March 17, 2012
NEWARK — The political wheels in Newark continued to turn today with John Sharpe James announcing his desire to fill Donald Payne Jr.’s At-large council seat, should Payne win his bid for Congress.
John Sharpe James, pictured in this 2010 file photo, will seek Donald Payne Jr.’s council seat if Payne goes to Congress.
James, the son of former Mayor Sharpe James, came in fifth in the 2010 race for four At-large council seats, when Newark returned all four incumbents to office. Today he said he should be considered to fill the seat if Payne leaves.
“As the 5th highest vote getter in the last Councilman At-large race, I officially wish to be appointed to the seat should it be vacated by Council President Payne,” James said in a statement.
A decorated veteran of the war in Afghanistan, James attended Morehouse College and received his Juris Doctor from Rutgers-Newark. He said his primary focus would be on the city budget.
“Newark is facing a fiscal crisis with very little emphasis on reducing the budget’s structural deficit, current deficit or planning for future spending,” James said. “One shot budget fixes are insufficient to insure financial stability and increased taxes have a devastating effect on seniors and those on fixed income.”
Newark Mayor Cory Booker has repeatedly said that he inherited a $180 million deficit from James’ father, Sharpe James. Since 2006, Booker officials say that deficit has been whittled down to roughly $60 million.
In 2010 John James ran on the Newark First team, which was deeply critical of the mayor’s administration. Booker is almost certainly going to seek an alternative to James.
“The mayor will take a keen interest in who fills Payne’s seat,” said Booker chief-of-staff Modia Butler.
Payne Jr. announced his candidacy Friday to fill his father’s 10th District Congressional seat. Payne Sr. died last Tuesday after a battle with colon cancer. Newark Councilman Ron Rice is also seeking Payne’s seat, throwing an otherwise sleepy year in local politics into overdrive.
If Payne Jr. wins he will have to vacate his council seat in January and the city council will have 30 days to vote for an interim council person. If the council is tied , Booker will cast the deciding vote. The city will then have to hold a special election to fill Payne’s seat
December 14, 2011
NEWARK — A former city council candidate and staffer to Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif pleaded guilty today to income tax evasion according to a statement issued by U. S. Attorney Paul Fishman.
Former Newark city council candidate Richard Whitten, left, appears in this 2003 file photo. Today, Whitten pleaded guilty to income tax evasion.
Richard A. Whitten, who joined Sharif’s staff after losing to him in a bid for the Central Ward council seat in 2010, admitted to one count of tax evasion after not paying close to $10,000 in taxes in 2007.
Whitten, 50, was also a staffer for former Central Ward Councilwoman Dana Rone from 2006 to 2008. When Rone was forced to leave office in 2008, Whitten went to work for Mayor Cory Booker’s Administration as a senior management assistant in the Business Administrator’s office.
Between 2006 and 2009 Whitten was charged with fraudulently claiming 99 exemptions on his W-4 and not filing a return for several years.
Booker’s office declined to comment. Neither Whitten nor Councilman Sharif could be immediately reached for comment.
Whitten ran for city council in 2010 but was unsuccessful. He left Sharif’s staff several months ago.
He pleaded to one count of tax evasion under a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He could face up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 when he is sentenced. The sentencing is scheduled for March 14, 2012.
November 3, 2011
NEWARK — It’s been more than 40 years since a national political convention came to New Jersey and political leaders say it’s about time the state got its due.
Mayor Cory Booker and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Union) sent a joint letter this week to both national parties urging them to consider Newark as the host of the 2016 Democratic or Republican national convention.
Officials from the two national party committees did not return calls for comment, but local observers say it will take a hard sell to convince delegates of Newark’s fitness.
Explaining the proposal today, Bramnick said, “The Prudential Center is a perfect arena for what you historically think of as a national convention”
He added the bipartisan overture was a testament to the state’s readiness to host either party. “Here’s two guys at opposite ends of the political spectrum working together for New Jersey.”
The last convention in New Jersey was held in Atlantic City in 1964, where President Lyndon B. Johnson was nominated for a full term.
In 2008, the Democratic National Convention brought roughly 50,000 people to Denver, Colo., with an economic impact of $160 million, according to city estimates. That year’s Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., brought 45,000 people with a total impact of $170 million according to that city’s statistics
Bramnick approached Booker with the idea earlier this year. The tentative proposal calls for the first three days of the convention to be held in Newark, and the acceptance speeches to be held at the MetLife Sports Complex in the Meadowlands.
“We obviously have the infrastructure to support a national convention,” Booker said today, citing hotels, restaurants and a vast transportation network converging on Newark. “Over a third of the U.S. population is within three hours from Newark,” he said.
The idea was first floated by State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) in March, but he was not included in this week’s letter.
“I’m glad to see them on the bandwagon,” Codey said today. “I welcome their trumpets. It’s nice to see Republicans and Democrats playing the same tune.”
Despite Booker’s close relationship with President Obama and Gov. Chris Christie’s star power with Republicans nationally, delegates from both parties will take some convincing, experts say.
“A lot of it has to do with the real and perceived assets of the city,” said Rutgers history professor, Clement Price. “That is going to be an issue.”
Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State, said, “I think that people’s gut reaction to Newark, when compared with the other potential venues, may be negative,” . While Booker and Christie are popular national figures, she said, “Their juice is not going to be enough to get the job done.”
But events like the NCAA Men’s quarterfinals, the International Peace Summit with the Dalai Lama, the filming of “Batman,” as well as Prudential’s rising status as a major U.S. arena may have burnished the city’s credentials enough to convince party leaders, Booker and others say.
The New Jersey Devils, who run the arena, say they are more than prepared for a national convention.
“It would be the NCAA on steroids,” said Devils spokesman Robert Sommer. “We applaud the mayor and the assemblyman for taking this initiative.”
By David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
October 26, 2011
NEWARK — Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James has lost another bid for a new trial.
James’ latest appeal focused on a juror at his 2008 trial who failed to disclose that both his parents worked for the city and had been hired by James.
A judge says James failed to demonstrate how the juror could have been biased.
James was convicted of illegally steering sweetheart land deals to his then-mistress and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison. He was released to a halfway house last year.
A judge last fall threw out one of five counts on which James was convicted because it fell outside the boundaries of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
By The Associated Press The Associated Press
October 12, 2011
NEWARK — Defense lawyer Alan Zegas today tackled an underlying element in the corruption trial of former Newark Deputy Mayor Ronald Salahuddin and contractor Sonnie Cooper: race.
“There’s no question that you are a fair and impartial jury,” Zegas said in his summation, but added, “There is not one black face on this jury and not one of you have lived the kind of life that Mr. Salahuddin and Mr. Cooper have lived.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has argued that in 2006 and 2007 Salahuddin used his influence to steer city contracts to benefit Cooper, his alleged business partner.
The defense countered that Salahuddin, who is African-American, was simply advocating for minority participation in city contracts and that Cooper was one of the only viable black contractors in town.
Zegas referred to racially charged comments made on FBI surveillance tapes by the government’s cooperating witness, Nicholas Mazzocchi, and East Ward political boss Joseph Parlavecchio to try to convince jurors that African-Americans still have to fight for work in a city that has had black leadership for decades.
“It is repulsive to hear the government say over and over and over and over that this case is not about minority set-asides or affirmative action,” Zegas said. “That is all it is about.”
• Newark corruption trial: Closing arguments show former deputy mayor as deal-maker, manipulated man
Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey Bartle said in his closing argument last week that if Salahuddin was just going to bat for minorities, he would not have concealed his dealings, as is suggested on the tapes. In the recorded comments, Salahuddin told Mazzocchi — a major state demolition contractor — he would help him get contracts if he subcontracted with Cooper.
At one point on the FBI tapes, Mazzocchi asked Parlavecchio why he needed to subcontract to black vendors to get city contracts.
“It’s their (expletive) city,” Parlavecchio said. He then used a racial epithet while explaining that Mayor Cory Booker’s administration wanted black vendors on city contracts.
“Maybe this will give you a glimpse of what minorities feel in the city of Newark,” Zegas said. “Did Ron Salahuddin have darn good reason to push against racism — to push for minority participation? You can bet the race on it.”
Salahuddin and Cooper are both charged with conspiring to commit extortion and bribery.
The government introduced the tapes to show the alleged conspiracy between the men. Throughout the trial, it did not address the racial comments that were recorded.
Although Mazzocchi acknowledged paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes over his 30-year career, he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Parlavecchio, who is referred to as a “co-conspirator” in the Salahuddin case, has also not been charged.
Jurors will likely begin deliberations Wednesday.
By David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
September 19, 2011
TRENTON — Newark business owner Sonnie Cooper is a hard worker, a small-time player who keeps his head down and lacks political savvy, according to his lawyer.
According to the federal government, Cooper, 68, is an extortionist who helped his friend and business partner, former Newark Deputy Mayor Ronald Salahuddin, steer government contracts to allies in return for kickbacks and political donations.
Today, the tale of two Coopers came to a head in federal court in Trenton. Alan Zegas, Cooper’s lawyer, pounded the state’s key witness, contractor Nicholas Mazzocchi, about his dealings with Cooper.
Mazzocchi wore a wire for the federal government after being accused of bribing public officials himself. Cooper and Salahuddin are charged with multiple counts of extortion and bribery.
“Are you aware of Mr. Cooper ever paying anybody a dime illegally?” Zegas asked while cross-examining Mazzocchi today. Mazzocchi said no.
“He never asked you for anything illegal, correct?” Zegas later asked. Mazzocchi answered “Correct.”
Salahuddin and Cooper were indicted in February 2010 on multiple counts of extortion and bribery. Salahuddin is accused of a contract-fixing plot that involved himself, Cooper, Mazzocchi, East Ward political boss Joseph Parlavecchio and Pablo Fonseca, former chief of staff to Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Only Cooper and Salahuddin, who resigned in July 2009, have been charged.
Mazzocchi recorded conversations for the FBI in which Salahuddin agreed to steer demolition contracts to Mazzocchi’s firm. In exchange, Mazzocchi would farm work to Cooper’s trucking business and give donations to charities favored by Booker, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In his opening statement, Zegas said the idea of Cooper extorting a major contractor like Mazzocchi would be like a mom-and-pop book shop extorting Barnes and Noble. Today, he hammered the point home.
Zegas asked Mazzocchi if Cooper was a “man of few words.”
“There’s no question about that,” Mazzocchi responded.
He asked if Cooper was a sophisticated businessman.
“It didn’t appear that way,” Mazzocchi testified.
Zegas said Cooper once showed up to a political dinner fresh from work, without changing clothes.
“Have you ever seen anybody come to a political dinner in an apron?” Zegas asked. Mazzocchi answered no.
Both Zegas and Salahuddin’s lawyer, Thomas Ashley, finished cross-examining Mazzocchi this afternoon. The state is expected to call more witnesses today and finish no later than Friday morning. The defense will begin calling witnesses at the end of this week or next week.
Newark corruption trial: Cory Booker warned ex-deputy mayor to stay away from ‘inappropriate’ behavior
September 13, 2011
TRENTON — Newark Mayor Cory Booker knew of Deputy Mayor Ron Salahuddin’s cozy relationship with Sonnie Cooper and Nicholas Mazzocchi while the city was awarding the two men contracts, according to statements Salahuddin made on FBI surveillance tapes.
Salahuddin, on trial with Cooper and accused of steering contracts in exchange for political donations and kickbacks, said Booker cautioned him against “inappropriate” behavior after Salahuddin lobbied the Newark Housing Authority to pay Mazzocchi money he was owed from past jobs. Both Salahuddin and Cooper are charged with multiple counts of bribery and extortion.
“You got me in trouble,” Salahuddin told Mazzocchi in a January 2007 conversation recorded by Mazzocchi, who wore a wire for the FBI. Salahuddin said Booker warned him against advocating for Mazzocchi, as his relationship with the statewide demolition contractor and Cooper, a smaller local vendor, was well known.
According to the tapes, Salahuddin was trying to steer work to Mazzocchi, who would then use Cooper, Salahuddin’s longtime friend, as a subcontractor, fulfilling the city’s minority requirement.
“He said ‘It’s inappropriate for you to ask the housing authority to pay Nicholas Mazzocchi,’ Salahuddin said on the tapes, recounting his conversation with Booker.
According to Salahuddin, Booker was also aware that Mazzocchi had given $5,000 to Newark Now, a nonprofit organization Booker founded.
“I said ‘Mayor, the man just gave you $5,000,’ ” Salahuddin said on the tapes. “He said, ‘Well you’re right.’ ”
Salahuddin’s characterizations are his alone, and Booker does not appear on the tapes himself.
Booker’s office released a statement that neither confirmed nor denied the veracity of Salahuddin’s claims.
“The trial of Ronald Salahuddin involves allegations of criminal activity. If the allegations are true, Salahuddin has violated the mayor’s and the public’s trust and should be punished,” city spokeswoman Anne Torres in an e-mail. “The Booker administration is in active cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in their investigation of this matter. Since this trial is in progress we are unable to comment further.”
Salahuddin’s comments came today, the fourth day of his and Cooper’s corruption trial in U.S. District Court in Trenton.
Salahuddin said many in city hall were aware of his close ties to Mazzocchi and Cooper, but still Mazzocchi was awarded multiple contracts.
He was also solicited for close to $10,000 in donations to Newark Now and Empower Newark, a political action committee established by Booker’s former chief of staff, Pablo Fonseca.
Toward the end of the alleged conspiracy, which authorities say occurred between August 2006 and December 2007, Mazzocchi complained about how much he donated to Booker, without getting big contracts in return.
“I donated more than they (expletive) gave me,” Mazzocchi tells Salahuddin in early 2007, according to the tapes. Mazzocchi gave close to $10,000 to Newark Now and Empower Newark according to court documents.
By the end of 2007, the contracts began rolling in. Mazzocchi received several small demolition jobs and eventually landed a coveted $1.3 million demolition contract for the area around the Prudential arena. The contract was awarded by the Newark Downtown Core Redevelopment Corp., a group with close ties to the Booker administration.
Mazzocchi is scheduled to face cross-examination from defense attorneys Wednesday.
September 9, 2011
NEWARK — U.S. Attorneys say the defendants hatched a scheme to illegally score millions in Newark city contracts.
Defense attorneys say the two are two honest, smalltime guys who were swindled by corrupt demolition contractors.
Former Newark Deputy Mayor Ronald Salahuddin in this 2007 file photo. The former deputy mayor’s corruption trial started today in Newark.
But as opening volleys sounded in the corruption trial of former city Deputy Mayor Ronald Salahuddin and his alleged cohort, Sonnie Cooper, one thread ran through the remarks of attorneys on both sides: The early days of Mayor Cory Booker’s administration were a breeding ground for contractors, seeking lucrative contracts in exchange for political contributions.
“In Newark, everyone is cutting out their little niche,” Salahuddin is alleged to have said in FBI surveillance recordings, just weeks after Booker took office. “The demolition is what I’m interested in.”
With that quote, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zahid Quraishi opened the government’s case against Salahuddin and Cooper, a Newark demolition contractor, in U.S. District Court in Trenton yesterday.
In February 2010 Salahuddin and Cooper were indicted on multiple counts of extortion and bribery. Yesterday Quraishi accused Salahuddin of hatching a contract-fixing plot that allegedly involved himself, Cooper, East Ward political boss Joseph Parlavecchio, contractor Nicholas Mazzocchi and Booker’s former chief of staff Pablo Fonseca. Only Cooper and Salahuddin, who resigned in July 2009, have been charged.
Mazzocchi is scheduled to testify today.
In August, Quraishi said, Mazzocchi, wearing a wire for the FBI, was introduced to Cooper and Salahuddin by Parlavecchio. He recorded conversations between the men in which Salahuddin agreed to steer demolition contracts to Mazzocchi’s demolition firm in 2006 and 2007, Quraishi said. This would be in exchange for kickbacks to Cooper’s business and contributions to charities favored by Booker, he said.
“Chief of Staff Pablo Fonseca was pressuring him to collect $10,000 in contributions” Quraishi said, adding Salahuddin told Fonseca he couldn’t get contributions from Mazzocchi because he hadn’t “eaten yet,” a euphemism for getting city contracts.
But defense attorneys Thomas Ashley and Alan Zegas said Mazzocchi, once a major statewide demolition contractor, ensnared an unwitting Salahuddin and Cooper to avoid prosecution in his own bribery case.
“He never went to jail despite his many bribes to public officials,” Ashley told the jury, saying Mazzocchi didn’t wear a wire “because he wanted to be a good citizen. It was because he was trying to save himself.”
Defense attorneys said there was no business partnership between Cooper and Salahuddin, and payments made by Cooper to Salahuddin were not kickbacks, but installments on a loan Salahuddin had made in 2004 to his friend of 30 years. Ashley and Zegas pointed to numerous checks Cooper wrote to Salahuddin and said the government was looking only at one for $5,000, and calling it a kickback.
Moreover, Zegas said, the idea of Cooper, 68, a small Newark businessman, extorting a major player like Mazzocchi was absurd.
“This is like the mom and pop bookstore extorting Barnes and Noble,” Zegas told the jury.
As for the contributions Mazzocchi is alleged to have made in exchange for contracts he received, Ashley said that was par for the course.
“The fact is that there was an effort by Mr. Salahuddin to raise money for Mr. Booker,” Ashley told the jury. “That’s the way it works.”
August 11, 2011
ESSEX COUNTY — The Essex County Democratic Committee appointed Leonard Luciano last night to fill the freeholder seat left vacant by Linda Lordi Cavanaugh. Luciano, a Democrat from West Caldwell, will represent District 4 on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, which includes the Caldwells, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Livingston, Millburn, Roseland, Verona and West Orange.
Luciano was the only nominee, committee chairman Philip Thigpen said today.
Cavanaugh officially retired at the beginning of the month and Luciano was widely expected to fill the unexpired term.
Luciano, 30, has been an Essex County Utilities Authority commissioner for four years.
He will fill the freeholder seat until November when he will face Republican opponent Joseph Chiusolo, 50, the deputy mayor of Cedar Grove, in the general election.
Born in Livingston, Luciano lives in West Caldwell and works as a library media specialist for Newark Public Schools.
August 9, 2011
A northern New Jersey congressman is trying to rally support for New Jersey to host the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9th) inserted a speech into the Congressional Record last month noting the Prudential Center in Newark, the Izod Center in East Rutherford and the New Meadowlands Stadium are suitable venues.
U.S. Rep. Rothman aims to bring 2016 Democratic National Convention to N.J.
The Democrat said the region has a mass transit system and has hosted “large-scale events,” including the Eastern Regional of this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. Rothman also noted the Super Bowl will take place at New Meadowlands Stadium in 2014.
Rothman told The Record newspaper the idea is “at the early stages.”
New Jersey last hosted a political convention in 1964 when Democrats nominated President Lyndon Johnson in Atlantic City.
By The Associated Press The Associated Press