For $125 City Employees Can Honor Mayor Blanco and Keep Their Jobs

18 11 2009
For $125 you can honor Passaic mayor

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Record



PASSAIC — Mayor Alex D. Blanco has taken a page from former mayor Samuel “Sammy” Rivera’s playbook: invite city employees to a party, with a suggested ticket price of $125.


City employees this weekend found an invitation in their home mailboxes from Blanco’s election campaign committee, which the mayor controls, to a holiday dinner dance party in his honor.

Rivera often relied on a similar tactic, hosting parties to which employees donated to help fill his campaign coffers and cultivate loyalty, especially among the ranks of police officers. Rivera is serving a 21-month prison term on bribery charges stemming from a 2007 federal corruption sting.

The invite caused many city hall workers to wonder if Blanco is applying unspoken pressure for a $125 “suggested contribution” — three weeks before Christmas. It is unclear how Blanco will spend the proceeds, but donors are asked to write their checks to his political campaign, “Friends of Dr. Alex Blanco.” The next mayoral election is in 2013.

Most city employees declined to speak for attribution, citing their fear of retribution, but one worker said nobody is “cordially invited,” but rather politically required to attend.

“I don’t think it’s proper, because it’s unethical,” said the employee. “If a secretary is making $30,000 a year, is she going to feel undue pressure to go? When you’re sending them to a lower person, who has a family, you’re putting pressure on them to go.”

Several city workers received the invitations at their home addresses, even though they never donated to his election campaign. It’s unclear how the campaign obtained the employee addresses.

Blanco’s spokesman Keith Furlong had not responded to questions about whether the mayor’s campaign used city payroll records for the mailing, or to questions about the event as of Tuesday evening.

It is not illegal to solicit city employees for political contributions, but a local ordinance – adopted during Council President Gary Schaer’s stint as interim mayor last year – prohibits candidates from asking for donations in city-owned buildings. The ordinance provides a loophole that allows solicitation if the candidate who does so communicates in “casual or inadvertent” manner.

Some city workers Tuesday recalled how Rivera hosted frequent cocktail parties, dinners and breakfasts as a way to pull in campaign contributions from city workers.

An investigation by the Herald News in 2006 showed that city police officers who donated to Rivera’s campaign often were promoted over those who did not. Former cops said it was common knowledge in the department that those who donated, or sold tickets to fundraisers, had quicker ascent up the ranks.

On Tuesday, one union official said he was not concerned that Blanco would play the same game.

Lawrence Dostanko, president of Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association, Local 13, said he does not believe the mayor would base his decisions on promotions and firings on who gave to his campaign.

“If anything is going to happen, it’s going to happen regardless of our guys supporting an elected official or not,” Dostanko said.

As for any connection between Blanco and Rivera, Dostanko said it is too early.

“I’m giving (Blanco) the benefit of the doubt that he’s not going to follow in the footsteps of Sammy Rivera,” Dostanko said, “unless he proves me otherwise.”