Note 1: This is a personal endorsement and does not represent the views of West Amwell Citizens Against the Pipeline or HALT PennEast.
Note 2: Anti-PennEast folks who aren’t West Amwell residents: stay with me, this isn’t just a West Amwell thing.
TL;DNR: Unions are trying to buy the West Amwell Township Committee election
2016 is going to be a big year for West Amwell politics. Our Township Committee is expanding from 3 to 5 members, and there is a serious race going on between Republicans and Democrats to take (or keep!) control of the committee. I don’t generally comment directly on politics here, but this year there’s an important issue that’s come up that’s relevant to the pipeline and should be very concerning to many people in the area.
The primary results for the race are as follows:
✓ Gary V. Hoyer (R) – 216 (100%)
✓ William J. Corboy (D) – 182 (100%)
Two 3-year terms:
✓ James Cally (R) – 205 (49.28%)
✓ Zachary T. Rich (R) – 209 (50.24%)
✓ Eric Richard(D) – 165 (49.85%)
✓ Michael J. Heron(D) – 166 (50.15%)
So we have 1 two-year term up for grabs, and 2 three-year terms. With 3 Republicans on one side, and 3 Democrats on the other.
As for me, I am undeclared. I’m not a Republican, or a Democrat, or Independent. Or Libertarian, or Tea Party, or Green Party or any other kind of party. I guess you could say I am “The Party of Me” – which may sound selfish, but at least it’s honest. I think I am typical of many Americans – I am socially liberal and financially conservative. I want to see people treated equally, I want everyone to have a fair shot at a good life, and I want the government to spend my money responsibly.
And above all, I want for there to be transparency into government. Without transparency we’re flying blind, have no idea what’s really going on, and we end up in a situation ripe for manipulation.
So with that lens, let’s take a look at the two sides and their candidates.
Republican Campaign – “We Are West Amwell”.
The Republican’s campaign is entitled We Are West Amwell, a theme that is based on the idea that the candidates not only have lived here quite awhile, but they also represent typical West Amwell residents, and they intimately understand the issues that West Amwell residents care about.
The platform is pretty simple – the township is doing great under the Republicans, didn’t do so well under the prior Democratic government, and they will continue that trend. They’re against the pipeline. And they are not Trump-style Republicans, but are instead West-Jersey Republicans, which is something else altogether.
The Republicans have put up Gary Hoyer for the 2 year term, and Zach Rich and James Cally for the 3 year terms. All in all I’d say they were a solid team. Gary and Zach have been part of the Township government for awhile now, and we can easily judge them on their records to date.
Gary I know personally, his youngest son and mine play baseball together for the local team. He’s a banking and finance executive, has lived in the Townsihp for 25+ years, has served on the Finance Advisory Committee, and has some very interesting stories about his hobby of flying planes for fun.
I’ve always found Gary depth of knowledge on many issues to be quite impressive, and he’s likable at the same time, a rare combination. He’s very knowledgable, well-spoken, and knows how to analyze and solve problems. I pretty much knew he’d get my vote. If you’re interested in his background I urge people to look at his Linkedin profile:
…as well as the Finance Advisory Meeting minutes (available on the Township website, http://westamwelltwp.org).
In any case, the question for me would be whether I would split my vote between (R) and (D), or go a straight ticket.
Zach is our current Mayor. He seems a bit young for the job, which is mostly a sure sign that I’m getting old. The campaign tells us he’s a 28 year resident and Director of Sales at Silvi Group Companies. Given that Zach is an incumbent, people can judge him directly on his record – so once again, go look at the meeting minutes and what the town has done the past few years. I think he’s done pretty well. On pipeline issues the Mayor and the Committee have been responsive and put a great deal of useful information the FERC docket and been involved talking to various agencies.
The campaign tells us James is a 15 year resident and a dentist in Skillman, NJ. He’s on both the Planning Board and the Board of Health for the township. As with Zach, his ideas and viewpoints are captured pretty well by meeting minutes, you can check out the planning board minutes on the township website as well. He is still a bit of a question mark in mind despite some research. Not anything positive or negative, more lack of information than anything else.
Democratic Campaign – “West Amwell Proud”
The Democrats are running their campaign under the slogan “West Amwell Proud”. Their primary platform seems to be that taxes have gone up too much under the Republicans. They are also against the pipeline. And (oddly to me), want to make West Amwell more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Their candidates are Bill Corby, a former mayor of West Amwell, Michael Heron, a local attorney, and Eric Richard, who we’ll get to in a moment.
William “Bill” Corby
Bill Corby has lived here for over 50 years, and served the township extensively in the past, including 2 years as Mayor back in 2009, 9 years on the Board of Education, 6 years on the Planning Board, and 3 years on the Township Committee. This is a bit of an issue and a red flag for me – there was a big change in who runs the Township made back in 2010, and those changes were made for a reason. A few major problems crept into the Township during that timeframe. Some of them are attributable to the 2007/2008 housing crash for sure, but some of it comes down to how the township was run as well. From what i can tell ideals got in the way of keeping the township financially secure, and we are still paying for that in some ways.
This makes voting for Gary of course even easier.
Michael Heron is a local attorney, with about 13 years experience practicing civil law. He’s in good standing wth all the right government agencies and bar associations, and by all indications a good lawyer. Like me, he moved here several years ago.
Prior to being an attorney he was a member of the Building Trades Union for 18 years.
I haven’t been able to get too much of a handle on Mr. Heron to be frank, so a bit like James Cally he’s got a question mark in my book for lack of information. But I did look askance at the union connection being highlighted.
The West Amwell Proud campaign notes that Eric Richard has a great deal of experience with government. He was chairman of the Municipal Utilities Authority that serves Lambertville/New Hope/Stockton from 2011-2015, worked very hard to combat the “smell problem” that has plagued southern Lambertville for years, and “has been appointed to various State and Local Boards, Commissions and Authorities by three different Governors, both Democrat and Republican alike.
He also served as Commissioner to the Hunterdon County Board of Taxation from 2005 – 2011 where he oversaw the assessment of property evaluations”.
This is all green-flag territory for me. He knows local issues, knows regulations, gets things done. OK, great. But when I started researching his background, my opinion starting reversing itself.
A quick search turns up his Linkedin profile here:
As you can see in his profile, Eric has been employed by the AFL-CIO for his entire professional career. He serves as “Legislative Affairs Coordinator”, which is a fancy way of saying he’s a lobbyist for them. The campaign never mentions this connection anywhere that I can find.
Googling further we see he is in fact endorsed by the AFL-CIO in this race:
Eric Richard, AFT/AAUP 6324, West Amwell Committee
There are also numerous articles of his speaking for the AFL-CIO on labor issues. For example, here he is speaking favor of a law that would enable striking union workers to get unemployment benefits (which I do not think is a very good idea at all):
The legislation would bring some financial relief to the thousands of Verizon workers in New Jersey who’ve been on strike since April 13, said Eric Richard with the state AFL-CIO.
“Go on that line and talk to these folks about how their families are moving forward without health care,” he said Tuesday during a committee hearing. “Find out how they’re moving forward being unable to pay their mortgages.”
The problem here is that Mr. Richard intimately tied to the AFL-CIO, and isn’t mentioning this at all in his campaign. In fact seems to be hiding it. This is a Big Red Flag. I wouldn’t discount a union worker or even union executive automatically based on their views and employment, but it would be a concern for me. Hiding their affiliation is a whole other matter though.
And this is just the beginning. Things get much worse from here though, and this is where pipeline opponents should get worried.
The Smoking Gun
My personal viewpoint on unions (which I know not everyone shares) is that they were invaluable when they were formed at the turn of the 20th Century. But over the year they concentrated power in many ways, and are symbols of corruption (especially in NJ and the North East). Certainly unions still do good as well, and I’m sure there are many people who are dying to point those things out to me. But my own personal belief is that the many downsides of unions far outweigh their benefits.
In terms of PennEast, unions are funneling a lot of blue collar money (very hard won blue collar money, I’ll add) towards pushing an unwanted and unneeded pipeline. We see it at the scoping meetings, with the unions ringing the halls. We saw it at the Garden State Expansion meeting overflowing with LiUNA union members. We hear it from Senator Booker, who tells us he is flooded with union support for pipelines (and oddly never hears from us).
So let me get back on point – I mentioned a smoking gun. Today the Republican “We are West Amwell” campaign sent out a campaign flyer to all residents in the Township. Among the usual stuff, was this panel:
What the Republican campaign is claiming here is that the Democratic team is almost entirely financed by unions from all over the State (and even out of state). Frankly, when I first saw this I didn’t quite believe it, and I had to go look it up myself. All campaign contributions in NJ above $299 have to be recorded, and campaigns also have to record the total amounts they’ve received and spent. You can find all this at:
I threw all of the data for RICHARD CORBOY & HERON FOR WEST AMWELL TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE into a spreadsheet, here it is below:
Here’s a summary: since May of 2016, the Richard/Corboy/Heron campaign has raised just over $30,000. Of that amount, $6,000 came from individuals or groups underneath the disclosure threshold of $300. $500 came from Lambertville Democratic Club (fair enough).
AND $24,150 CAME FROM UNIONS. THAT’S 79% OF ALL MONEY RAISED.
They weren’t even all or even mostly local unions. Look at the spreadsheet. Rahway, Caldwell, Monmouth Junction, Hammonton. Even Cheektowaga NY!
This is…not good. We have a candidate who is a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO that’s not telling people about that. We have another candidate who was a union member for 18 years. And we have a gigantic war chest (for a town West Amwell’s size) that’s 79% financed from unions all over the state.
I know none of the candidates on either side (except for Gary), so I’m unable to say what they’re like personally. I have little doubt that they are all fine men, and I hope no one is offended by this post.
But looking at this information, the Democratic side looks…bad if you care about PennEast. Very bad. Plumbers Local 9 is giving $7,800 – that union includes natural gas pipe fitters as well. Sheetmetal workers and Steelworkers unions are giving a combined $6,000.
In a township fighting for its life against the pipeline, this is simply not acceptable. Think back to the Trenton scoping meetings, the ones on Frenchtown. Think of the ring of union workers around the rooms. Money from those same union workers sent to intimidate PennEast opponents is now going to Richard, Heron, and Corby’s campaign.
Think of the union people blocking hallways and doorways at the South Hunterdon High School informational forum about PennEast back in 2014. Yep, they’re paying to get Richard, Heron, and Corby elected here in West Amwell.
Think of those union workers who were paid to drive for hours to get down to the Garden State Expansion meeting in South Jersey and intimidate the NJDEP. Those same workers are sending their money clear across the state from New Brunswick and Englishtown and even New York State to buy West Amwell’s election.
West Amwell Citizens Against the Pipeline received a $250 donation from Richard Corby & Heron for West Amwell Township Committee. It is being used for more anti-pipeline signs and website fees.
West Amwell Township donated $300 to support thecostofthepipeline.com and pipeinfo.org.