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Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Glass House Begs for Breakage

When you write about Hudson County politics, strange things happen. So far, there have been no late-night phone calls with throaty mobsters or anything like that. However, I have received a somewhat anonymous email concerning a Jersey City politician - City Councilman Steve Lipski.

It seems there is a website now dedicated to bringing down Mr. Lipski. Apparently, it was started by Mr. Lipski's former campaign manager, Steve Kush of Kush and Associates. Apparently, there is some bad blood between Kush and Lipski over campaign related expenses. If you're really interested, read the site.

Personally, it is nothing to me what happens between Lipski and his campaign crew. However, there are a number of allegations made that may bear further investigation. Among other things, Mr. Lipski is accused of drinking and driving, causing damage to a City owned vehicle, and generally being a slob. Of more interest to me is the accusation that Lipski's mayoral bid was nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to prevent Lou Manzo from winning the mayoral contest - which tipped the contest to Hudson County Democratic Committee nominee Jerry Healy.

The way municipal politics often works is that the official candidate will also secretly back a stalking horse to split the "reform" ticket. In the special election of which we are speaking there was hardly a need to do that as there were, to my recollection, about seven or eight mayoral candidates. The vote was about as split as it could get. I'm more than a bit suspicious that Lipski's sole purpose was to split votes from Manzo. However, it also has to be said that Lipski placed fifth in the overall vote count. At the same time, it has to be noted that he did collect enough votes to easily have swung the vote either way.

What makes the idea credible in my mind is that both the fourth and fifth place finishers (Lipski and Willie Flood) both appeared as if by magic on Jerry Healy's ticket for the regularly scheduled elections under the HCDC banner earlier this year. There are two explanations for this - one less vile than the other. One explanation is that their strong vote tallies proved to the HCDC that they are real candidates - and thus they were simply added as common sense would dictate. Obviously there is evidence on the face of the issue that this is a legitimate answer.

The other is that Lipski and/or Flood were rewarded for their stalking horse rolls. They were backed, either directly or indirectly, for the sole purpose of shaving enough votes from the competition to ensure victory. Having shown themselves faithful, they were then given their position alongside the mayor in this election - a position that all but guaranteed victory.

The Kush site brings other questions to my mind, though. First of all, Steve Kush advertises (one might say he brags) about representing REPUBLICAN candidates. Now, it is entirely possibly that he was so struck with Mr. Lipski that he made an exception. That doesn't seem to be the case - or if it is, it is a well hidden secret. Of course, people who know Mr. Lipski from his youth tell me that he was a fervent Young Republican who jumped to the Democratic Party just to get into office. Given Mr. Lipski's support for Bret Schundler, it seems that perhaps he hasn't gotten that red-ness out of his blood.

Personally, I don't care if Mr. Lipski is Democrat or Republican. I do think he should be honest about his allegiances, though. I will concede, however, that it is a small point.

Another point about Mr. Lipski comes out from his speech announcing his mayoral bid.

There are 49 days left to the election, and this number 49 is
significant because in 1949 a young reform mayoral candidate beat the
Frank Hague machine, and now a young reformer is going to beat the
current machine and turn government back to you. That reformer is me.


Here's the problem: John V. Kenny won the mayoral race in 1949. Kenny was hardly a "reformer". He was a member of Frank Hague's machine until he became powerful enough to take over himself. He then implemented all of the corrupt practices that Hague was known for.

Is this who Lipski wants us to believe he really is? A backstabbing opportunist who is just as crooked as the man he double-crosses?

It brings to mind another Lipski quote from the investigation over his mismanagement of the CREATE school he loves to brag about: "I was cited, not indicted" or perhaps his claim: "But were [the improprieties] criminal or are they moral? And I would say absolutely not.". It also brings to mind the recent revelation that he has some times to Russel Thomas Fallacara - an alleged mobster.

The Kush site also alleges that Lipski took a campaign contribution from developer Steve Hyman. More than that, his mailing was paid for by Hyman's wife through her company - Platinum Design. He then understated the amount contributed by over $17,000 in his public disclosures - or so the Kush site alleges. (Platinum Design has a website, but it's an annoying flashy boxy piece of crap. Look it up in Yahoo search if you want to see it.) Kush also reports that Lipski recused himself from discussing Hyman's case at the City Council meeting - but not in voting on it. Odd that he would not listen to the debate, but still be willing to vote on it.

It could be that Mr. Lipski is just exceptionally unlucky in picking political friends. I have no proof otherwise. However, at some point, that sort of judgment problem needs to be held accountable. A less favorable interpretation is that Mr. Lipski has built a glass house out of political patronage and sleight-of-hand corruption. If so, it looks like the hail of rocks may just have begun.

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