Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Horse Sense: HHS's Unaccounted, 'All-House' Money Theater Program

Hoboken's BoE is missing something heading into the April 27th election.  Call it the burning flame of conflict what have you, with one uber slate removed from the battle and real results awaiting the duel between Kids First and another Frank Raia sponsored slate.

The ginning up of some educational conflict for this election looked like just a rehash of the Old Guard's we talk a good game about kids but the Hoboken BoE is a jobs program for friends, family and those who in the know versus Kids First, the moms who just keep plowing ahead on cutting waste, fat, and nepotism at every turn while trying to improve the district's quality.  (They have the list of enemies to show for it too.)

As Hoboken was rolling along with nary a big issue to ponder other than a referendum on the KF brand of educational effectiveness, Hoboken Patch decided to weave a new spell and did not one but two stories in one day surrounding the sudden resignation of theater "director" Paula Ohaus.  Maybe Hoboken Patch thought her name was Mike Russo, perish the thought.

Now Ms. Ohaus is beloved by the students.  She's one of those memorable people who cross many lives and clearly for the better.  But last year it was revealed she was working in the high school as no more than what one might call an Artistic Director.  In the State of New Jersey no such position exists in the education system for any of its high schools.  Somehow Hoboken had magically triumphed to the benefit of its students but absolutely not a whit to the taxpayers or the law.

So just like last year, the HHS theater program is being used a prop, but not for culture or for enrichment of student life but for political power in the hope to take down Kids First before the April 27th election.

While the KF majority is not at stake in this election, the undermining of its efforts over the last two years certainly is and board member Carmelo Garcia is rumored to be readying dozens of children for tonight's meeting to gin up parents against his arch nemesis' who haven't welcomed him into their brand.  Likely, Mr. Garcia, not one known to attend beyond the minimum meetings to retain his current BoE seat, plans to use the nuclear weapon of Paula Ohaus' sudden resignation as a club and he will do so with abandon.

According to Patch, Paula Ohaus blamed her resignation on harassment by former Superintendent Carter.  Oddly, no one seems to find it odd she resigned after meeting with school administrators who went over her schedule next year, months after Mr. Carter's departure.

Since Ms. Ohaus was returned to the classroom as per NJ State Law last year, no one seems to think that has a lot more to do with her departure.  Don't ask why, this is Hoboken and there's an election coming.

Talking Ed Note:  Trying to get a picture on what this HHS Theater Program cost to taxpayers is harder than trying to get Mike Russo to tell the truth on his bribe meeting with Solomon Dwek.

Here's some of the costs MSV is collecting on the last blow out production of "Hairspray" from HHS.  We know some off Broadway productions that come in far lower than these related costs:

March 8, 2011
Submitting for review and approval, I hereby recommend Ms. Laura Cornish as
Lighting Designer for the musical “Hairspray” at a salary of $1,800.  Charge to
account line item #11-401-100-07-1903-00000.

DECEMBER 7, 2010
APPROVED CONSENT:   Submitting for review and approval, the following staff from
Hoboken High School for positions for the musical “Hairspray.” 
Charge all to account line item #15-401-100-100-07-1903.

Musical Director:  Meg Zervoulis  $ 2,000
Rehearsal Musician:  Meg Zervoulis  $ 2,000
Choreographer:  Derrik Ladson  $ 2,000
Scenic Design:  Matthew Fick  $ 2,000
Stage Manager:  Marleny Alonzo  $ 1,000
Costume Designer:  Janell Berte  $2,000
Seamstress:  Janell Berte  $500
Sound Designer:  Josh Christie  $2,000

Subtotal of ancillary expenses: $15,300
(These totals are incomplete)

As MSV went to post this story, NJ.com posted a story announcing Paula Ohaus has rescinded her resignation.

Only in Hoboken folks, only in Hoboken.

The Dean: Mike Russo's library card and HHS' PHAT Theater

The following is a submission from eternal friend of Hoboken, Dean Kemph:

Russo Redux and The Curtain Comes Down, Part One

Darn you, Hoboken.  Here I sit, enjoying my semi-retirement as an informal and sporadic pseudo-blogger, and you go and have one of those weeks.  So I’m forced to the keyboard to unclog my inbox and clear the voicemail.

First, kudos to Mike Russo for providing confirmation to the legions of believers that this particular acorn hadn’t fallen far from the tree.  It was a veritable Cammarano replay, minus Michael Schaffer’s open trunk in the parking lot.  The surveillance tapes were a lot of fun as long as you fast-forwarded through Dwek’s treks to the men’s room.  We listened to the fascinating tale of how Mike selected the ardently beseeching Beth Mason’s puzzling array of 2009 running mates.  We became privy to his simplistic, yet eloquent life philosophy – “I do for you, you do for me.”   We heard about, for the very first time, Michael’s innovative appetizer/salad/dessert rotation system for the literally hundreds of lunches he attends.  And, speaking of those hundreds of lunches, wouldn’t it just be Mike’s luck that the FBI decided to tape the ONE in which he, maybe out of boredom or indigestion, implied that he’d happily accept a bribe?  The FBI, apparently abandoning Michael for bigger fish, never came up with the money and Michael was left with consomm√© in lieu of consummation.  On the bright side, Dwek picked up the tab and Mike didn’t have to go to jail.

Dean Kemph wonders did Beth Mason and Mike Russo confer on a possible one week ban on Mike's library card?

Rami Pinchevsky to NJ AG: Stop the election theft and Russo-Occhipinti Corruption this May

Rami Pinchevsky for Council announces:

Attorney General Paula T. Dow
Office of The Attorney General
P.O. Box 080
Trenton, NJ 08625-0080

April 12, 2011

Dear Attorney General Dow,
This letter is to inform you of an urgent and serious situation in Hoboken, NJ that threatens to undermine the ability of residents to participate in free and fair democratic elections. Due to incidents that have occurred in recent elections and are likely continuing, I respectfully request that your office send representatives to begin monitoring the May 10th, Hoboken City Council 4th Ward election as soon as possible.

As you know, in November of 2010, Hudson County Prosecutor, Edward DeFazio referred the results of the November 2nd, 2010 Hoboken 4th Ward Council Special Election to your office for review.1 In this election, the allegation of wide spread vote-buying and voter fraud were supported by affidavits, campaign finance reports, and other empirical evidence.2 The numbers are hard to ignore:

Out of the 2215 total ballots counted – 440 were Vote-By-Mail (VBM) 3
On top of the 99 dismissed, Tim Occhipinti got 390 VBM votes (93% of total)3
ELEC reports show Tim Occhipinti paid $40 to each of 550 “campaign workers”1
Roughly 80% of Tim Occhipinti’s “campaign workers” also did Vote-By-Mail1
The 4th Ward Councilmember who participated in these allegedly fraudulent activities, Timothy Occhipinti, is currently running for a full four-year term. I encourage you to continue the investigation of last November’s election, but unless you put monitors in place immediately, there will be a repeat occurrence of  the suspect behavior in next month’s municipal election.

The greatest potential for fraud lies with the Vote-By-Mail (VBM) ballots, which will be mailed to voters starting this week. The openness of the VBM system allows unscrupulous individuals to illegally pay a voter in exchange for a completed VBM ballot and submit them well before Election Day – meaning the election could potentially be bought and sold well before the polls even open. I have received reports that the mechanics of this vote-buying operation have already begun soliciting ballots for the May 10th election.

The recent release of an FBI surveillance video of 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo agreeing to accept a $5,000 bribe and ongoing payments underscores the need for a fair election this year.4 The principles of a democratic process would normally ensure that elected officials of this caliber would never be elected again, but when democracy is subverted through vote-buying, criminals can be illegally elected in perpetuity.

Not only does vote-buying undermine our democracy, but it also puts hundreds of individuals at risk who are misled into committing a crime. The presence of your office monitoring and investigating this election would restore confidence in our democratic process and help to ensure that the culture of corruption in Hobken does not continue.

Rami Pinchevsky
Candidate, Hoboken City Council, 4th Ward

1 http://hoboken.patch.com/articles/occhipinti-paid-550-campaign-workers-40
2 http://thehobokenjournal.blogspot.com/2010/10/breaking-mike-lenz-campaign-files.html
3 http://www.hudsoncountyclerk.org/elections/Hudson%20Co%202010%20General%20Election%20SOV_Totals.pdf
4 http://videos.nj.com/star-ledger/2011/04/full_surveillance_recordings_o.html

HCDO and Brian Stack team up: dump Hoboken Democratic Committee, select the Russo's!

According to a breaking story by Timothy J. Carroll of PolitickerNJ, the Hudson County Democratic Organization is dumping the Hoboken Democratic Committee chaired by Councilman Ravi Bhalla as part of an agreement with Union City Mayor Brian Stack - and inserting the Russo candidates in this June's local committee election.

Timothy Carroll says the move was part of a desire to avoid a repeat of a costly 2007 war between the HCDO and Brian Stack who also doubles as powerful State Senator.  He notes that it's Hoboken and Mayor Dawn Zimmer who is the honorary chair of the Hoboken Democratic Committee who have been thrown under the Hop.

The mayor says the reasons for the action are based on a backroom deal between the HCDO and State Senator Stack to select the Russo clan.  The mayor is quoted as saying, "If (the HCDO) thinks this kind of conduct is acceptable, it’s not what true Democrats feel is acceptable,” she said.

The following is the letter to the county clerk where HCDO Chair Mark Smith selects the Russo ticket.  The timeline on the PolitickerNJ story shows it arrived after Councilman Ravi Bhalla's submittal.  

The letter from Michele Russo follows on page two requesting the Russo candidates be placed on the Hudson County Democratic Organization line thus replaces the entire existing Hoboken Democratic Committee.


For the complete back story and the ins and outs of how Hoboken's reformed Democratic Committee met its fate under the Hop, please see the absolutely superb sourced piece by Timothy Carroll:


Talking Ed Note:  MSV will have more on this. Now this is what a Machine looks like.  

Are you ready for a war?

POG on Russo Corruption: 'The fight goes on'

People for Open Government announces:

People for Open Government (POG)  is dedicated to open, accountable and transparent municipal government in Hoboken and one of our goals is to curb the undue influence of campaign contributions on public policy.

We are disheartened to hear Hoboken Councilman Michael Russo, in his own words on FBI tapes in the Spring of 2009, while at lunch with an FBI informant, talk about legal restrictions on campaign contributions, anti-“Pay to Play” laws, as “nonsense.”  Additionally, we are troubled by Mr. Russo’s description of how he would, in theory, control and circumvent what should be the autonomous planning and zoning process for development in Hoboken.

With the support of Hoboken citizens, POG has worked hard over the years to open the processes of government, shine light on its procedures, and reform government to work more in favor of the citizens than for the special interests and the politicians themselves.  We have had good success in enacting anti- “Pay to Play” laws that strengthen restrictions on money in politics.

But Councilman Russo reminds us when he says that he operates under the mantra, “I do for you, you do for me,” that we must continue to fight against those that use their positions in government to advance and enrich themselves and their selected friends over the interests of the public that they are sworn to serve.

Using the taxpayer-supported resources of government to selectively buy favor and promises of support is wrong and those who violate this public trust should be held accountable. 

Revelations that then candidate for office and recently resigned Public Safety Director Angel Alicea also met with the same FBI informant as Russo, while important, are a separate matter and one about which the public has a right to know.  Our Mayor and the full City Council must take forceful measures to rebuild the public trust that is necessary for us to have confidence in our government.

Please visit our website, www.HobokenPOG.com and join us in our on-going endeavor to make government work better for the people.


Councilman Ravi Bhalla: "I'm running" for NJ Assembly seat

In a surprise announcement, Councilman Ravi Bhalla announced yesterday he's running for the 33rd Assembly District seat.

In a phone inteview on his return from Trenton after filing for the upcoming primary scheduled the same day as the Hoboken Democratic Committee election, Councilman Bhalla gave a succinct reason for his entry.  "I'm running because Hoboken needs another choice, an alternative to Assemblyman Ramos."

Assemblyman Ruben Ramos is viewed as closely aligned with Union City Mayor and State Senator Brian Stack while Councilman Bhalla is an ally of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

Explaining his decision to get into the race and taking the Hudson County establishment by surprise, Councilman Bhalla added, "We need an Assemblyman working with the mayor, not against her."

Recent redistricting earlier this month in New Jersey may have enticed Councilman Bhalla to jump into the Assembly race.  West New York and Guttenberg were shifted from the 33rd district while areas more favorable to a reform candidate in Jersey City bordering Hoboken were added.

Hoboken has in recent years worked to build advantage by working better on the state level where municipal funding has been critical such as aiding the local hospital.  Mayor Dawn Zimmer broke with some expectations working with Gov. Christie after his election on a tool kit to help municipalities gain control over skyrocketing taxes.

Over the last two years, the State has given Hoboken University Medical Center generous grants helping the hospital to stay in operation.  Typically, those grants are given in one year not two consecutive.

Should Councilman Bhalla win the seat, he'd resign his current Hoboken Council seat.

Talking Ed Note:  This caught a lot of people by surprise and made the phone lines from Trenton burn up when Councilman Ravi Bhalla appeared to file his papers for the election.

A critical sidebar to this filing is the Hoboken Democratic Committee. The primary will be on the same day as that election.  Ravi Bhalla is the current chair and wants to retain the new rules barring developer monies flooding into Hoboken via the local party.

Rumors abound Mike Novak and Union City Mayor Brian Stack want to overturn reform's control of the local Hoboken Democratic Party.  Suggestions are afloat the rules would be reverted to allow monies from outside Hoboken to again enter the town's elections.

At the same time, Brian Stack has been rumored to be talking to current Hoboken Democratic Committee members in Hoboken to change sides.  Last year Reform claimed a victory in a series of local election victories before the heavily contested special election in the 4th ward saw Tim Occhipinti take the seat in a controversial election with voter fraud concerns reaching the New Jersey Attorney General's office.

Due to time constraints MSV did not reach Assemblyman Ruben Ramos' office for comment.

Hoboken Revolt: City Council Candidate Forums Tonight and Tomorrow

Hoboken Revolt announces:

The Hoboken Tax Reform Coalition

A message to all members of Hoboken Revolt

The Hoboken Quality of Life Coalition and People for Open Government will be hosting candidate forums for the May 10th ward council elections TONIGHT and

TOMORROW night! The wards will be spread over two nights with both events happening at Our Lady Of Grace on Willow Ave at 5th st. The forums will be moderated and attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions.  Refreshments will be available for purchase.  

Wards 1,3,4 TONIGHT Tuesday April 12th 7:30-9:30
Wards 2,5,6 TOMORROW Wednesday April 13th 7:30-9:30

Revolt encourages all members to attend the appropriate night for their ward.

Other important dates:
April 19th- deadline to register to vote


$900,000 matching grant for Sinatra Field and Castle Point

City of Hoboken announces:


The City of Hoboken has been awarded a $900,000 Green Acres Matching Grant Award to repair Sinatra Field and Castle Point Park. Portions of the parks collapsed into the Hudson River in September, 2009.

“I am so thankful to the Green Acres Program for providing this grant so we can rebuild our badly-needed soccer field and reduce the cost to taxpayers,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer. “I recognize that open space is a very important issue to our community, and I have worked to move forward with repairs while seeking as much outside funding as possible to offset this immense cost.”

An update on the waterfront will be provided this week.