June 25, 2006

An “Homage” to the Freeholders

Union County Directions - A Taxpayer Funded Campaign Piece

Two scant days before last week’s Primary Election, the “Union County Directions” arrived in my mailbox. Though they will deny it, this publication is an homage to the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders as well as other UC public officials who just so happen to be of the same political persuasion and are seeking reelection.

Lets not tiptoe around and get real here. Featured on the cover is Mayor John T. Gregorio of Linden, with a story about all of the wonderful things he is doing for the city.

The bottom half of page one is comprised of an article about the Union County Arts Center, located in Rahway and recently purchased by the Board of Chosen Freeholders. The article is accompanied by a picture of Rahway Mayor James Kennedy, Freeholders Deborah Scanlon, Chester Holmes and Al Mirabella.

The oddest thing about the picture is not that the president of the UCAC Board of Trustees, Richard Stender (ex-hubby of candidate Linda) is in the center of the pic, but that the Stender name is first rather than a “L to R” listing.

So, on the front page the sea of six smiling faces are those of five elected officials all with the same party affiliation and all on the ballot in November as well as the former spouse of another currently campaigning for a seat in Congress.

Freeholder Mirabella appears in six of the group shots accompanied frequently by Freeholders Scanlon and Holmes. It would appear that to cover their posteriors and not risk violating campaign laws that they threw in one picture each of Freeholders Sullivan, Ward, Estrada and Kowalski but for the second year in a row Freeholder Adrian Mapp of Plainfield was MIA. Mapp I understand is Chairman of the rival “New Democrats” party in his community and I imagine on the “outs” with “official County Democrats”. If I recall correctly the only time Mapp was in the publication was in the fall edition as a Council member in Plainfield when he landed on the Freeholder ticket in 2004. His term up next year it will be interesting to see if he is given prominence in the publication at that time. In view of present circumstances, however, that is doubtful.

The late Ann Baran, who held the position of county manager with both Republican and Democratic-controlled boards, was a co-founder of the Union County Alliance and an Executive Board member until her death this year. She worked tirelessly to foster the intent of the Alliance. This latest edition cannot be what she had in mind as a vehicle to promote an organization billed as a “bi-partisan coalition focused on economic revitalization and improving the quality of life for people who live and work in the region.” Rather it has turned into a thinly veiled campaign piece funded with tax payer’s money featuring incumbent freeholders patting themselves on the back just days prior to an election. In 2006 alone checks totaling $130,850 have been paid out to the Alliance which includes advertising.

It is puzzling that the corporations in the county affiliated with the Alliance aren’t miffed about being dissed. Perhaps they realize the futility of objecting and have settled on taking a backseat to the Gang of Nine. Only three companies purchased ad space of less than a quarter page each. What happened to PSE&G, Elizabethtown Water and Maher Terminals and what about the Bank of America, Wakefern or Wachovia surely they all have something to crow about? And wouldn’t the residents in towns such as Westfield, Scotch Plains, New Providence or Clark just love to see their Republican Mayors on the cover just once.

Chances of that happening are slim to none.