it comes to Maywood, it's very difficult to say you're a Republican or Democrat because the issues are not Republican or Democrat, the issues are Maywood's."
His running mate, Savage, who will help Richards implement the Democrats' coming "agenda," sang quite a different tune in 2002.
"I just say to you all, this non-partisan government makes a lot of sense to me," said Savage, an audience member at the time.
Gaffney also joined the chorus - last year..
"Yes, I do believe in it (non-partisan elections)," said Gaffney. "We're all serving for the people, time and time again."
So, will Richards' one-time "non-partisan" push ever resurface?
With Richards' now coming into the mayor's chair, and with the potential that he can easily pull the strings of what could be his three "rubber stamps" next year, one can never rule anything out.
It all depends on whether Richards believes doing so will enhance the prospects for his own survival - and how his "partisan Democratic majority" plays out.
For now, Richards most likely is content with wielding mayoral power as a "partisan Democrat." Stay tuned.
That's because more important than party loyalty (as his historically sordid dealings with Maywood's Republican organization clearly prove), Richards has always worried about Richards - first and foremost.
He survives because, in the crazy and contorted political world that is Maywood (at least among its old guard), morality, integrity, any sense of fair play - and honesty - mean almost nothing. .
It's all about accumulating - and flaunting - power.
THE "TWO FACES" OF MAYWOOD'S CURRENT "PARTISAN DEMOCRATIC" MAYOR ELECT THOMAS RICHARDS
WILL "DIRECTION 2004" INCLUDE RICHARDS' LONGSTANDING PROPOSAL TO CHANGE MAYWOOD INTO A "NON PARTISAN" FORM OF GOVERNMENT?
On Oct. 28, 2002, then-council candidate Richards states, "I believe when it comes to Maywood, it's very difficult to say you're a Republican or Democrat because the issues are not Republican or Democrat, the issues are Maywood's."
That same night, current Democratic Councilman-elect Jack Savage states,"I just say to you all, this non-partisan government makes a lot of sense to me "
ONE YEAR LATER, RICHARDS, SAVAGE AND RE-ELECTED DEMOCRATIC COUNCILMAN DR TIM EUSTACE ARE SINGING A FAR DIFFERENT TUNE. NOW, THEY WANT TO PUSH THROUGH "A DEMOCRATIC AGENDA."
In a letter to the editor, published in a Hackensack-based newspaper on Nov. 15 2003, the three Democrats state, "The margins of victory were significant and a clear endorsement of "Direction 2004" - our (the Democrats that is) agenda for moving Maywood forward in the years to come."
IN 2002 - THE DEMOCRATS TALK UP, "NON-PARTISANSHIP."
IN 2003 - THEY PUSH FORWARD A DEMOCRATIC "AGENDA."
WHAT"S IN STORE FOR 2004?
WELCOME TO THE CRAZY POLITICAL WORLD OF "REPUBLICRAT" MAYWOOD - WHERE "GOVERNMENT DOUBLE-SPEAK" MONOPOLIZES THE POLITICAL DIALOGUE.
(A LARGE AMOUNT OF BLANK SPACE FOLLOWS THIS POST. JUST KEEP SCROLLING DOWN TO THE NEXT POST.)