Perth Amboy antics diminish democracy

Supporters of Councilman Helmin Caba, who is seeking the unseat Mayor Wilda Diaz, were observed pasting Trump stickers on her signs as nearly 5,000 of the city’s 27,000 registered voters have cast ballots in the largely vote-by-mail election.

Experts say 10,000 or more of those registrations are phantoms because names are not removed from the rolls promptly even when citizens die or move out of town.

If only one-third of the actual electorate has decided, the remainder is not likely to be moved by the candidates’ antics as desperation drives them to distraction.

Councilman Fernando Irizarry issued a statement denying that he disclosed a series of lawsuits against Councilman Helmin Caba, who was depicted as a deadbeat in an email blast of unknown origin.

The email accused Caba of repeatedly stiffing creditors and it provided a link to a judiciary search showing five judgments recorded between 2013 and 2017.

Helmin Caba was ordered to pay $34,149.32 in five separate cases between 2013 and 2017, according to a judgment search facilitated by the New Jersey judiciary’s website. https://portal.njcourts.gov/webe4/JudgmentWeb/jsp/judgmentSearch.faces

Email

The website returns detailed information about the five cases in which creditors sued Caba over $34,149.32 in unpaid bills.

The email says, “A councilman who was elected on Wilda Diaz’s ticket in 2016 and who is now running for mayor in the upcoming election has been repeatedly sued by creditors for failing to pay his bills.”

An ad for Irizarry appeared in the email but the Councilman declared he is not responsible for the message and nobody in his campaign was involved.

Caba admitted that he was successfully sued by the creditors, but he sought to spin the episode as a lesson in business.

The consequences are largely immaterial because the contest is primarily a two-way race between Diaz and attorney Joseph B. Vas, the son of the former incumbent she defeated 12 years ago.

Irizarry and Caba were elected in 2016 on the coattails of Diaz, but neither has established much of an independent identity.

Although five judgments were recorded against him between 2013 and 2017, Caba condemned the email, taking exception to being called a “deadbeat.”

While he did not accept responsibility for his supporters who put the Trump stickers on the Diaz signs, Caba has sought to identify himself with former Vice President Joe Biden despite the fact that Perth Amboy has nonpartisan elections.

Both Vas and Diaz are registered Democrats although the Mayor endorsed Biden’s primary opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders after backing Hillary Clinton in 2016. Diaz is personally friendly with several Latina women who were prominently involved in the Sanders campaign.

A recent invitation to a virtual Seniors for Biden event featured a post script message endorsing Vas for Mayor.

The lawyer said he intends to alert the state Attorney General over what he called a “criminal conspiracy” because the City Council started a public meeting more than a half hour earlier than the public was informed about.

Three councilmen are competing with Vas and Diaz in the mayoral election, including Joel Pabon Sr, who has been on the governing body for ten years. Irizarry has been a member for eight years and Caba is completing a four year term.

Under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, government officials must advertise their sessions and provide adequate notice for citizens to take part.

The City Council held a workshop beginning at 4:30 p.m. and then continued when it went into the regular session long before the public was informed.

Since the first of such double header meetings typically started at 5:30, when holidays and other causes made them necessary in the past, it seems the earlier start time was intended to provide an opportunity to violate the law.

Vas said he suspected that the council members hoped to avoid embarrassing themselves in the final weeks of the election season.

A rent control ordinance in effect since 1983 was invalidated because officials failed to do their jobs and a surge in violent crime has become part of the political debate.

Police found dozens of bullet casings at the scene of a shoot out involving several street gangs that have been active in the city.

A teenager was arrested in connection with a stabbing in broad daylight and another alleged gang menber has been charged with attempted murder related to another recent shooting.

Vas said he suspected that the council members wanted to avoid being held accountable for the poor law enforcement.

Diaz has avoided appearances at venues where she might be put on the spot and she limited comments on issues raised during the campaign.

In response to a wide range of allegations concerning mismanagement of law enforcement, including charges that millions of taxpayer dollars have been squandered on police misconduct lawsuits, Diaz reiterated her support for officers who shot and killed Dixon Rodriguez in December 2013 after they were summoned by the man’s mother, who sought help getting him to take his medication.

Unanswered were other controversies raised by Vas, Diaz’s principal opponent in the upcoming election, who said City Council enabled her to abuse police authority, that Diaz promoted her campaign manager to acting Captain in the police department despite his lack of qualifications, and the city paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits filed by victims of police brutality, false arrest and other official misconduct.

Despite Perth Amboy’s record as an epicenter for Covid-19, where death tolls meet or exceed the levels in cities with twice the population, Diaz claimed she led “the strongest response” to coronavirus. She also claimed credit for distributing during the crisis free food, which was paid for by various business entities that have secured undisclosed favors at taxpayer expense.

Diaz has also ignored questions about her record of raising taxes. When she first ran for mayor, Diaz complained that her tax bill increased from about $5,000 to $8,000 but since she took over City Hall, the levy on her Lee Street home rose to almost $14,000.


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