By Tommy DeSeno
Dear MMM readers,
I have nothing against Christine Hanlon. I understand she has come up through the ranks as a boots on the ground fighter and I’m down with that. If she becomes Monmouth Chair and needs me I’ll be there for her.
But I must confess County politics is not my brand of Tea Party. It embodies clientelism. I say that not to down the good people involved – it is designed to be clientelism. I can’t imagine a local system that wouldn’t work that way. So I watch from a distance, rooting for the Republican side, and serving when asked.
I’m compelled to write now due to the recent treatment of John Bennett. In 2003 he was attached by a Camden County hydra. That’s why he lost. He suffered no ethical or criminal lapses (as the Press was forced to later print – one time).
What concerns me is that this website and some others are forgetting what went down in 2003. To attack John using the hyperbole of Norcross warriors and Skip Hidlay fans is to use the weapons of an enemy to defeat a loyal friend.
I’ll hold no grudge if John loses this race to Monmouth people over Monmouth issues. But to continue the Democrat attack that was started in 2003 to beat him is unfair and irresponsible. It invites the Democrats to target more of our good people. Let us not do their work for them. Let us remember what went down in 2003 (the following was printed in the triCityNews on late October, 2003):
Camden’s Political Boss, The Asbury Park Press and Swaying Monmouth’s Elections
O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant. William Shakespeare
The people of Monmouth County are under attack. A two-headed beast from Camden County is stealing away with our sovereignty. We must make a fight in our own defense for the sake of self-determination. Self-determination is why we fought the Revolutionary War; to govern ourselves, so not to be governed from afar.
Your attackers are stealthy. They won’t let you know what’s happening until it’s too late. First examine the attack, and then join many of your Monmouth County neighbors in a grass roots effort to defend yourself.
Your first attacker is Camden County political power-boss George Norcross. Let his hometown newspaper, the Courier Post, introduce you to him: “He can make or break careers with a single phone call. He’s so powerful that mayors, governors, senators – even state investigators – all want to hear what George E. Norcorss III has to say. Because more than 50 elected and appointed officials in South Jersey owe their careers to him, he can pull strings to influence who gets hired, who gets contracts and whose legislation sees the light of day.” Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy come to his rallies and fundraisers. He uses a private entrance to Governor McGreevey’s offices. Some published reports have Norcross walking on the State Assembly floor – while it’s in session!
The Courier Post reports that this $65 Million banker has annihilated all political opposition in Camden, Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland Counties, which control $556 Million in spending and 5,800 jobs. When Norcross helped his childhood friend Stephen Sweeney win a Senate seat, it split the Senate 20/20 and made Norcross a Trenton threat. Sweeney’s campaign made 125 requests to municipalities for his opponent’s legal bills looking for small errors to exploit. Sound familiar?
He influences more than Democrats. The Courier Post interviewed a Republican on the Senate Floor on a Monday and by Thursday Norcross repeated to the paper the questions and answers. That paper once followed a rumor that Norcross was trying to influence a Republican primary, so a reporter left a note on the door of Republican Doug Forrester’s home, requesting an interview. Guess who called back – not Forrester, Norcross did. The same paper called the Department of Community Affairs to find out how many municipalities use Norcross’ insurance company . Guess who called back – not the DCA – Norcross did. His influence has been called “dangerous to democracy.”
Here’s how the Monmouth connection starts. In July 2002 the Senate was locked in an all night budget battle concerning the Corporate Business Tax, but things were held up because Sharpe James wanted a new arena built in Newark and Norcross wanted a new arena built in Camden County. At that time Senator John Bennett had talked of making Monmouth a “Sports and Entertainment District,” which makes sense because Monmouth Park and the Arts Center are here. Things then got ugly. How dare those Monmouth County people want something!
Norcross walked into Bennett’s office and demanded Bennett deliver votes for the arena he wanted in Camden. Bennett refused and there was actual shoving between them. Norcross threatened to ruin Bennett and make him dead politically. Norcross reportedly also threatened that he would mail fliers here in Monmouth in 2003 to unseat Bennett. Bennett’s seat is vital. The venerable PoliticsNJ.com reports that the outcome of Bennett’s election may decide who controls the currently split Senate.
After that, in October 2002, the Washington D.C. based Kennedy Communications, a political consulting firm, requested copies of Bennett’s legal bills form Marlboro Township. In a failed attempt to cover their tracks, they had a Chicago resident make the request. It wasn’t until after this that the Asbury Park Press started reporting about Bennett’s one billing error that was found.
Then in this year’s primaries, Norcross backed candidate Gordon Gemma. Norcross hoped Gemma would win and run against Bennett, but he lost the primary to Ellen Karcher. It has been reported that Gemma’s campaign spent $65,000.00 on a political consulting firm – curiously the very same Kennedy Communications that requested Bennett’s bills from Marlboro.
It has also been reported that the Washington D.C.-based Democratic Legislative Leadership Council recently distributed fliers opposing Bennett here in Monmouth. Guess who is on the Board of Directors there? Essex County Senator Richard Codey. He is a supporter of Bennett’s opponent Ellen Karcher. Why would an Essex Senator care? Norcross has been trying to unseat Codey as Senate Leader in favor of one of his own people. Codey can depend upon Karcher to block that if she wins. Karcher spoke of “outside influences” in her primary, believed to be Norcross. The fliers, by the way, state they are mailed by Action Mailers, a Pennsylvania company that is doing business with certain elections, notably in Camden County. Nothing about Senator Bennett’s opposition has to do with representation for the people of Monmouth County.
Is Norcross behind the bill requests and the mailers about Bennett? I can’t say. I can say that Norcross threatened the mailers and then they happened. I can say Norcross attacked Bennett via Gemma in the primaries. I can say that legal bill reviews was what Senator Sweeney used against his opponent when Norcross helped him win his election, and that same tactic is being used against Bennett now.
Your second attacker is the Asbury Park Press. Skip Hidlay is the Executive Editor and Robert T. Collins is the President and Publisher of the Asbury Park Press. Until 1997 they both held those same jobs at the Courier Post, the largest newspaper in Norcross controlled Camden County. Gannett Corporation owns both papers. Any chance Camden Boys Norcross, Hidlay and Collins know each other?
Skip Hidlay testified before the Senate and requested better access to public documents, the result of which is that his newspapers can more easily obtain legal bills to create scandals. His paper sued in Camden County for access to legal bills. He’s absorbed by it.
Just months after Kennedy Communications began looking into Bennett’s bills, the Asbury Park Press (who still claims not to have conspired with Kennedy or Norcross) suddenly began reporting on a billing error by Bennett to Marlboro Township. Marlboro owed Bennett over $24,000.00, and couldn’t pay it. As a favor, Bennett went outside his regular billing system and allowed them to make three payments. An $8,130.00 bill was mailed twice. Since finding out about that one billing error, the Asbury Park Press has run NINETEEN FRONT PAGE STORIES about Bennett, many other stories off the front page and endless editorials about him; all of it negative. I query: Is that much ink necessary to report about one billing error, or is it an attempt to influence the election?
Guess what Hidlay didn’t ask for when he testified before the Senate: a law allowing us to look at the Asbury Park Press’ billing records. Here is my challenge to Hidlay: Let me look at all the Press’ billing records since you took over in 1997. I bet I’ll find more than one billing error, and when I do, you won’t run even one story questioning your own ethics. I’m sure you’ll call it what it is: a billing error that happens in business all the time.
Let’s be clear so these rich guys don’t sue me: Can I put Camden Boss Norcross and the Camden Boys Hidlay and Collins in a conversation agreeing to oust Bennett? No. I can say this: Camden Boss Norcross threatened to end Bennett’s career, and Camden Boys Hidlay and Collins are openly trying to end Bennett’s career using their paper (it used to be our paper). Every fact stated in this column is true.
This Camden sway of Monmouth’s election has to be stopped by all of us. This is bigger than whether you support Senator Bennett or Ellen Karcher, or what political party you agree with. If Bennett is ever ousted, it should be by Monmouth people using Monmouth money for Monmouth issues. If Camden ousts Bennett, the Jersey Shore won’t get any attention once Norcross controls the Senate. Norcross won’t care for our beaches, our homes or our jobs.
Anyone I talk to about this problem comes to the same scary conclusion: We can’t do anything about it. The Camden Boys have a stranglehold on the Press, so we can’t get this story out. Nonsense. We can, because we must. Here’s how: Please photocopy this column repeatedly and leave it anywhere they are selling the Asbury Park Press with a sign asking people to read it. Put it up in your business windows. Mail it to your friends. Post it on the Internet. Talk about it. The Press sure won’t.
If Camden successfully ousts Bennett, we will be forced to face south, drop to our knees and beg Norcross for scraps. Hidlay and Collins will light cigars to celebrate their control over our votes. Don’t let that happen.