Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dunn residency hearing leaves more questions

Jeff Dunn with Councilor Gloria Taylor at a
'Taste of Plainfield' event, January 2015.

Plainfield Municipal Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh, as the city's chief election officer, presided on Monday afternoon over a hearing into the question of whether Democratic primary Ward 3 candidate Jeff Dunn is a legally qualified voter of the Third Ward as required by state law and the city's special charter.

Far from clearly settling things, I left with more questions than before.

Dunn, longtime president of the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce, is a member of a prominent Plainfield family. His father, Malcolm R. Dunn, served on the Plainfield City Council.

Usually, it is the signatures on petitions which are challenged. But, in this case, the question revolved around Dunn proving that he has been a legal resident of the Third Ward (he is living with his parents at 1038 Central Avenue) for long enough to meet the requirements of the city's special charter.

The difficulty arises on two fronts: since at least 2007, Dunn has used the address on his driver's license (320 Park Avenue) to vote in the First Ward; secondly, he failed to produce at the hearing the kinds of evidence that case law requires (a bank account, personal checks, credit card statements, etc.) as proof of residence.

When asked by attorney Dan Williamson, who accompanied him at the hearing, if he had "ever voted in the Third Ward," Dunn replied forcefully "Never!"

This struck me as odd, since many will remember that for years -- including when his father Malcolm was a councilor representing the Third Ward -- Jeff and his family lived on the corner of Madison Avenue and West 9th Street. In the Third Ward. So, we are to believe that he lived in the Ward where his father campaigned and did not vote in that Ward? Curious.

Secondly, Dunn argued that he used the 320 Park Avenue address on his driver's license (and his voter registration) because he wanted to separate his personal and business affairs as he was going through a difficult divorce and property settlement with his then-wife Liza.

That also struck me as odd, as he only argued that the relationship became difficult in quite recent times (2013 or so) and not stretching back to 2007, which voting records show he used the Park Avenue commercial address for.

When asked if he had ever resided or slept at the Park Avenue address, Dunn stressed the word "Never!" in his answer. Yet, as recently as last month Dunn can be seen standing at the mike at Council meetings and giving his address as "320 Park Avenue".

So, another question comes to my mind.

New Jersey voting law requires that legal voters vote in the district IN WHICH THEY RESIDE. Did Dunn willfully violate election law by repeatedly voting in the First Ward all those years while not actually living at 320 Park Avenue?

Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, who brought the residency challenge, was represented by attorney Robert Renaud, who politely but forcefully kept the focus throughout the two-hour hearing on trying to elicit the sorts of documentation that would meet the case law requirements as proof of legal residency.

Corporation Counsel David Minchello advised Clerk Jalloh and conducted the hearing. A decision on the question must be rendered by the end of business on Wednesday.

Dunn's performance put me in mind of the famed African American actor and dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, on two counts.

First, for Robinson's bravura performance in the 1943 movie "Stormy Weather", which also featured "Fats" Waller and Cab Calloway. Dancing aside, it certainly was "stormy weather" for Dunn at the hearing.

Secondly, Robinson is credited with giving us the word "copacetic", which he used repeatedly.

The Dunn hearing struck me as anything but "copacetic".

Stay tuned.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.