It all started with a federal sting operation in Southern New Jersey, and soon the crooked politicians were pointing out other crooked politicians who would want in on the action. That's how it grew to encompass so many.
One of those arrested, Passaic Mayor Sammy Rivera had what the Record calls a colorful history. I'd call it one that calls into question the good judgment of Passaic voters.
He left the Passaic force in 1976 and went home to Puerto Rico. There, he found a new job as a cop -- and trouble.Rivera was a member of Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign in New Jersey. He stepped down yesterday as head of Hillary's Mayors Council. Hillary will be speaking at the NJ Democratic Party's annual conference in Atlantic City today. I doubt the issue of corruption will come up.
On patrol in 1980, his partner fatally shot a man in a drug bust. Rivera slashed himself in the stomach to make it look like the shooting was in self-defense. The ensuing federal investigation revealed the coverup and Rivera got three years' probation and a felony conviction that later nearly prevented him from becoming Passaic's mayor.
In 1981, he left Puerto Rico for Passaic and worked as a private investigator. He entered politics and landed a seat on the City Council in the early 1990s, amid a corruption scandal in the Housing Authority that would send Passaic's mayor, Joseph Lipari, to prison.
Rivera ran for mayor in 1997 and made a blatant appeal to Latinos, who now were 60 percent of the city, to make him the first Hispanic mayor. But he lost to incumbent Marge Semler by 164 votes -- and blamed another Latino candidate for splitting the Latino vote.
Semler, a reform mayor credited with restoring integrity to government, said Rivera was of little help as a councilman.
"Everything we tried to do, he tried to block," she said Thursday.
Rivera bided his time until 2001, when Semler stepped aside after two terms. This time, there were no opposing Latinos, and he swept to victory. But his biggest challenge was yet to come.
Because of the felony conviction in Puerto Rico, the state attorney general challenged Rivera's election, citing law that bars those convicted of crimes of "moral turpitude" from elected office.
The case was decided days before Rivera was to be sworn in. Superior Court Judge Robert Passero found that the state had failed to prove that Rivera's participation in the coverup amounted to moral turpitude.
Meanwhile, there is serious strangeness over the closing of the Paterson schools after the mayor announced that the fire department found critical violations in a number of schools. Local politicians are claiming that the mayor is engaging in a power play with the school board and may have engaged in criminality himself. I question the timing since the school district had all summer to deal with potential fire hazards. That the mayor's office would wait until the first day of classes to cancel them (and no set date for reopening the schools), is odd.
For the record - all the politicians referenced above are Democrats.
Credit where credit's due. Gov. Corzine, a Democrat, is calling for the two Assemblymen arrested in this corruption sweep, to resign. He's joined by fellow Democrats - Senate Leader Richard Codey and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts in calling for their resignations by the end of the weekend:
Governor Corzine and fellow top Democrats urged two North Jersey legislators to resign by the end of the weekend, after the pair was arrested as part of a sweeping corruption investigation.That's a measure I can certainly stand behind.
The governor, speaking in Atlantic City after New York Sen. Hillary Clinton addressed a convention of the state’s Democratic Party, said that Alfred E. Steele and Mims Hackett, Jr., should step down from the Assembly.
Corzine’s resignation call joined those put forward by Senate President Richard Codey and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts. All three gave Steele and Hackett the same weekend deadline to step down.
Now, if only Corzine would address his own improprieties in fishy loans to Katz and her relatives.
Here's a scorecard on who was arrested - 11 of the 12 are Democrats. Jonathan Soto, a Passaic City Councilman is a GOPer.