Cary Africk: Mayor’s Election Petition is Legal, But…

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As has been reported in the media, the Mayor has been at the Montclair Farmer’s Market, and throughout town, circulating a petition to have the issue of “changing the election date” be put on the ballot this November. This is in direct opposition to the majority of the Council, which passed a Resolution creating a commission to study this matter and prepare a report before putting the issue on the ballot in 2012.

As part of his petitioning process, the Mayor has also initiated a widespread email campaign offering to provide a petition for signing, and outlining the procedures that must be followed.

I have also heard that the email campaign has been sent to at least some BOE employees, and members of boards and commissions appointed by the Mayor and Council.

Under State Statute, any resident can do what the Mayor is doing. The statute contains regulations that include who can sign a petition, the certifying process, and the number of signatures necessary.

So one could argue that the Mayor is within his rights to do this petition.

But:
Unlike a voting booth, where you close the curtain and no one knows how you voted, signing a petition is a very public act. Everyone knows you did it, as the petition is a public document. And not only does everyone know you signed it, the person who asked you to sign it certainly knows.

And the Mayor isn’t just “any” person. He is the MAYOR. So when he asks you to do something, like sign his petition, or circulate his petition, people are probably going to think twice before refusing.

Let’s be frank. If you know the issues, and you honestly disagree, isn’t there some part of you that’s going to think, “What’s going to happen if I don’t sign?”

Because although the Mayor has limited official powers to appoint, as he has reminded us often during the last three years, he has the “bully pulpit” and thus considerable power to influence, horse trade, etc. Also, two other Council members openly support his petition.

This is not to say that anything has been specifically said, or have promises been made. That would be illegal.

But if you have your eye towards a BOE appointment, or an appointment to another committee, or if you have been, or might in the future be, a beneficiary of some “stipend,” might you think twice about upsetting the Mayor?

I am not against holding a Referendum and giving the public a chance to vote. I am against not allowing people sufficient time to discuss and understand the issues.

What’s the rush, Mr. Mayor?

56 COMMENTS

  1. Are residents of Montclair actually intimidated enough by the mayor’s power that they would sign a petition against their better judgement and morals just to get something on a ballot?

    I have more faith in the backbone of my neighbors.

    I mean, I’ve used the line “Eat your vegetables or I’ll call the mayor!” on my kids – and it has worked. Still, I can’t imagine “Sign this petition or I’ll mention you on TV34 during the next council meeting!” would be all that terrifying.

  2. Cary,

    Im against the mayor’s petition. And I am against this being done during this council. But that is one craven post.

    “one could argue that the Mayor is within his rights to do this petition.”

    One couldn’t just “argue” one should know he is absolutely “within his rights”.

    And to allege in the wussiest way possible the some wrong doing might (despite ANY evidence) be taking place is really pathetic.

  3. Clearly the Mayor is trying an end run around the Council. Granted, it’s a little odd for a sitting Mayor to be working the streets like an activist. But we’re talking Mayor Bike Boy, not Bloomberg or Obama. This is local. Let the guy get petition sigs. Small beer, in my opinion.

    Of far more significance is the need for some alternative to this stock photo of Cary, looking askance from the bench. It is becoming tiresome. Where’s the paparazzi when you need them? Fran? Rachel?

  4. I’m also tired of the sourpuss picture of the Mayor. Everything this mayor does makes steam come out of my ears. He is one pushy condescending SOB. I guess that’s what it takes to get one’s way, I just wish his way included figuring out how to fix what’s wrong instead of adding to the list.

  5. Maybe we should take the hint and do everything by petition. There are a number of items that might be put on the ballot such as a township debt ceiling and a real property tax cap.

  6. Why is he so fixated on this issue? Isn’t there a better place to put his energy? He really needs to change his name to Mayor Moonbeam.

  7. He’s fixated on this issue because he’s probably been told he will get a great job at Bluewave if he makes this happen.

  8. Jerseygirl, I couldn’t agree with your posts more.

    Is there a petition to recall this mayor? That is one petition I’d be happy to sign.

  9. Much to-do about nothing. Regardless of whether you like Jerry the Mayor, this is Jerry the Private Citizen, who apparently believes in the idea of November voting, doesn’t feel entirely at ease waiting for a long-overdue report (Why is this not a one month thing, start to finish? It is not that complicated.) and wants to make certain it gets on the ballot where the enfranchised townspeople will get to decide yes or no.

  10. I’m hoping the petition passes and a vote ends up on the ballot. This way, Jerry can finally see that fewer than half of the voters in Montclair would agree to the extending of his term. Now if he would only spend 1/10th the time caring about the town and trying to get a hold of runaway taxes than he does on his many pet projects (China, bike lockers, etc.) locals might even approve of the extension of his term. Hey maybe he would even get reelected. Fortunately, I no longer get to vote in Montclair.

  11. A November local election will most definitely be a significant advantage for an incumbent.

    The May turnout tends to be people that are more in tune with what goes on in the town. It makes the incumbent talk about their accomplishments and record and if people aren’t happy, it often lets the challenger get in because friends neighbors, rally behind them.

    November just brings a different sort of voter. They usually show up to pull the lever for someone in their party on a state or national level and while their at most likely vote for the recognizable name in the local election. Without a doubt it’s an advantage for the incumbent.

    I think non-partisan town politics and May election works out the best because its truly about people wanting to bring new ideas and help the community. November local elections just remind me of partisan battling, parties trying to get their guy in so they can have some ‘hand’ (tku Sienfeld)in the administration. IMO- Nov elections is about the party and protecting positions whereas May gives every citizen interested a shot at stating their point and having a chance.

  12. Well, somehow I completely disagree with herbeverschmel.
    May elections aren’t about new ideas, they are about the very few people who come to vote in them.

    November elections are where the people come to the poles and make their choices.

    Who cares about another six months of Mayor F or G or K? We should care about having a larger number of voters and saving some money on an extra election.

  13. The saving money issue is a complete joke. The amount of money this saves is less than the revenue collected from one average home in Montclair annually. The additional amount of money that will be spent aimlessly in the additional 6 months of this town council will probably negate any savings for the next ten years. Senior Center anyone?

  14. Not so sure, herbeverschmel, that November voters would be so likely to vote for the incumbents. With the town going to hell in a handbasket, the prevailing sentiment might well be, “Throw the bums out!”

  15. The amount of money this saves is less than the revenue collected from one average home in Montclair annually.

    Even less than that. The election cost $50,000 in 2008. That’s $50,000 every four years

  16. “”He is the MAYOR. So when he asks you to do something, like sign his petition, or circulate his petition, people are probably going to think twice before refusing.””

    Seriously? Some people may not agree with Mayor Fried but I seriously doubt anyone is intimidated by him.

  17. johnleesandiego – unless you have a position you care about that can be terminated. Like township attorney. Or being a member of the BOE. Or the planning board.

  18. so even if every township attorney, BOE member and planning board member signed the petition out of intimidation, there would not be enough signatures; in order for the petition to work regular people would have to sign it and I have run into run into the real housewives of Montclair when there is only one bunch of grapes left in Kings – they don’t take crap from anyone, I don’t they’d be intimidated by the mayor

  19. Or, of course, if you are looking to volunteer and be appointed or reappointed to a board or committee, I would think that saying NO would be the kiss of death.

    I’d be intimidated if put on the spot by the Mayor and I’m not easily intimidated.

    @johnlee it’s “regular people” who volunteer their time for boards and committees.

    Cary’s point is well made.

  20. Doesn’t anyone find it funny that this is the exact same route that the elected BOE people took (collecting signatures at places like the farmer’s market) and Fried went out of his way to throw up roadblocks whenever possible. Discountung votes, making personal statements that he didn’t think the decision should be put on the ballot, even having the council take a vote and make a formal statement that they were against the effort. Now the council passes an ordinance effectively putting this off to the point he can’t gain his extra 6 months in office and what does he do, shows up at the farmer’s market and looks for signatures. If only the rest of the council (minus Lewis and Weller of course) do the same to him.

    And why is it that even if this process is changed it can’t be done AFTER this group’s time is up?

  21. intimidated by the Mayor? but the man’s waist is smaller than my calf, I seriously doubt the voting public would be intimidated by his presence at the Farmer’s MArket

  22. Cary,

    We can all agree that the Mayor’s tactics are dubious at best.. but can you explain where you stand on the issue of moving the election? I know you favored the commission .. but what do YOU think ?

  23. This is from the Montclair Times, and sounds very much like the intimidation Cary Africk writes about:

    The mayor’s foes have also taken him to task for sending an email to at least one volunteer member of a township committee, Jay Church, asking if he wanted to sign or circulate petitions. Critics allege that was an ethical breach, with Fried using his position as mayor, signing his email as mayor, to possibly intimidate people into helping his cause.

    Not putting a gun to anyone’s head, sure, but the mayor should not be using his official status to push this petition drive.

    I’m still laughing at the irony of it all, pointed out above by romanempire. The folks who wanted an elected BOE were just “angry,” and had to get their petitions twice because of alleged discrepancies. It would be too rich if Mister Mayor handed in some petitions with similar discrepancies and had to do it all over again.

  24. Is there actually a chance that if he did mess up the petitions that his handpicked town lawyer would call him on it?

    I’ll say this for the mayor, he ran on a platform of transparency. So far, this is the most transparent thing he’s done on teh council.

  25. He’s the mayor ? that is suppose to make me take him seriously. I’ve eaten pasta that was more intimidating.

    Can we do a petition that the mayor and town council have to move into the Sienna until it is completely repaired? I’ll bet they’d be able to get involved then. And they can give their dry, mold free homes to the water logged Sienna residents.

  26. The picture is of me. In my serious mode.

    Intimidation? Well, look at the people in this town that have received “stipends.” You can find them in the bill list. A thousand here, another couple of thousand there. The Council doesn’t vote on them.

    And yes. Appointments are voted on by the entire Council. But then there are those “horse trades” that happen.

    People are afraid to speak up. All the time.

    Conflict of interest is widespread. It’s not just this situation and its not just Montclair.

  27. “And yes. Appointments are voted on by the entire Council. But then there are those “horse trades” that happen”

    cary, you mean like the time renee switched her vote for no apparent reason on the town lawyer?

    BTW, wasn’t she appointed to the planning board or something like that between the time she said no and when she changed her mind and voted yes?

  28. roman,

    On that night Renee was made Council Liaison to the Planning Board as I was kicked off. AND a new appointee, whose resume was submitted the DAY before, was also appointed as a FULL member of the Planning Board, skirting around members who were “alternate” designees for years. Mind you, Renee’s voice is a welcome addition to the Planning Board, but that’s not the issue.

  29. Peter Z,

    Although I welcome additional study which could cause me to change my mind, my position is that it is NOT a good idea to change the voting date.

    In three plus years one of the lessons I’ve learned is that people live their lives in Montclair with little familiarity of “municipal” issues. This is not meant to be a criticism.

    People are occupied with their lives and the things that most effect them. That means school, school activities, and sports when you have kids.

    And it means work. Those people commuting on the trains each morning into the city look forward to work days that go late into the night.

    And with layoffs dramatically increasing in the financial industry, for everyone from the lowest to highest paid, people are even more prone to spend time working.

    So when an issue such as “where did the money go for the Sienna and Bay Street projects?” it is likely that such issue isn’t even on resident’s “radar.”

    I bump into people all the time, who have no idea. I tell them we have $246MM in debt and they are floored. They thought it was perhaps $30MM. Usually I can go on for hours about issues and they walk away with much more knowledge.

    So, having an election in May serves a very important educational time. In campaigning, candidates are bringing MONTCLAIR issues to the forefront.

    I do not believe the issues would get the exposure they deserve if elections were moved to November.

    Cary Africk

  30. Cary,

    Your allegations are always thin on specifics. If there is something inappropriate with these stipends, or “horse trades” or conflicts of interest, then by all means be specific. Give details.

    Otherwise it’s lot of posturing and useless innuendo.

  31. Got it Cary, so the specifics are… we only have a new town attorney due to the “horse trading” of Renee being given a spot as liason to the planning board. This appointment by the mayor apparently caused her to change he mind to go along with the mayor on this vote.

  32. we only have a new town attorney due to the “horse trading” of Renee being given a spot as liason to the planning board.

    One of my favorite Renee Baskerville stories revolves around the new town attorney, because it shows what a completely unhinged public official she is. She held out voting to approve Ira’s appointment until the mayor promised her he’d give her Cary’s seat on the Planning Board and a friend of hers a seat on the board as well. So she went along, as did most of the council.

    Then, when it turned out the fried of hers got a regular seat on the board, and not an alternate seat (the council forgot to ask the alternates if they wanted a crack at the regular seat — oops!), Renee flipped out, and said she wanted the appointment reversed. No can do, said the newly-minted town attorney. You can’t fool around with Planning Board appointments once they’re done, Ira said.

    But that wasn’t good enough for Queen Renee, who said she went out and got a different legal opinion. From who? Why, the old town attorney, naturally, who she just fired in exchange for getting Cary’s seat on the Planning Board. And she felt not on whiff of shame about it, either. In fact, as is her wont, she became more indignant and more self-righteous, asking the council to vote twice to illegally reverse the appointment of her friend. Both votes failed, naturally.

    But it gets better, because Mister Mayor comes across looking like a boob here, too, of course. The friend of Renee’s is black, and here is Fried explaining her appointment to The Montclair Times:

    Willis “happens to be an African-American woman, and that speaks in her favor,” the mayor said.

    Brilliant. Not “She’s black, and we need diversity,” but, “She’s black, so she’s awesome.” Want some water to wash down your foot, mayor?

  33. And why was it so important to have Ira as the town attorney that the mayor was willing to sell positions for votes? Why Ira versus Alan?

  34. And why was it so important to have Ira as the town attorney that the mayor was willing to sell positions for votes? Why Ira versus Alan?

    They did not like Alan and they wanted their own person. It’s as simple as that, and they’re entitled to do it. Remsen did it, when he brought in Alan.

    They tried to do it a year before, but Jerry, Kathryn and Nick couldn’t do it on their own. They needed one more, and they certainly weren’t going to get Cary, Rich, or Roger. Renee was the only one they could get to switch.

  35. That’s right. Rich, Cary and Roger liked Alan, and they hate Jerry, so there’s no way they were going to fold.

  36. Yup. Jerry was hell-bent on appointing the hippie lawyer who went out of his way to endorse a mayor who is now in jail. But Longhair Esquire’s in Bluewave, so that’s OK.

  37. “I do not believe the issues would get the exposure they deserve if elections were moved to November.”

    —so you are in favor of less citizens voting, but banking on it being a more “informed” populace?

    This strikes me as absolutely nonsensical, not to mention anti-democratic, wasteful and motivated by something I can’t quite see.

    Thanks for clarifying your position, Cary!

  38. “we only have a new town attorney due to the “horse trading” of Renee being given a spot as liason to the planning board.”

    Is this so? is Dr. Baskerville on the planning board?

    If so, It should NOT be permitted, in my mind. Dr. Baskerville did not recluse herself from the Washington Street Y demolition issue in the light of herself being –

    “Former public member and vice president of the Montclair Board of Education, … executive board member of the Montclair Chapter of the NAACP.”

    The new (unecessary and non affordable) school was pushed through by the township, by the Board of Ed and Montclair Chapter of the NAACP. We lost a very valuable american historical site and learning tool thanx to the self importance felt by a few individuals in the community.

  39. Frank why should past public service positions mean recusal from decision making? I’m no supporter of hers but I don’t see the conflict.

  40. My problem is is is whether the the involvement was “past” or not…and also for the overlapping of involvement. When I approached Dr. Baskerville, the 4th Ward Commissioner, regarding the proper handling of the such an important historic site, I was briskly dismissed with the statement…”oh there’s nothing to do there…there’s asbestos..” at my reaction of disbelief and insult of having to hear such a ridiculous response, Dr. Baskerville added, ..”well I guess we just dropped the ball on that one”

    I appreciate what all of the good that Dr. Baskerville does for her volunteering in helping youth and the good she does for others within her nobil profession, but this overlapping of involvement is what I take issue with…and the distruction of the Washington Street Y is an irreversable wrong done to our community.

  41. jc,

    All I said is that the local issues need more emphasis.

    You know, many people spoke in a public hearing about the “facts” of the “increased” voting for the November election. They pointed out that just because a person votes for the “top line,” say the President, doesn’t mean that they also vote for the bottom line, the Council. Indeed, the data says otherwise.

    That’s why I’m asking for a FACT FINDING group to impassionately review the data and present it. Sure this stuff is important. But why does it have to start with THIS election?

    What’s the hurray?

  42. Agreed, the complete unwillingness to delay the decision until the commission investigates the impact of the change points to Mayor Fraud’s dishonesty.

  43. That’s why I’m asking for a FACT FINDING group to impassionately review the data and present it. Sure this stuff is important.

    Not a dreaded “fact-finding group” PLEASE!

    It’s easy, Cary. Call clerks in surrounding towns. Find out about their voting patterns. It might take an hour or two. The end. A “fact-finding group” will take weeks to find the same answer.

  44. I agree with Stu and Cary. What’s wrong with gathering all possible information before making a choice with which we’ll have to live for years?

    More to the point: Why is the Mayor opposed to that information gathering? What’s the rush? Considering the significance of this decision, doesn’t it deserve research and consideration?

    One of the concerns that people have expressed – that which swayed me to my position opposing the change – is the idea that we’ll lose the benefit we currently have of discussing our town’s issues immediately before our town elections in a period of otherwise quiet. We can give our full attention to those local issues w/o having to squeeze them in amidst issues – important in themselves! – involving the state and federal elections.

    Having this relative quiet offers us the chance to do more research on local issues, to have conversations about them with our neighbors, and to give these more consideration than they’d otherwise receive.

    Isn’t giving our local choices more research and greater consideration a good thing? Isn’t Democracy served by having a more informed electorate?

    I cannot help but notice that the Mayor appears opposed to an informed electorate, whether it’s the rush to push this before the voters w/o giving us the chance to get all the facts, or it’s the move of our election date to the same date as many other elections. What is the Mayor hiding that an informed electorate has become the enemy?

    …Andrew

  45. Another thing I’ve heard mentioned regarding a benefit of keeping the May date intact is the ramification of the budgeting process. If the election is held in November, when will the new Mayor and Council take office? Will they immediately have to deal with the approval of a municipal budget with absolutely no time to get a full understanding of how the town actually works?

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