Sunday, August 10, 2014

August 10, 2014: We Can, We Will, Watch Us Get Canned

"We can, we will, watch us get canned."
--Carmelo G. Garcia (not really)

To be fair, Carmelo Garcia, the newly-fired executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority is not known for using the Royal We. Yet there are certainly many in the self-proclaimed "Reformist" camp in Hoboken things political who might dispute that, at least in the philosophical sense.

I need to back up a bit here for anyone who doesn't follow Hoboken politics rather closely and even in the dog days of August.

First, I'll correct the quote:

"We can, we will, watch us."
--Carmelo G. Garcia (really)

Mr. Garcia has for some time, in particular most recently as a campaign slogan during his race (if you can call it that, for which more below) for one of the 33rd New Jersey Assembly District seats (seats?, yes there are two, patience please), used the slogan "We can, we will, watch us."

What he means in this slogan is that the disadvantaged can and will rise up to achieve its potential, much as Mr. Garcia, who grew up in the Hoboken's federally subsidized housing projects, has laudably accomplished for himself.

Yet Mr. Garcia has been having difficulties of late, arguably at least in part difficulties that he has imposed upon himself. I have written about Mr. Garcia in two of the prior three entries of this blog, the two entries immediately preceding my entry about the travails of Governor Chris Christie, and of course since then Mr. Christie has himself been engulfed by the somewhat seamy side of Hoboken politics (and real estate) himself, at least if you believe Mayor Dawn Zimmer's allegations. (Which I am not ignoring, you can rest assured. I simply haven't turned to writing about that yet.)

I need to make up for an oversight in my November 2013 entry, in which I stated that my readers know about the suit Mr. Garcia had filed against Ms. Zimmer, and therefore how her re-election and her coalition's control over the Mayoralty, the City Council, the Board of Education, and the Zoning Board could not spell good tidings to those in control of the Housing Authority, where the Board remained barely supportive (if that) of Mr. Garcia's continued service. I did not write about that suit. I will now, as well as the latest developments.

The suit was filed in August 2013, against Ms. Zimmer, her husband (Stan Grossbard), and the Housing Authority's then-Board chair, Jake Stuiver, accusing them of all kinds of things scurrilous, essentially ranging from making Mr. Garcia's work really unpleasant and hard, to conducting a campaign of "ethnic cleansing," and yes that phrase was used. It is not difficult to divine the identity of the attorney representing Mr. Garcia, at least if you follow the Hoboken Diary, one Louis Zayas.

Ms. Zimmer appoints only one member of the Housing Authority board. The Governor appoints one as well. The Hoboken City Council appoints the other five. When Zimmer had the opportunity to make her first appointment upon the termination of a term, she appointed a member who in fact turned out to be at least somewhat supportive of Mr. Garcia rather than aligned with the other Reform-aligned members. Initially Mr. Stuiver (of the Reform camp) was elected chair of the board, but he then - due to a switch by Zimmer's appointee, Jean Rodriguez, lost that post to Rob Davis III. So Mr. Garcia still nominally had the support of the Board, though things were hardly firm in hand as on any number of individual issues Ms. Rodriguez voted with the Reform group on the Board. Mr. Garcia filed his suit while Stuiver was still chair.

The suit was arguably rushed into process earlier than intended. During another of Mr. Zayas's legal forays - the case of Angel Alicea, in fact, for which continue on to get an update - a secret recording Mr. Garcia had made of a lunch he had with Mr. Grossbard and Bernard Kenny was referred to and became as a result part of the public record. Mr. Kenny is a Hoboken political power broker and former New Jersey State Senator (the predecessor of Brian Stack) and Assembly member. The lunch, which took place in January 2013, was supposedly arranged, with the aid of Mr. Kenny, so that Mr. Garcia could try to make peace with Ms. Zimmer.

Recording the affair was not on the menu at Jack Dempsey's. The recording includes a fascinating soliloquy by Mr. Garcia while in the restaurant's restroom. The transcript uses the admirable euphemism "bathroom noises" at one point. Mr. Garcia expresses in his soliloquy considerably more self-confidence than does a certain Prince of Denmark. (It is not lost on me that this suggests a further riff on Mr. Garcia's campaign slogan, which I chose to leave to your imagination to puzzle out.)

Here's the relevant page:

It is hard for me to believe that even many attorneys would have one-way conversations like this one.

Shakespeare is of course known for drawing from historical documents, and I think he might have made excellent use of this transcript, though I think in a different play than "Hamlet."
LADY MACBETH: Out, damned spot! out, I say! [Bathroom noises.]
In the recording Mr. Garcia offers to Mr. Grossbard to support Ms. Zimmer in the forthcoming election, to appoint as attorney to the Authority's Board a particular individual he supposed to be a favorite of Mayor Zimmer, and forge a lasting peace, all in return for "calling the dogs off." (Mr. Garcia wanted to have reappointed as attorney Charles Daglian. The Board wanted another option, to put it mildly.) The gist of Mr. Grossbard's response is that the Board might have more confidence in Mr. Garcia if he would simply work with them as to the choice of an attorney.

Whether Mr. Garcia took any of that in is not clear, but we do know one thing, which is that Mr. Garcia was not reticent in referring his place in the world (or more broadly), to wit:
GARCIA: I know I am destined for greatness.
Now, that really is Shakespearian.
MALVOLIO: ... some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.
Mr. Garcia will want things to work out differently for him than they did for Malvolio.

In early January 2014, the suit was dismissed without prejudice, meaning that as it was filed it would not stand further action in court, but Mr. Garcia was given a month to revise the suit, if he cared to, and in particular instructed to find some other way to express things than through the use of the phrase "ethnic cleansing." The suit was refiled, and it seems we are now waiting.

The Reform camp's interpretation of these machinations is that Mr. Garcia was aiming for a couple of things: First, an attempt to incriminate Ms. Zimmer and Mr. Grossbard. Second, to lay the groundwork for getting a pot of gold at such point he lost his job as the Authority's executive director, either by firing or non-reappointment upon the conclusion of his contract, or to have the hanging suit serve as a way to protect his job.

In early May 2014, the City Council had the opportunity to appoint two members of the Housing Authority. They chose - in a 5-4 vote, of course (move over, U.S. Supreme Court) - Dana Wefer and David Dening. The Authority board then proceeded to a reorganization, electing Ms. Wefer as chair. The board was now firmly in the hands of the Reform camp, with four members very clear and a fifth (the Governor's appointee) also generally sympathetic.

As might be imagined, fun diversions followed. The Board decided to appoint a special counsel to investigate some things. Mr. Garcia and Mr. Daglian objected, and protested to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (the Authority being federally-subsidized housing), and HUD ruled that the Board was out of line making such an appointment, and the contract with that attorney was canceled.

Members of the Board raised objections to several contracts, including some with firms that turned out to be contributors to Mr. Garcia's race for the Assembly. While it was far from clear that there was anything illegal about those contributions, and no illegality was officially alleged, the issue with more teeth was that 20 months after Hurricane Sandy wreaked considerable havoc on the Authority's buildings, Mr. Garcia was continuing to award contracts for considerable expenses on an emergency basis, allowing for the bypassing of bids, and for monthly rather than longer-term work. Members of the Board expressed concerns that this was questionable and possibly illegal, and in the least not their preference.

At the end of July, the Board called a special meeting on August 4, for which the agenda was a resolution to terminate Mr. Garcia.

Mr. Garcia's contract is a five year deal expiring on August 31, 2015. In my reading, other than when for cause, the Authority is given the right to terminate unilaterally with 120 days' notice. And indeed, as part of the process at the meeting, it was ordered that Mr. Garcia be proffered a check as quickly as feasible, which check, incidentally, would be for something in the vicinity of $56,000. Whether that check has as yet been presented to Mr. Garcia and whether he has accepted it is unknown to me.

Based on reports, the special meeting was quite an event. Mr. Garcia addressed a protest march of evidently some 200 people, from the Authority, chanting (Mr. Garcia's version of) "We can, etc." along the way, to City Hall, where the meeting took place. There was utter mayhem soon after the outset of the meeting, forcing a recess before a vote could be called on the resolution. No surprise that immediately after the meeting was called to order, Council member Beth Mason made a statement that she considered the meeting to be illegal. Her complaints were that the meeting was not sufficiently noticed and that not everyone who wanted to attend the meeting was able to fit into the room (which latter certainly was true, though it's not obvious that such is required).

Here is the beginning of the meeting:

There was quite a bit of procedural wrangling. Mr. Garcia denied receiving notification that his employment would be on the agenda, the so-called Rice Notification. That notice gives a recipient the right to have the discussion about his employment determine that it will be done in closed or public session. Ms. Wefer read into the record the certified mail receipt number. Mr. Garcia stated that as it was sent to his office (rather than home) that did not suffice. But it was clear he was aware of the meeting and the agenda, and had determined that his attorney was on vacation and thus not present to give him counsel.

Per standard procedure, the executive director of a housing authority is also the Secretary for its board meetings, and there was a huge set-to as to whether a temporary secretary should be appointed for this meeting. It's all in the transcript.

The resolution to terminate Mr. Garcia passed 5-2, with the prior Board president Rob Davis III, and Ms. Zimmer's appointee Jean Rodriguez, being the dissenters. There was a further vote to appoint, effective immediately, an interim executive director, Richard Fox. Then followed public comments, concluding with Mr. Garcia's own, and the meeting was adjourned.

The upshot, for now, is that Mr. Garcia has lost his primary employment, at least as to salary (pay for the Assembly is $49,000; for the HHA position $165,000), though not without a not insubstantial severance. There has also been considerable speculation that his political career was already irreparably damaged by his decision to wear a microphone, which was turned on from the time he met Mr. Kenny in the PATH train station in Hoboken on the way to Manhattan to meet Mr. Grossbard. Politicians certainly do not like that in general.

Mr. Garcia now evidently joins Ruben Ramos - a close friend and his predecessor as Assembly member, and loser to Dawn Zimmer in last November's mayoral election - in suffering a major career setback. They are also the two most prominent Hispanic politicians in Hoboken. Not that anyone should assume that either Mr. Garcia or Mr. Ramos are finished (let alone that Mr. Garcia is, after all, still a member of the Assembly).

I referred to Mr. Garcia's race for Assembly in scare quotes above, and this will be the opportunity to point out that in New Jersey, unique among American states to my knowledge, the districts for the two houses of the state legislature work from duplicate district boundaries, and each district is represented by one Senator and two Assembly members. The result is that at least in some cases there are tickets comprising a Senate candidate and two Assembly candidates anointed by that Senate candidate - and that the Senate candidate is the dominant factor. Such is certainly the case in the 33rd District, home of Senator Brian Stack. There is plenty of speculation that Mr. Stack must rue the day he invited Mr. Garcia to join his ticket, though certainly there has been no public statement to that effect.

The Housing Authority board will now appoint a new executive director, and with that all the levers of Hoboken government will be in the hands of the Reform camp, and out of the hands of the so-called Old Guard.

For now.

A major outcome is that this would appear to bury Mr. Garcia's proposed "Vision 20/20" rebuilding of the Authority property, which would have involved substantial luxury real estate development opportunities, but was bitterly opposed by Mayor Zimmer and the City Council members aligned with her. (Opponents consider the proposal to be an informal public relations document.)

There was of course input from Louis Zayas as to these developments. He is quoted in the Hudson Reporter as saying, the day before the vote by the Board, "Instead of just recognizing their mistakes, their wrongdoing, and taking corrective action to stop what they were trying to accomplish, they have decided now to fire the whistle blower." The "they" (per the Reporter quote) is Dawn Zimmer and her allies. Also, "I don't know who is giving the mayor or the Hoboken Housing Authority legal advice, but this gamble that they have undertaken is going to backfire badly for them and the taxpayers of Hoboken."

It should be mentioned that Mr. Zayas has not been without significant success in Hoboken lately. The larger item is that a jury found in favor of his client Angel Alicea, who sued Ms. Zimmer and the City for wrongful termination from his post as Public Safety Director. Ms. Zimmer's stated reason for terminating him is that he had lied about not meeting with Solomon Dwek, the real estate developer who was used by the FBI to bring down former Hoboken mayor Peter Cammarano, as well as many other New Jersey politicians (and rabbis and organ traffickers) in 2009, leading to Ms. Zimmer's assuming the mayoralty.

Mr. Alicea had been a hold-over from Mr. Cammarano's brief administration, and it had presumably been Ms. Zimmer's intent to try to keep some at least modest representation of that camp as part of her administration. It is certainly imaginable that she would be rather annoyed to find that he had withheld such information, but apparently a jury did not believe that the meeting in which Zimmer claims she asked Alicea whether he'd ever met Dwek took place - though it made the curious distinction that Ms. Zimmer was not liable, while the City was, and awarded $1,065,000.

It is interesting that it is evidently to be rewarded, generously, when a Public Safety Director - a law enforcement officer - has lunch with someone who proceeds to offer him bribes and then makes no mention of that to anyone until years later and when the evidence is, well, "thrust upon 'em."

The matter is under appeal.

There is more. Not long after Mr. Alicea was fired, so was Jennifer Maier, the Director of Environmental Services. Details were not clear at the time as to what was behind this - she had no prior connection to Hoboken, let alone the Old Guard or any political camp. But it appears she may have been sympathetic to Mr. Alicea and encouraged him to sue, and that possibly Ms. Zimmer was not pleased about that. Imagine!

Ms. Maier filed suit - you know who is her attorney, of course. This past week, the City Council authorized a settlement offer for her case, and the Hudson Reporter has reported that this comes in response to negative developments before the presiding judge. The amount of the settlement is unknown.

Did I mention that a School Board election is coming up in November?

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