Sunday, November 27, 2011

Things Get in My Way

What happened to Beth Mason? When Hoboken's 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason began her political career in the early 2000s, she fought against corruption and fought for transparency. In 2003, she took the principled stand of resigning from the city's Planning Board, despite being Mayor Robert's designee for the position, because she disapproved of the direction Roberts was taking the city. She also co-founded Hoboken's People for Open Government (POG) which, in its early years, fought to release public records and fought to combat pay-to-play (contributing to a political campaign in exchange for future political favors). Finally, she decided to run for 2nd Ward Council, only to be defeated by a Robert's-backed incumbent. Mason persisted and, in 2007, she was elected as 2nd Ward Councilwoman. In a demonstration of her independence, she publicly announced she would forgo her Council salary and benefits.

Mason's Run for Mayor

Everything changed when Mason decided to run for Mayor in 2009. In the spring election, she lost by a significant margin to Peter Cammarano and Dawn Zimmer. Of course, Cammarano went on to beat Zimmer in a run-off election, but he was arrested only a month into his term for accepting bribes from an undercover FBI informant. That fall, a special election was held to fill the vacant Mayor's seat. Once again Mason ran against Zimmer and, once again, she lost by a significant margin. All told, Mason spent in excess of $1 million on campaign expenses; the majority of it her own money. Moreover, while her spending more than doubled Zimmer's, she received only a third of the votes that Zimmer did.

After losing the first Mayoral election, Mason, still holding her Council seat, reneged on her pledge to forgo her Council salary and benefits. Not only that, she demanded she receive "back pay" for the salary she had voluntarily forgone. Mason's public persona had changed and her supporters noticed it. Between the two Mayoral elections Mason lost many of her supporters, who defected to support Zimmer in the fall election.

The New Beth Mason

Since losing the mayoral elections in 2009, Mason has morphed beyond recognition. Just last year, she made large and ethically questionable campaign contributions to Tim Occhipinti's 4th Ward Council election campaign. Occhipinti was running as an opponent to a Zimmer-supported candidate. First, Mason and her husband each contributed the maximum individual amount of $2,600 to Occhipinti's campaign. Then, Mason's campaign committee, dormant since she ran for Mayor, contributed another $8K to his campaign. And finally, she contributed another $6K for "canvassing" expenses. By exploiting loopholes in campaign financing law, Mason's total contribution far exceeded the maximum legal individual contribution, making this a perfect example of the kind of campaign financing that Mason once fought so hard against.

Incredibly, Mason also contributed to Mike Russo's 3rd Ward Council election campaign this year. Mike Russo is a classic example of the kind of corrupt politician that Mason once fought against. In fact, in the months leading up to the election, FBI videos were released showing Russo accepting a bribe from the same undercover informant responsible for Cammarano's arrest!

Most recently, Mason's voting record indicates that the welfare of Hoboken is the last thing on her mind. The most deplorable example is Mason's attempt to kill the planned sale of Hoboken's only hospital. Much has been written about this elsewhere so it is sufficient to point out that killing the sale would have resulted in the loss of Hoboken's only hospital, layoffs of thousands of hospital employees, and a bill to the city that would have forced the city to declare bankruptcy. Mason has also voted against maintaining a budget reserve, and she's voted against routine budget line item transfers even after being warned in a letter from the State that voting this way violated a Councilperson's fiduciary responsibility. Mason's votes jeopardize the city's financial well-being, which would appear to be precisely the point. The reasoning is that if the city is financially damaged, then it will be viewed as Mayor Zimmer's fault, not Mason's, and then Mason will be in a position to finally be elected as Mayor.

Finally there are the questions that have arisen regarding Mason's uncanny premonition of an email scandal at City Hall before its investigation by the FBI was made public earlier this month. With one arrest already, and others expected, this is a story that is still being told.

What Happened?

Mason's ever-worsening behavior has not escaped the public's notice. There is even discussion of organizing a campaign to recall her from public office.

So what happened to Beth Mason? Her behavior is consistent with a thwarted quest for power, lashing out at the person who bested her: Mayor Zimmer. In this context it's reasonable to ask if she was ever interested in the betterment of Hoboken. Was her early behavior just part of a cynical strategy to attain power? Or did she sincerely care about Hoboken at one time, only to abandon her principles in order to get ever closer to power? In any event, there is plenty of evidence that, today, she doesn't adhere to any of the principles that reformers would recognize. And that would seem to be a suitable introduction for a lament.....

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