The needler in the haystack.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Is Star-Ledger cat's-paw in Lesniak race?

As Lesniak faces tough race, unflattering article appears concerning his opponents. Coincidence?
Plainfield Today readers may think that the legislative race pitting incumbent Union County Sen. Ray Lesniak against an upstart challenger team including heavy hitters in Elizabeth school board politics has little to do with Plainfield.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Longtime king-of-the-hill Lesniak's law firm has a reputation for obtaining lucrative -- some would say rapaciously lucrative -- contracts from the Dem towns in sway to the Union County heavyweight.

(When Al McWilliams came into the mayor's office in 1998, Plainfield was looking at an $800,000 tab with Lesniak's firm. McWilliams refused to pay and eventually haggled it down to less than $200,000.)

The number of applicants coming before Plainfield's zoning and planning boards in recent years that use Lesniak's law firm would seem to defy the law of averages -- even though the Senator, who in the past supported Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' election said publicly he did not want any contracts with the City.

Now, a group opposing Lesniak and grounded in the 'other' Elizabeth machine -- the Elizabeth Board of Ed -- is coming under heavy attack as the primary campaign enters the home stretch.

The Star-Ledger featured a heavily-researched story on the Elizabeth school board's 'machine' in the banner front-page position in Sunday's edition (the most heavily-read issue each week), raising the question in my mind of whether it is a cat's-paw in Lesniak's game.

I find several things intriguing in the timing and placement of the story.

First, why didn't the Ledger do a beat-down back in April, when it was the SCHOOL BOARD that was up for grabs?

Second, every complaint in the story could repeated against the Union County Democratic machine, over which Sen. Lesniak exerts significant -- if not overwhelming -- control. But the Ledger has never run a similar story portraying Lesniak in an unflattering light as far as I an recall.

Things began to heat up earlier this month when PolitickerNJ noted that the state's teachers union, NJEA, was poised to endorse a split ticket in the race, picking Dunn over Lesniak (see here). At the time, PolitickerNJ included Lesniak's calling in of a chit from former President Bill Clinton by way of an endorsement in the current race.

On May 16th, PolitickerNJ found the upstarts had turned the tables on Lesniak, portraying him as 'living like a Republican' in a campaign mailing, as he had done of them in a previous campaign (see here).

By last Thursday, PolitickerNJ reported on questions about ELEC (the Election Law Enforcement Commission) filings, questioning where the challengers were getting the money for their mailing blitz (see here), fueled by a Lesniak complaint as it later turns out.

On Friday, PolitickerNJ reported Newark mayor Cory Booker and Jersey City mayor Jeremiah Healy had thrown their support behind Lesniak (see here).

Then Sunday comes the unflattering front-page Ledger story on Elizabeth school system politics.

And today, PolitickerNJ reports Union County Superior Court Judge William Wertheimer has frozen the challengers' accounts until a hearing on June 3 (the election is June 7) -- see that story here.

Though the challengers were able to report the NJEA's endorsement at a Saturday fundraiser at The Pines in Edison, earlier in the day the Elizabeth police arrived at a community pizza party in support of the anti-Lesniak team at a park in the Elmora section and shut it down.

All of this just goes to show that politics in New Jersey is indeed a blood sport, as anyone in Plainfield can tell you.

But I am troubled that the Ledger, which should be above the fray, looks so much like just one more arrow in the Lesniak quiver.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...


Your headline is about the Star-Ledger, but most of the stories you cite are from PolitickerNJ. So, is PolitickerNJ also Lesniak's 'Cats-Paw'?

Also, as much as I do not like Lesniak, I like Fajardo and his Christie-crats in Elizabeth even less. The team running against Lesniak and Co. are staunch Republicans in their actions and philosophy. They backed Chris Christie for Governor and they take orders from him now. It was brilliant of them to try to turn the tables on Lesniak and Co. by painting them as the Republicans (Lesniak did not help himself much with his sponsorship of the Opportunity Scholarship Act). Progressive Democrats in the 20th Legislative District need to take a close look at the "Democrats for Change" and what (and who) they really support. Sometimes you are better off keeping the devil you know.

They may be running as the opposition to corruption, but they are corrupt themselves. New Jersey needs honest leadership. We don't need to replace one group of corrupt politicians with another group of corrupt politicians. Fajardo just wants to replace Charlet DiFillipo as the new Boss of Union County. The only "Change" Fajardo will bring to Union County is who gets the cash in the brown paper bag. These articles prove that.

Anonymous said...

Oh please. Infer what you will about the timing of the story; most news items on corruption or wrongdoing are broken with the help of a disgruntled insider party who has direct knowledge. Lesniak may have played that role in this case, but it doesn't cancel out the truth at the center of it.

I know several teachers/administrators in the Elizabeth school district. They have been unanimously browbeaten for years into assisting with "fund-raisers" whose sole purpose is to collect money for the BOE machine. Those who play the game advance. Those who don't see their careers stall out or abruptly come to an end.

One such "fund-raising event" was held last week, and it was more of the same. You're coerced into buying a $175 seat for yourself (on a teacher's salary, no less) and "strongly urged" to sell tickets to others.

Politics may be a blood sport, but based on everything I know, the other side was just as good with a knife as Lesniak.

TREEeditor2 said...

get rid of lesniak, he has controlled the union county govt too long, enrichen himself and his cronies too much. The "dems for change" are 1/1000th as corrupt as the lesniak regular democrats. The Lesniak dems screwed the hard working families, the seniors and the middle class for themselves down in the county govt. Why else had the county taxes doubled in 10 years. And that SL article, its long been known the county govt is even worse. Check out the county watchers website. And check out ELEC and all the county employees giving $500-600/year to charlotte's uC dems, pales in comparison to the pennies the fajardo dems receive from their cronies. Dems for change is the only hope to get rid of so much corruption, thats why there is so many attacks against them, especially when you own the courts, the prosecutors, the media. As to the SL, damon, you should talk about Gabe Gluck who was supposed to cover the county for years, rarely did any investigation and ended up with a $100,000 job at union county govt as "confidential assistant" to the county manager who just happens to be senator lesniaks nephew. Throw the bum out. Throw them all out as fast as possible. June 7th is the start of the purge toward integrity.