July 25, 2005: Hurry hurry to the village green. Spread a blanket, unpack the
picnic. The band strikes up-- political poobahs are on parade!
Some march off to prison; some march off to campaign; some march
off to the golf course, crony clubs in hand. Too many march to a
different beat than the constituents they serve.
Ask & Ye Shall Receive?
The word "poobah" popped up in a recent Asbury Park Press
commentary piece* by Bob Ingle. Seems the office of New Jersey
State Attorney General Peter Harvey mislaid, or accidentally
destroyed, a surveillance video tape of a chat between South
Jersey political boss and U.S. Bancorp insurance man George
Norcross and Anthony Zarillo, a deputy attorney general. Norcross
hails from Camden County, in the western part of South Jersey,
across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. In the missing tape,
Norcross allegedly asked the junior AG to drop a South Jersey
corruption investigation. An aspect of which was the political
firing of a municipal attorney in the town of Palmyra. The APP
article refers to Norcross as a fund raiser extraordinaire and
a political "poobah". A word I haven't heard in ages. But one
definitely due a revival. Not to be semiotic or anything, but
"poo" and "bah" pretty much sum up how many people feel about
their public officials.
In Monmouth County, in the eastern part of South Jersey, 19 pols
and players have been indicted or arrested in the last year.
Prior to shackle-time, they were poobahs. Several convictions
have already ensued and more indictments, plus plenty o'
subpoenas, are said to be on the way. Over roughly a decade,
a gaggle of public servants from municipal and county levels,
consistently sold out Monmouth to whichever developer pressed
their flesh with sufficient graft. As usual the amounts seem
small in relation to what was bought. Even in this age of rising
gas prices pols come cheap. A few hundred thou buys access to
multi-million dollar deals. Many of which are taxpayer jacked.
Among the angles played in Monmouth was the affordable housing
bait and switch. New Jersey compels its counties to provide a
certain amount of affordable housing. Developers step in and
agree to build it. But only as a package deal that includes
market rate housing plus zoning and density overrides. Yet most
of the housing built is luxo. Affordable (as in subsidized) units
go to the mayor's mother. Or lover. In Monmouth County this combo
of coercive good intentions and good old greed produced extreme
over-development and the usual undermining of local democratic
process. The latter is more difficult to fix. Even when a crop of
crooks go to jail, the seeds have already been sown. Well watered
by public money, they often flower in those who follow.
Pop Goes The Weasel
In North Jersey, mid June brought another term for Mayor Dave
Roberts of Hoboken. His landslide edge of 1,200 votes cost his
campaign roughly one million dollars. In a city of 40,000. About
one quarter of which voted. Though Robert's opponent, Carol
Marsh, was far outweighed financially in the race (which included
an earlier run-off election) the appeal of her message and the
passion of her supporters carried her much further than Roberts
& crew expected. Hence developers, real estate interests, public
contractors and political poobahs had to put their pedal to the
metal. State Senator Bernard Kenny (D. Hoboken) whose law firm
collected 1.2 million from the city during Roberts' first term
in office, allegedly even called forth contributions from poobahs
in far-off places. Including South Jersey.
Marsh supporters are largely small property owners and good
government types. Property taxed to the max and paying for the
infrastructure fallout from over-development. And for what are
perceived as the city's sweetheart deals on public contracts.
Many Marshites also support an anti pay-to-play ordinance passed
by citizen referendum last year. If Marsh had won, it was
expected she'd have enforced the ordinance, which limits
contributions to Hoboken public officials by those doing business
with the city. Though Hoboken is small, its business is immensely
profitable. Massive amounts of state and federal funds have
flowed into the Manhattan bedroom community for decades, mainly
via development projects. When local bar owner Dave Roberts ran
for mayor back in 2001, he did so as a reformer. (His city hall
predecessor eventually went to jail for pay-to-play.) Roberts
promised to stop developer excess. Perhaps his profession should
have invited skepticism about his promises. Why would a bar owner
want to limit the pool of potential customers?
Though Marsh lost the mayoral election, who and what she
represents have become a force to be reckoned with. Poobah eyes
across the state are on Hoboken - and its anti pay-to-play
ordinance. The New Jersey State Senate's Community and Urban
Affairs Committee has reported "favorably" on Senate Bill
No.1762. Which would essentially allow municipal attorneys to
decide whether a citizen proposed ordinance should be put to a
public vote. The stated rationale is to save local governments
the cost of possible legal challenges should the ordinance turn
out to be contrary to state or federal law. But since when do
New Jersey pols care about saving money? Last year Jersey raised
taxes more than any other state in the nation. Plus, municipal
attorneys serve at the whim of local poobahs (see Palmyra) and
can even be full blown poobahs themselves.
Speaking of such, a correspondent from Ohio, when speaking of
his attorney, a local pol, always refers to him as "my weasel".
Because he believes poobah-istic cronyism trumped client interest
when the weasel represented him in court. The same correspondent
(I'll call him "Sam") has been following various political
scandals unfolding in Ohio. Briefly, in a nutshell:
A) The Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) imbroglio. Huge
investment fund losses resulted when Tom Noe, a rare coin dealer
and bud to Ohio Governor Bob Taft, got BWC into the coin biz. Noe
is also a poobah Republican fundraiser. After news broke the BWC
coin deal was being investigated, pols rushed to return Noe's
favors. Though it's hard for Governor Taft to return his golf
trips. Holy Toledo Batman-- you can't call back all those balls!
The feds suspect Noe may have disguised contributions to Dubya.
The Franklin County prosecutor is looking into gifts received by
Taft's X Chief of Staff. While some wonder if Attorney General
Jim Petro is just too dang disengaged.
B) Widespread corruption (no!) at Cleveland City Hall. Federal
eyes are on the admin of X Mayor Michael White. Allegedly,
his X consultant Nate Gray had a big part to play. Though Gray's
attorney sez his client is not a bag man no sir, the feds seems
to think otherwise. Saying Gray ferried bribes to Mayor White
for construction and parking contracts at Cleveland-Hopkins
International Airport. Along with other activities.
Sam is sure that if any malfeasance does exist, the perp will
turn out not to be a poobah, but a single conniving janitor. Or
a veritable Moriarty of a building inspector.
AC 4 AG?
Back in the mid and late 90's Andrew Cuomo was head of HUD. Now
he wants to be New York State Attorney General. Since AG Eliot
Spitzer will soon be throwing down his Sheriff of Wall Street
star and mounting up for his gubernatorial run. According to the
7/9/05 New York Times (Race is on for Attorney General) Cuomo
cites his record of "policing ... fraud allegations as Housing and
Urban Development Secretary" as a reason why he should be AG.
Rivals will also find much to cite in that record. In February
1999 testimony before Congress, former HUD Inspector General
Susan Gaffney, claimed Cuomo's HUD "reforms" had depleted the
agency's ability to detect abuse in FHA insured home ownership
programs in low income neighborhoods.
Cuomo and Gaffney had a long running feud. One which took many
an ugly twist and turn. Even if you divide that ugliness down
the middle and ascribe equal halves to both parties, the picture
that emerges of Cuomo is appalling. Think poobah on an
egomaniacal, vindictive bender. Furthermore, Gaffney's 1999
warnings re abuse in FHA insured home ownership programs have
been born out by time. Over the past few years, the phenomenal
rise in mortgage fraud has been widely acknowledged. Last Autumn,
the FBI characterized it as "rampant". Though mortgage fraud
involving FHA backed properties in low income neighborhoods is
one strain in a cross market epidemic, its social cost is
particularly heavy: it rots out low income neighborhoods and
betrays taxpayers who think they are bankrolling housing
opportunities for the poor.
Cuomo is certainly not the only person who's presided over HUD
while FHA mortgage fraud ballooned. But he's the only one running
for New York State Attorney General. The potential duo of
Governor Eliot "See-No-Medicaid-Fraud" Spitzer** and AG Andrew
Cuomo is a shuddersome thought to anyone who'd like to see the
state aggressively address mismanagement and public corruption.
On The Other Hand
Good news for Philadelphia! The feds have been so encouraged by
the pay-to-play convictions of poobahs tied to the administration
of Mayor John Street, that they've decided to keep going and
going and going. Matters for further investigation include deals
involving the city's insurance contracts plus Philadelphia
International Airport. What is it with graft seeking poobahs and
airports? When tucked up in bed do they roll toy airplanes over
the covers and command tiny armies of plastic bag men?
Finally, Tom Devine at the Bay State Objectivist recently posted
a piece on his site about how when twisted pols in Springfield,
Massachusetts are faced with political criticism, they often ask
"where do you work?". The implication being so we can get you
fired. A powerful threat in post industrial places. Bully boy
poobahs are not unique to Springfield. As example, a writer from
Broome County in upstate New York claims the local atmosphere re
political dissent is evocative of Germany in its brownshirt daze.
A sentiment echoed by others from the area. Upstate New York in
general has a rep for poobah retaliation, as does New Jersey.
Tom Devine also made the point that the more public money gets
pumped into private enterprise, the more power pols have to make
work place threats real. Another way in which government over
reach, in combo with a corrupt impulse in individuals, acts to
Which is where I came in.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
"When I was sick and lay abed/I had two pillows at my head/And
all my toys about me lay/To keep me busy all the day."
The Land of Counterpane, Robert Louis Stevenson
*Harvey on the hot seat again, Bob Ingle, 07/10/05, Asbury Park
**As Medicaid Balloons, Watchdog Force Shrinks, Michael Luo &
Clifford J. Levy, 07/19/05, New York Times
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