City for sale: an insider view of Hoboken vote buying in the 4th ward
Hoboken’s 4th ward and its western edge is a historically notorious arena for rampant vote buying as a way of life during election season with monied political interests descending on the most economically deprived area of town like vultures. A not so old refrain says the 4th ward is where reform goes to die. More often than not, it’s proven to be exactly that. This investigative report provides insight from the perspective of two paid 4th ward voters. Their story is not unique. They are part of an invisible army of hundreds.
Even as it’s undetermined what result if any will come from the NJ Attorney General on numerous problems forwarded by the Hudson County Prosecutor Office in the 4th ward special election last November, the operations to buy votes, in both paper ballots and at the polls continues since in the April BoE election and May council race.
|Hoboken Housing Authority on lower Jackson St.|
The culture of corruption is alive and well, there's been no abating the vote rigging as it's breathing its sustenance deep in the 4-4, where Housing Authority residents expect being exploited and cynically will take money from anyone who pays for the votes.
Meet Mr. X. Wearing a baseball hat and a football jersey with black sneakers, he's another African American who easily blends into the surroundings of the Housing Authority. In his early 40s, having lived in Hoboken all his life, he spoke matter of factly about vote buying, including his own participation.
It didn't take MSV long to find Mr. X. He literally found us as we made our way through lower Jackson Street in less than 10 minutes, attempting to look as obvious and out of place as possible with a camera visibly hung out for view. "Are you here for the elections," Mr. X asked. "Yes but not this one," I replied indicating it wasn't the Tuesday Assembly primary race election in mind. (Some may believe this is exaggerated, but in fact it's completely accurate.)
As we spoke standing outside the main gated area forbidding trespassing, Mr. X made his analysis of who he was dealing with and MSV explained our bonafides and gave him a card without even asking his name. This was about establishing our credibility not his. It didn't take five minutes before Mr. X laid out the whole ball of wax, detailing the vote buying that occurs in every Hoboken election down in the hinter areas of the 4th ward.
"People are tired of the bullshit," Mr. X began. “They (politicians and their people) only come in election time. They say they’ll give you $75 to vote but then only give you $40, $50 bucks. Then they make you wait one or two days to get paid for the scam of working” Mr. X said, describing the paid voters depiction as “campaign workers.”
“They all come down here,” Mr. X casually remarked on the "money men" looking to "the captains" who get paid $200 to recruit people to get others to vote, handing out flyers two weeks leading into a typical election. The captains as Mr. X described them are the ground troops who recruit others and also enlist people to vote absentee (Vote by Mail), although as Mr. X describes the process, no one mails in their ballot.
“They push the absentee ballots hard,” Mr. X said confirming the typical vote fraud saying the ballots were filled out and collected without being put in envelopes. “They want to see who you vote for. You just fill it out and check where they tell you and they take it away.” Although most of the vote by mail paper ballots will arrive at the County by mail, it's a massive dump by the people doing the collections.
Mr. X detailed the process for paid people voting at the polls. People who go in and vote for the money, they tell them “ask for the number, that’s the scam” to get people to believe they can tell if you voted. Reports of people openly asking for their “number” at the polling station is common, with one challenger in the 4-3 at the Council elections overhearing a voter ask for his number and where did he need to go get paid. The answer we're told: Beth Mason’s campaign HQ on 12th and Washington Street.
Told the number is of no actual value in assessing who the person votes for Mr. X said, “They run that game on people all the time.” But sometimes he said getting paid isn’t so easy. They will argue and hold out on some people, “You didn’t vote for our guy and you didn’t go out and campaign, so you’re not getting paid. They don’t do that to those people uptown." He would later explain this was a reference to Church Towers, home of Councilman Mike Russo and his voting block of subsidized housing neighbors.
Comparing the way paid voters are treated “uptown” like at Church Towers and Applied Housing, Mr. X said, “They treat them good and pay them right away, same day. Those people don’t have to wait in lines to get paid days later like here. You don’t see those people waiting in lines,” as he pointed across the street to an imaginary spot where the payoffs go down. Mr. X spoke about the disrespect he felt from the monied men descending on the community, “They think we’re stupid and uneducated and we are easy to take advantage of. But we don’t give a shit and just take the money. You know sometimes I’ll vote for whoever I want. Because they don’t always know how when we vote," he said adding a rebellious note.
Even as it was MSV’s first time meeting Mr. X, he seemed comfortable discussing all the details about the operation. About the comments with Beth Mason attacking MSV for using the word plantation in a story depicting politicians like herself and their exploitation of the community, Mr. X said, “That a good assessment. That’s it exactly. The masters don’t come down much, they don’t need to but they keep the plantation going. That’s exactly how they (politicians) treat us.”
Asked about the recent April BoE election, Mr. X didn’t show much knowledge about the factions, lumping in both sides as he would throughout the conversation. Yeah, they all buy the votes. Told Kids First doesn’t have money and doesn’t get absentee ballots out of the 4th ward, he said, “Well that’s true but we don’t care. If they come down and pay us, we just take their money. If the next guy comes and offers the same or more, we'll take that too.”
When it came to names, a few were mentioned. Mr. X spoke well of Chris Campos, the former Councilman who he knew well. "We could always go to Chris." Without asking, he detailed the legendary war between Campos and Dawn Zimmer. "They turned these building against each other, it was a war," he recalled. He would also complain the mayor no longer came down to watch or participate in kick ball games since her election.
Returning back to the present, a few names came up, among them Freddie Frazier. "He doesn’t’ hand out the money. He just works for the money men." And when it came to the bankrolling entity, the response was casual, flippant and almost hostile. "Frank has millions, right? What does he do for the children here? Does he even take them for a summer outing?" Mr. X's eyes were focused and clear as he stated bluntly, "Frank doesn't do shit down here."
Asked if he knew who the 4th ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti is and if he would recognize him, Mr. X said, “Well he was hanging around here a month or two before the election trying to drum up interest.” Asked whether he filled out an absentee (VBM) ballot for him, at first he denied it but quickly changed his mind in mid-sentence saying, “No, I didn’t do that…Yeah alright but I’m not putting it in the envelope, I’m not signing nuthin.” The signature comment may have been a reference to the cover up where VBM voters sign up on a "contract to campaign" walking around in t-shirts and "talking up the candidate" as Jersey City based Occhipinti spokesman David Cruz was quoted as saying.
Before we parted, Mr. X said a TV reporter had been down earlier for the Corner Cars program launch there and he asked this story to be forwarded to that person adding, “I talked to her a little about the corruption.”
Mr. X saw no contradiction with trying to expose the corruption he has participated in and maybe at his age, he no longer saw it as he did previously. He must know that if it gets exposed and the “moneymen” go away the the cash will too. But he seemed completely at ease with it. In the end, he was encouraging MSV to add more fuel to the fire.
Before parting, MSV promised to do so. Or perhaps readers will forward this story to the NJ Attorney General’s office. You have permission to do so.
Next in Part II: A view of a paid 4th ward voter who is intimate with the Old Guard. We call him Mr. Q
"City for Sale" was originally released early summer 2011 for MSV Premium Content members.
It's now being released for the very first time to the public.