Back in the Spring of 2009, I was on a mission here in my community to correct something that I saw was terribly wrong with our political system: the influence of private money on elections. I had just spent three years of my life running for a seat in the US House of Representatives against a well-funded incumbent; one who didn’t shy away from accepting money from any special interests who were “utilizing their right of free speech” by giving large amounts of money to politicians who they could later influence and ask for favors.
It’s wrong. It’s intolerable. It’s not democratic. And we all complain about it while feeling that we can’t do much about it.
I decided to “act locally” and put forth a model ordinance developed by non-partisan good-government groups that sought to curb the practice of Pay-to-Play (where town contractors give campaign donations to influence your local officials). Having failed to lobby a full Republican town council to pass this ordinance, I worked with a number of volunteers to engage in a petition process to force the issue on the Council.
We got nearly a thousand signatures to stand against corruption. Former Council members Ann Grossi (now County Clerk), John Cesaro (now former freeholder) and former councilman Jamie Barberio (who was of course elected Mayor) faced with this petition in an election year – voted to make it law.
The lone dissenting voice? Michael dePierro.
He disingenuously complained that there was no need to strengthen laws in our own community if Trenton wasn’t setting the standard. His bigger complaint belied his real issue… that his donors were “confused” if they could still give him money. Together, with the help of our infamous former attorney John Inglesino, who was no friend of reform, they worked to trash the ordinance and essentially gut the provision after the election of 2009 and curiously got the help of all three above mentioned officials who flip-flopped after the election.
It’s been ten years since that town hall fiasco. They say a fish rots from the head down – but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Today we live in Trump’s America, where it’s quite acceptable to take money (emoluments, dark money) from foreign countries to influence policy.
It’s wrong. It’s intolerable. It’s not democratic. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
This is why I’m encouraging everyone to take a stand for the kind of government you deserve, vote the old guard out, and start over with our slate of Democratic candidates: Herbig, Kaminski, and Hernandez, who will fight for what the public wants – not the well-funded developers and the countless others trying to convert our tax dollars into their cushy retirement accounts. It’s time to take a stand, Parsippany, and move forward to a new future.