ELIZABETH—Sensing voter anger over high taxes and the ailing economy, the same politicians who caused those problems are trying to get the public to lash out at a defenseless enemy—New Jersey school children.
Mayor J. Christian Bollwage has commissioned his public relations machine and political minions to encourage voters to cast ballots against the proposed budget in the April 20 school election.
“Obviously, Bollwage sees this as a chance to divert attention from the $2 million his City Council allies gave to Ray Vella and the excessive public salaries his administration pays municipal administrators by turning the people against Elizabeth’s school children,” said James J. Devine, chairman of the Central Jersey Democratic Leadership Council. “Telling people to rob the children allows angry voters to vent their frustration without incurring a significant political backlash.”
Vella was convicted on six counts by a jury and is now serving a sentence in federal prison, as the result of a bribery and kickback scheme that unraveled in Linden.
Before his criminal conviction, Vella was a close Bollwage ally who managed Second Ward Councilman Nelson Gonzalez’s 2006 campaign and donated tens of thousands of dollars to Councilmen Manny Grova, Frank Mazza, Joseph Keenan and Bill Gallman. Those same councilmen approved $2 million of dollars in grants and contracts to Vella similar to those that he was convicted of buying with bribes in Linden.
Bollwage is willing to undercut the children because his political forces have never been able to assert control over the city’s Board of Education, which has maintained a ten-year record of no tax increases.
As a result of Gov. Chris Christie’s state aid cuts, school taxes will rise this year whether voters approve the budget or not—but if the spending plan is rejected by voters, Bollwage would be able to exert influence to gain favors for some of his political allies, such as Councilmen Frank Mazza, Ed Jackus and Frank Cuesta, who are employed in the school district.
“Bollwage is right about New Jersey’s high taxes, but he is being dishonest when he tries to blame children for the waste, corruption and high salaries in City Hall,” said Devine.
With a campaign warchest in excess of $450,000 and innumerable resources associated with city coffers, Bollwage has the ability to persuade voters to vote against the proposed budget, while the children who stand to benefit from education have few advocates with political clout.
The school district is prohibited from advocating voter approval of the budget but the Elizabeth Education Association (EEA) has allocated funds donated by members to purchase an advertisement in a print edition of this newspaper.
“EEA members go above and beyond the regular work day because we care about your kids and we want a better community for all of us,” says the ad. “Now, we need your support to keep our schools strong. Please support the Board of Education budget.”
Armando DaSilva, who chairs the Board of Education finance committee, said he is concerned that the mayor’s ploy could confuse the public.
“There are people who think a vote against the budget is a vote against higher taxes, but it is unrelated because Elizabeth gets so much funding from the state,” said DaSilva. “Mayor Bollwage may have a little to gain by distracting the electorate, but it is sad that he is willing to inflict such pain on our children in exchange for a modest political advantage.”
Connect with NJTODAY.NET
Join NJTODAY.NET's free Email List to receive occasional updates delivered right to your email address!