Friday, January 23, 2015

The Record editorial: Rocky Political Road

October 12, 2014 Last updated: Sunday, October 12, 2014, 1:21 AM

WHILE it's great that Englewood Cliffs residents will enjoy freshly paved streets, the letter Mayor Joseph Parisi Jr. sent out crediting the Borough Council's Democrats with making that possible at a good price was clearly a political stunt.

This is the epitome of small-town politics, and the public deserves better.

The mayor, a Democrat, sent residents in parts of the borough a letter approximately two weeks ago notifying them that their streets will be paved and there could potentially be road closures.

It also said the borough saved money with the project thanks to Borough Council members Gloria Oh, Edward Aversa and Joseph Favaro, who are all Democrats, with two of them up for reelection next month. Parisi told Staff Writer Kim Lueddeke that he only listed the Democrats because they are on the council's public works committee.

The letter didn't come from the public works committee — it was on borough letterhead and signed by the mayor.

The campaign treasurer for two Republican council candidates asked the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission to investigate whether the Democrats violated campaign finance law by not reporting the letter as a political communication.

Regulations on a "political communication" include whether the candidate was involved in any way and it's within 90 days of the candidate's election, sent to an audience "substantially comprised" of voters and references the candidate's governmental or political achievements.

The exception is if the communication informs citizens about a public emergency. And that is Parisi's argument. Raising the possibility of road closures can make this exception apply to the letter, he says.
Lueddeke reports that the Englewood Cliffs Republican chairwoman, Carrol McMorrow, is demanding that Parisi, Aversa and Oh admit that they were wrong and "immediately" reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of the mailing.

Parisi estimated the cost of the mailing to be $90 and said, "If ELEC feels that I've done something wrong, I'll be more than willing to pay them back."

He should save everyone's time and reimburse the borough now. It's not about the relatively small amount of money, but the principle of this action. To argue that it wasn't a political mailing is an insult to the public's intelligence.

Borough councils should be working to find cost-effective ways to provide services like street paving. But when a mayor uses borough stationery and funds to applaud his preferred candidates a month before an election, he crosses a line.

There will always be small-town politics, but local officials don't need to embrace it quite so passionately.

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