2004 kicks into gear. Novellas of political corruption continue
to unfold. The upcoming trial of New Jersey developer Joseph
Barry will be another sizzling chapter. Real sweeps stuff. Barry
faces charges of bribery, conspiracy and fraud. At issue are
8.8 million dollars worth of federal and state grants and low
interest loans which Barry and his business, the Applied
Development Company received for projects on New Jersey's Gold
Coast. The Gold Coast is the strip of Jersey along the Hudson
River across from Manhattan. Much of it lies within Hudson
County, where the cities most associated with its glitter are
Hoboken, Jersey City and Weehawken. Over the past few years
corruption cases have seemed to break with each Gold Coast dawn.
When the sun rises it shines on what looks like a wall of Lego.
Residential and commercial. Some structures rise to the sky,
others crouch by the shore. All in styles made pop deluxe in the
Big 80's and which continue to spell "revitalization". The high
risers brick facade Gotham; the crouchers, wedding cake villas.
Though the structures may look toylike, they didn't come
cheap. The taxpayer, via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development and the U.S. Department of Public Transportation
picked up a hefty tab. Public funds in the billions helped raise
and access these buildings-- in the name of urban redevelopment.
Yet behind the Gold Coast lies miles of thoroughly urban Hudson
County which after decades of massive federal spending is still
deeply plagued with poverty, unemployment, slums, poor schools,
crime and systemic political corruption. At a December, 1997
Women in Housing and Finance luncheon, developer Joe Barry
addressed the issue of why Gold Coast success is only "one
quarter mile deep" and "has not impacted the core of Hudson".
According to Barry "the persistent problems of...social growth
still present major issues in the ability of our generation to
successfully change the welfare state mentality of the 70's
Barry's indictments are part of larger federal investigations
in New Jersey, which are generally concerned with bid rigged
development deals and public contracts. Aka, pay for play. In
the Fall of 2001, the highest ranking government official in
Hudson County, Democratic Executive Robert Janiszewski suddenly
resigned. And what a few canny cronies had suspected became
public knowledge: Janiszewski had been flipped by the feds. For
roughly a year, he'd been wearing a wire and setting up hidden
cameras. Ultimate insider "Bobby J." doing a "Radio Shack" was
more shocking than the news he was facing corruption charges.
Theories as to why he flipped abounded. Some said he did it to
keep Beth Janiszewski, his politically powerful wife, indictment
free. Others, that he'd had a recent spate of defeats and
backstabs and was sick to death of the political scene. When
caught by the feds with his hand on a bribe, the will to go to
the wall for his buds just wasn't there. Particularly because the
public vendor who bribed him, may have ratted him out to the feds
at the behest of a rival.
Shock at Janiszewski turning Judas rippled well beyond the
borders of Hudson. Janiszewski was one of the most prominent New
Jersey public officials to ever wear a wire. Despite (or because of?) perpetual corruption, Hudson County, with its 12 tightly
packed municipalities, is a major political force in New Jersey.
The Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) where Beth Janiszewski once served as "de facto head" was described in the
12/14/03 New York Times as "one of the most formidable political
machines in the nation". In the same article, Congressman Robert
Menendez, the current HCDO "de facto head" and the fourth ranking
member in the U.S. House of Representatives chimes in: "Hudson
County not only has state reach, but national reach as well".
Robert Janiszewski was Hudson County's chief Executive for 14
years. He was a former state assemblyman and Port Authority
commissioner and served on the North Jersey Transportation
Planning Authority (NJTPA) since 1993. In 2000, he became its
chairman. The NJTPA is a federally mandated regional planning
agency that recommends which projects in 13 northern and central
counties will receive U.S. Department of Transportation funds.
Janiszewski was also chairman of the Hudson County Democratic
Committee and a member of the Democratic National Committee.
In 1992 and 1996 Robert Janiszewski managed Bill Clinton's
presidential campaign in Jersey.
After resigning, Janiszewski dropped out of sight for a year.
Possibly into witness protection. In the fall of 2002 he surfaced
with a bang, pleading guilty to extortion and tax evasion. In
a plea bargain, he acknowledged taking graft in exchange for
delivering Hudson County public contracts and U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and U.S. Department of
Transportation (DOT) development deals. Several months later, at
the trial of the Hudson County Freeholder who ferried the bribe
that got Janiszewski busted, Janiszewski as federal witness
stated he started taking bribes right after becoming county
executive. He also named a few people he claimed had paid and
conveyed some of that graft. One was political consultant and
attorney Paul J. Byrne, sole member of the eponymous PDJ Group.
Another was developer Joe Barry of Applied Development Company.
A considerably larger operation.
Paul Byrne, who's never held elected office, has been a Hudson
County deal maker for decades. He and Janiszewski were friends
since childhood. Alter boys at the same Jersey City church. When
a consultant to Joe Barry and Applied, as well as to other public
vendors, Byrne allegedly ferried cash bribes to Janiszewski.
Being a private citizen made Byrne a barrier between bribers and
bribee. As an Applied consultant, Byrne also received fees
by check. After the checks were cashed, part of the payment went
to Janiszewski. Testimony and tape evidence cited in federal
indictments paint a picture of Paul Byrne skillfully calculating
how to extract greater amounts of graft from those paying for
Janiszewski's favors. On several occasions, Byrne discusses how
some new form of HUD funds can be exploited as justification for
upping pay offs. Also discussed is how bribe payers can direct
payments to public officials other than Janiszewski, in the form
of gifts and political contributions. Janiszewski would benefit
in terms of clout: recipients of the largesse would apparently
know from whom the bounty truly flowed.
Quoted conversation and taped material from bribe payers suggest
they suspected Byrne of passing along too little to Janiszewski.
On the other hand, Byrne conveys to Janiszewski that bribe payers
are holding back. In the Spring and Summer of 2001, Joe Barry was
allegedly making monthly payments of tens of thousands of dollars
to Janiszewski and was growing restive with passing payments
through Byrne's fingers. He started paying Janiszewski directly.
Barry kept careful handwritten notes of what he paid Byrne and
Janiszewski and what he expected to get in return. According to
the feds this payoff sheet was found when Joe Barry's office at
Applied's Hoboken headquarters was raided in Autumn 2001, right
before Janiszewski's resigned and vanished. In Autumn 2003, one
year after Janiszewski pled guilty, Joe Barry and Paul Byrne
were indicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and mail/wire
fraud. Paul Byrne got a few extra charges of tax evasion. Having
to do with his lone member PJB Group being a corporate tax
Joe Barry and Applied Housing were among the first Gold Coast
revitalization players. In the early 70's Barry and Applied began
using funding from HUD's Model City program to redevelop the
small city of Hoboken. Prior to coming to Hoboken, Barry had done
HUD sponsored development projects in Newark. Applied was
initially a joint venture of Joe and his father, a labor lawyer
for the United Electrical Workers. Joe Barry was also an
attorney, a Rutgers grad. As a student he was involved with the 60's radical group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
According to Applied's official history "The name Applied was
chosen to symbolize...actually producing, rather than theorizing
about, downtown development". Since SDS was known for its love of
theoretical gab fests, this may be a reminiscent jab. Barry does
upon occasion look back critically on his radical past: "I was
a real leftist. An SDSer and a Legal Services lawyer. But after
awhile I felt the welfare system was horrendous and destructive."
By the early 70's, Hudson County's cities had been washed up on
the post industrial shore. Manufacturing and shipping had taken
a hike. Race riots and crime had sped the flight of a dwindled
middle class. But change was in the wind. As New York City
housing costs climbed, more and more New Yorkers, particularly
young professionals, were moving across the river to Hudson
County. The influx was beneficial financially and brought some
new faces to local politics. Hoboken was the most popular point
of destination. It had the quickest train trip to Manhattan.
Adding to its attraction was social cohesion. Hoboken was largely
a working class community. Family centered. The dominant
religion, Catholicism. In Hoboken, the trickle of newcomers
became a flood. Over a few short years a sleepy blue collar town
morphed into Sharkville, USA. Real estate fever raged, turning
people who'd previously lived together in reasonable harmony
into economic enemies. Hoboken had a sizable Hispanic tenant
population, largely the result of post WW2 Puerto Rican
immigration. Property in Hoboken was largely owned by descendants
of earlier European immigrants. Since Hoboken is only a mile
square, property is easily held within small circles. As
gentrification overwhelmed Hoboken, the Hispanic population was
rapidly pushed out. Sometimes by any means necessary. So many
tenements were torched and so many tenants died in fires, that
the FBI dubbed Hoboken "Arson City".
During these years Joe Barry and Applied Housing became Hoboken's
main developers of "affordable housing". Using little capital,
but hefty helpings of federal assistance. Including Section 8,
a HUD Housing Assistance Payment Program authorized by the
Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. Barry was one
of the first Section 8 developers to use syndication as a way to
raise capital. Applied bought and rehabbed block after block of
apartment buildings. Some were elegant old brownstones that
were getting a little tired. Some were large pre war complexes.
Some were tenements. The rehabbed units were rented to Section 8
subsidized tenants and unsubsidized young professionals.
Young professionals moving into Hoboken were not wealthy. Most
were on the first rungs of middle class, at early career stages.
Many could only afford apartments by living in multiple roommate
situations. Yet 3 or 4 single people, each kicking in $400 or
$500 monthly, added up to far more rent than one or two earners
in a moderate income family could manage. Rents gouged from
warrens of young white collar workers, many of whom were naive
consumers, set Hoboken's market rate. Section 8, in order to
insure that landlords take subsidized tenants, matches and
sometimes surpasses market rates. Section 8 is also a market
stabilizer. It plugs vacancies during slow times and seldom
responds when market rents sink. Ultimately, affordable
apartments in Hoboken including Applied's, ended up renting for
considerably more than before they became affordable. Joe Barry
became a multi millionaire and Hoboken's biggest landlord.
If Hoboken rents seemed not to reflect market ebb and flow,
market comparisons were hard to make-- if you consulted the
7 weekly Hudson County newspapers owned by Joe Barry. Several
had existed pre Barry and were local shopping sheets focused
on church suppers and yard sales. With some politics thrown in.
After Barry became helmsman, they turned into real estate
Pravdas. With some politics thrown in. Even papers covering the
most far flung, least gentrified cities of the county pushed
listings with gentrified prices. Newcomers to Hudson County
consulted Barry's weeklies: they were free and available at
every realtor and bar. Long term residents used local dailies.
By the mid 80's Hoboken had changed completely. There were
almost no Hispanics left. It was no longer family centered or
particularly Catholic. Parochial schools closed and congregations
shrank. Hoboken was stratified by housing arrangements. There
were unsubsidized "Roomies" and subsidized "Affordables". Roomies
were young, white and single. Most treated Hoboken like a flop.
They worked long hours in New York City, slept in neo dorms and
spent free time in Hoboken's burgeoning bar scene. Public
drunkenness became a town problem. Affordables were the tenant
remnants of old Hoboken. But not completely representational.
Affordables who weren't elderly, disabled and/or indigent, were
tenants who chose to accept government housing subsidies. Those
who didn't, left for cheaper digs further back in Hudson County.
The area where according to Joe Barry, the welfare state
mentality hadn't been sufficiently addressed.
By the time Joe Barry's Section 8 reservation was in full bloom,
less desirable tenants receiving housing assistance in Hoboken
had already been exiled to public housing projects. Underclass
gulags. The kind of places Snake Pliskin would be dropped into.
Applied's tenants were Hoboken's affordable upper crust. Who were
occasionally (and only coincidentally) relatives and friends of
public officials. Barryland is well managed. Folks living there
naturally laud Uncle Joe as Friend To All Tenants and seek to
stay, regardless of income. Barry has a rep for ruling with an
iron fist and his tenants have a rep for voting as Joe Barry
wants. For pols with reps for coming through for Joe Barry. But
these reps may be misreps-- spread by spoilers out to wreck the
On the other hand, Barry and Applied's rep for well run multi
family buildings was confirmed by a HUD audit of 1995. Though the
same audit did tongue click at Applied using HUD project funds
for college tuition payments for employees' children and for
donations aimed at establishing "community relations". That
these items got bounced through Applied's books and ended up
under "Office Supplies and Miscellaneous Maintenance Expense"
also bugged HUD. Applied defended itself: "the costs were valid
expenses to generate good will among its employees and the local
community". Joe Barry has always believed in spreading good will.
In 1989, high ranking officials in HUD's New York regional office
(covering New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin
Islands) were found to be soliciting funds for favorite causes,
charities and for benefit fetes-- from the very same people the
office regulated. They included housing authority directors,
housing managers, architects, lawyers and builders. Joe Barry,
in a New York Times article of 6/24/89 is described as having
"given generously". Said Barry: "Does it help you? I'd say yes.
I figure its not bad to be a good scout and honor the regional
administration. Then I could call Geri McGann or Monticello with
such and such a problem and I think they'd get on the phone
more readily." Geraldine "Geri" McGann was HUD's regional
administrator starting in 1988. Preceded by Joseph Monticello.
Though funds solicited by the HUD heads went to noble causes, an
ability to gather contributions certainly can enhance clout.
Barry has also spread good will among elected officials. In
general, developers and development related law firms active in
New Jersey are known for their massive generosity to Hudson
County's public representatives. Folks like Applied, Lefrak,
Hartz Mountain, Hovnanian, Roseland, Mack-Cali and countless
others positively rain money on pols from every corner of the
county. At every level. From frosh councilmembers to seasoned
congressmen. The bipartisan nature of the donations is a lesson
in even handed democracy. Though Hudson County is heavily
Democrat, that hasn't stopped its few Republicans from receiving.
Ask former Mayor Bret Schundler of Jersey City. Also remarkable
is how often developers and law firms inspire their family
members, friends and employees to contribute to the public's
representatives. In similar increments over periods of days.
By the 90's revitalization had spread to waterfront areas of
cities above and below Hoboken. By then it had turned luxo. The
waterfront became packed with pricey high rises and Wall Street
spin offs and is now among the most expensive real estate in New
Jersey. Yet federal and state aid keep flowing into the strip as
if it were the tired old wreck of yesteryear. HUD, DOT and major
tax breaks pump project after project. Joe Barry and Applied are
involved in many of them. Applied's luxury residential projects
have the sorts of names beloved of Lego developers everywhere.
Port Liberte'.(Pronounced Li-bur-TAY.) The Gotham. The New Union
Club. Constitution North. Pinnacle North. And The Shipyard in two
sections: The Independence and The Vanguard.
The Shipyard is in Hoboken. Charges facing Barry mainly involve
this project. As mentioned, Hoboken is small. One mile square.
The Shipyard is immense. A mixed use residential and commercial
project which takes up 45 acres of land and water. It stretches
over three city blocks. Studios at The Shipyard start at close to
$2000 per month and 3 bedrooms top out at over $4000. Applied's
website markets The Shipyard as "The Gold Coast's most coveted
community" and touts its amenities, including a waterfront
promenade, as contributing to "a chic Left Bank' lifestyle".
According to indictments of Joe Barry, this coveted community
and chic lifestyle were greased by graft given Hudson County
Executive Robert Janiszewski. What Barry allegedly bought was
Janiszewski's assistance in obtaining $6.69 million in federal
loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development. Obtained in July 1998, through an application
submitted by Hudson County's HUD division. Also, an additional
$1 million Economic Development Initiative grant from HUD. That
grant was initially given to Hudson County government by HUD for
another project in Jersey City. Via a request from Janiszewski,
it went to The Shipyard instead.
Barry also allegedly grafted Janiszewski for transportation deals
related to The Shipyard. Adjacent to The Shipyard was an
Applied project called the Waterfront Walkway, which involved
construction of a publicly accessible pedestrian walkway (aka
the chic promenade) along the waterfront. Applied received close
to a million dollars for the project from the federally funded
Transportation Enhancement Program. The funds were applied for
by the Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA) and its sub
agency, the Hudson Transportation Management Association.
Construction of additional roadway to extend several Hoboken
streets to access the Waterfront Walkway and The Shipyard was
another part of the project. In 1995 and 1996, the Local Aid
Division of the New Jersey Department of Transportation allotted
approximately $1.064 million to the Hudson County Engineering
Department for the needed construction. Another street required
similar extension and in 1999, through NJDOT funding, Applied
Companies received $365,000 from the Hudson County Engineering
Constructing the Waterfront Walkway and making it accessible to
the public were conditions Barry and Applied had to meet in order
to build The Shipyard. The Walkway was to be part of a continuous
18 mile path along the Hudson County waterfront, a long time
vision of local greenspace activists. Because the Walkway was
open to the public, Barry wanted the public to pick up the cost.
Despite the fact that as a condition of the New Jersey state
waterfront permit, private developers are expected to construct
and maintain the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway at their own
expense. But thanks to NJDOT and the HCIA, Barry got paid. In
1999, a nonprofit association of private developers including
Applied, joined with Robert Janiszewski, the HCIA, the Port
Liberte Condominium Association and other interested parties to
try and have the entire Walkway declared a Special Improvement
District (SID). Which would transfer authority over the Walkway
from the state Department of Environmental Protection to either
Hudson County or the HCIA.
As an aside, if Barry's reasoning re public access is correct,
one wonders if it cuts both ways. Are taxpayers entitled to space
in the Applied projects they help finance or enhance? If so,
everybody into Port Li-bur-TAY! Where Robert Janiszewski used
to live. And where he kept the hidden cameras rolling.
Hudson isn't the only place where Joe Barry and Applied have
been busy doing private development with the help of public
money. Their projects stretch across New Jersey: from historic
Trenton bordering Pennsylvania on the Delaware River, to New
Brunswick on the Raritan in central Jersey, to the old resort
towns of the Jersey Shore. Though large parts of South Jersey
prosper some cities do not. Asbury Park in Monmouth County is
among them. Over the years, assorted redevelopment plans have
produced limited results. Some have run aground on corruption.
In the past few years a number of Monmouth County pols and pals
have done the perp walk. Asbury Park's X-Mayor Kenneth "Butch"
Saunders (in office from 1997 to 2001) and his political
consultant Rayfield James are the latest. This December Saunders
and James were found guilty of conspiring to bribe city
councilwoman Sheila Solomon. In the Spring of 2000, the X-Mayor
and his consultant offered to pay off the tax liens and mortgage
on Ms. Solomon's home. In return for her vote on matters
regarding a then pending oceanfront redevelopment plan. The money
to pay off her debts was to come from a "preferred developer" who
was vying for sole development rights. When the offers were being
made Sheila Solomon, in yet another case of Radio Shack oopsy,
was wearing a wire. Unlike Robert Janizewski, Ms. Solomon wasn't
pressured into doing so. In 1998 after one year in office,
Councilwoman Solomon had written to Governor Christie Whitman and
New Jersey's Attorney General, expressing disgust with what she
saw in the halls of local government. Neither got back to her.
She then contacted the FBI. Though perhaps not simon pure
herself, Councilwoman Solomon was a persistent and effective
whistle blower. Which suggests conviction.
At the trial of X-Mayor Saunders and Rayfield James, a few of the
thousand or so tapes Solomon made got an airing. Saunders and
James, in the process of trying to buy Ms. Solomon's vote,
talked up a storm. In one instance X-Mayor Saunders gave a job
description of consultant Rayfield James, saying James handled
"my little dirty work". Explaining that as an elected official,
he didn't want to speak about bribes directly with the "preferred
developer". On other tapes, Rayfield James waxed loquacious about
the demands of being a consultant. A tough job. He was juggling
developers and their mega bribes until the best deal could be
struck. James told Sheila Solomon that hundreds of millions of
dollars would be pouring into Asbury Park. He figured equity in
oceanfront redevelopment might be a smarter way to go than cash
up front. And James wanted to be careful how the deals went down
because "You can't enjoy your money in jail". Rayfield James was
also concerned that public officials wouldn't get a big enough
piece of redevelopment pie, saying "Now how do we take care of
the people who are elected?"
During the Saunders and James trial, the developers who'd
allegedly besieged the administration with bribes were
identified. Among several prominent names was Joseph Barry of
Applied Companies. Barry was also said to be the "preferred
developer" who was going to provide money to pay off Ms.
Solomon's mortgage and tax liens. Joe Barry and the other
developers deny the allegations. To date no charges have been
filed. As well as Councilwoman Solomon's vote on a developer,
Saunders and James sought her vote on the choice of the city's
redevelopment attorney. Saunders and James wanted attorney Glenn
Scotland for the job. Scotland had held the job until 1999, but
in a surprise city council vote lost the position. Councilwoman
Solomon was one of those who'd voted against him.
Glenn Scotland is a prominent Newark development attorney,
partner in the firm McManimom and Scotland. According to Sheila
Solomon's testimony, Rayfield James claimed Scotland would help
get the councilwoman's debts paid. On tape, James alleged Glenn
Scotland was a fixer who would be able to "cover up any illegal
activities" and "If we bring Glenn in, Glenn has dealt with these
situations in Newark, in Jersey City and Woodbridge." In the
context of Woodbridge, Rayfield James references New Jersey
Governor Jim McGreevey. McGreevey was Woodbridge mayor between
1993 and 2000. Woodbridge's current planning director says Glenn
Scotland held one contract with Woodbridge for redevelopment
advice during McGreevey's tenure. On tape Rayfield James claims
that "He [Glenn Scotland] has done things where McGreevey and
this is just us talking-has benefited. These guys have benefited
because he, he knows how to do this so that it indemnifies you
all from saying,'Well, I, you, took a bribe,' basically."
When this material aired in court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark
McCarren asked Ms. Solomon: "In fairness to the governor,
do you know any details about this?" The former councilwoman said
she did not. And Governor McGreevey's spokesperson in Trenton,
responded in the 12/09/03 Asbury Park Press: "We have no idea who
these people [James and Solomon] are or what they're talking
about." Attorney Glenn Scotland opined: "The only thing I can
think of is [James] was saying these things because it would make
a difference to Solomon. It is really sad and unfortunate."
Rayfield James is small political potatoes. Certainly no Robert
Janiszewski. James is black as is former Councilwoman Sheila
Solomon and X Mayor Kenneth Saunders. Asbury Park is poor.
Except for its oceanfront Asbury Park has little to bring to the
political table. Rayfield James was on the financial edge. Mayor
Saunders regularly bought his lunch. James also had drug issues.
So when a Robin Leach lifestyle seemed to beckon, he may have
gone into delusional overdrive. He'd have known Scotland in his
stint as redevelopment attorney for Asbury Park. James, a low
level buffer, might easily seek to impress Sheila Solomon with
yarns about how he and Glenn Scotland were involved in similar
activities. Given Scotland's prominence.
When Governor elect Jim McGreevey was transitioning into office
in the autumn of 2001, Glenn Scotland served on his 28 member
budget review team along with banking and financial luminaries
with major state and federal credentials. And for some 15 years,
Scotland has held major contracts with Hudson County. According
to a 12/20/03 Jersey Journal story) county political observers
described Glenn Scotland as being on Robert Janisewski's
"preferred list". The same Jersey Journal story covers the
impressive roster of work Scotland and his firm have done for
Hudson County. Including: annual contract work for the past five
years related to Environmental Protection Agency regulations,
federal loan programs and affordable housing programs. Scotland's
firm also holds two contracts with Hudson County and the Hudson
County Improvement Authority (HCIA) for counsel related to
bonding issues. Scotland is also general counsel for the North
Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA). The U.S.
Department of Transportation funded entity which oversees roughly
$2 billion in spending for transportation projects in 13 counties
in northern New Jersey. As you may remember, Robert Janiszewski
himself was on the NJTPA board for seven years before becoming
chairman in 2000. In late 2001, records from the NJPTA and an
HCIA sub agency (the Office of Transportation Management) were
subpoenaed by federal authorities in the investigation of alleged
corrupt payments made to Robert Janiszewski by developer Joe
Barry of Applied Companies in Hoboken.
The shallow Hudson County revitalization Joe Barry once
referenced is least evident in Hoboken. Where size, easily
controlled real estate and direct transportation to Manhattan
are unique factors. Calling Hoboken successful means accepting
displacement of family centered populations and increased social
stratification. Along with massive public financial support for
private development of luxury residential and commercial real
estate. It also means believing being dependent on housing
subsidies isn't a step down on the independence scale for middle
and working class people. Calling Hoboken successful also means
accepting developers dominating the political scene, with
democracy undermined in the process. And calling Hoboken
successful means ignoring the underclass at the rear end of town.
In larger and less land locked Hudson County cities, the
underclass areas are also larger. There are more of them. Some
are actually immense neighborhoods. Where schools produce
illiterates, drug wars rage and once beautiful buildings have
sunk into slums. It's interesting to wonder what Hudson County
might be like now if 30 years of federal revitalization funds
had either never arrived, or had only done so in stringently
administered and more modestly targeted drips and drabs. The
housing crunch in Manhattan would have still forced people
over/under the river. Would they have clustered on the
waterfront? There wasn't much housing there prior to the 80's:
perhaps more newcomers would have headed further inland. Who
knows what the social effect of a less concentrated but wider
influx might have been? Then there's the corruption thing. Over
three decades, revitalization dollars in the billion poured into
a county with ingrained corruption habits. Political crooks who'd
normally have been penny ante, had non stop access to massive
federal funds. Or were rubbing shoulders with developers and
contractors who did. With that level of subsidization, carting
a few off to jail does nothing but knock a few players of the
board. Helping others advance.
Hudson County and New Jersey are by no means the only places
where pay for play has become epidemic. Nor is it a Democrat
sickness. Check Connecticut where Governor John G. Rowland
teeters on the edge of impeachment due to questions about gifts
received from public contractors and developers. In the past few
years Connecticut has lost several big city mayors from both
parties to federal investigations. In a 01/16/04 Reuters story,
Stanley Twardy, a former federal prosecutor in Connecticut and
co-chief of staff for Governor Rowland's predecessor Lowell
Weicker, linked the scandals to the decline in the state's once
powerful industrial cities. Ones which have suffered an exodus
of manufacturing jobs and an influx of crime. Saying that the
situation "...has triggered huge increases in federal aid which
bolsters the greed factor among local politicians. In an affluent
state where you have mayors of poor towns seeing businessmen
making hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars...the mayors start feeling a sense of entitlement."
Federal aid flowing from the U. S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development and Department of Transportation has so little
meaningful oversight and legitimate use is so easily fudged, that
the funds might as well fall from the sky. Except in that case,
they couldn't be steered as easily. Which leads to the issue of
accountability. When regional offices of HUD and DOT consistently
help fund pay for play practitioners, frauds or perpetual
mismanagement, it's time for investigations to expand beyond
politicians, developers and consultants and into the realms of
The endless dollars dished out by Uncle Sam's agencies have kept
old corrupt political machines on life support. And has helped
them grow new wings of clout and connections. Public contractors
and developers move from city to city, county to county and state
to state, gift bags in hand. The bottomless pit of what some pols
call "free money" undermines democracy on local levels and gives
elected officials a greater ability to ignore, or buy off
constituents. Particularly when constituents themselves have some
small stake in the same funding sources. Urban residents not on
the revitalization gravy train have become increasingly
disenfranchised. They include moderate and low income people
who resist housing or business subsidies and old style welfare
recipients. Though the latter's existence still serves as
rationale for new style urban welfare.
Developer Joe Barry was right when he said the welfare system is
horrendous and destructive. And that a welfare state mentality
has to do with why revitalization only reaches a quarter mile
deep into Hudson County. But when he said it, he was looking in
the wrong direction.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
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"Just get the cameras rolling, get the action going!"
Andrea True Connection, More More More, 1976
"There's nothing like seeing dirt being moved."
Mayor Adam Schneider, Long Branch, New Jersey 6/27/01
Upon Applied Development Company of Hoboken breaking ground on
a complex of 420 upscale waterfront residences.