LINDEN—In what appears to be an attempt to induce his challenger to withdraw from the primary election campaign in Linden’s Fifth Ward with a promise of future support, Councilman Gene Davis suggested that Council President Robert Bunk does not plan to serve a full term if he is elected mayor.
Davis is captured on audio stating: “I am willing—and I am a man of my word—to stand behind you and give you the seat. That’s my right hand to God on my grandchildren.”
While Council President Robert Bunk was literally announcing his candidacy for mayor in a room next door, Davis allegedly outlined a deal that suggests the veteran politician had already decided not to complete his term so that he can collect a second public pension.
Davis seems to have told Rhashonna Cosby-Hurling that, if she dropped out as a candidate against him, he would get her appointed to represent the ward by resigning prior to the next election so that he could succeed Bunk as Mayor.
Cosby-Hurling mounted a challenge to Davis in 2006 and she is again seeking the Democratic nomination to represent the neighborhood.
Bunk, who has been endorsed by the Regular Political Organization of Union County, faces fierce opposition from Fourth Ward Councilman Derek Armstead, who is running with Cosby-Hurling on the Democrats for Change slate in Column B.
Cosby-Hurling is heard saying, “It’s about three years, that’s what Chris is telling me.” The “Chris” she refers to is municipal political boss Christopher Hudak whose mother is a school board member and father is the controversial part-time lawyer who costs city taxpayers $100,000 a year.
On the audio, Davis explains that he needs to be on the council in order to move into the Mayor’s office if Bunk resigns.
“I can’t be appointed unless I’m there,” Davis said. Earlier this year, Bunk selected Davis to serve as Council President Pro Tem, which under the city’s form of government would put him in a position to take over the mayor’s office if there were a vacancy.
Cosby-Hurling said she was disturbed enough by the conversation that she opted to activate a sound recording feature on her cell phone as it seemed Davis sought to bribe her in exchange for an agreement to bow out of the contest for the nomination for City Council.
An attorney who advised Cosby-Hurling said the recording clearly includes an offer that appears to constitute a bribe, which is prohibited under New Jersey law, but it will be up to authorities to determine whether the case is prosecuted.
“Are you telling me that she recorded the conversation without my knowledge?” Davis asked, before terminating his interview with the News Record. “I’m going to reach out to my lawyer and then we’ll answer all the questions.”
Bunk, who did not respond to a request for comment, retired as a police officer in 1992 and currently collects a taxpayer-financed pension of about $32,574 per year from the Police and Firefighter Retirement Fund. If he becomes mayor, he could potentially collect a second pension of about $38,800 annually from the Public Employee Retirement System.
Comparing Davis to the disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, one observer suggested that the voters might end his tenure on the City Council to prevent him from selling the office.
“Bribery is a sore subject among the city’s political establishment,” said political strategist James J. Devine. “In recent years, five contractors won lucrative contracts from the Linden Home Improvement Program with kickbacks and bribes until FBI agents closed in on the conspirators.”
“Another former city employee who is close to Bunk and the political organization, Matthew Valvano, was recently released from prison after serving a sentence for bribery in connection with his job as a municipal inspector,” said Devine.
Click here to listen to a recording that purports to be Fifth Ward Councilman Gene Davis offering Rhashonna Cosby-Hurling a seat on the City Council in exchange for her agreement to get out of the primary election campaign.
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