Bill protects officials only
This is a requiem for democracy. Twelve minutes before leaving office, Gov. Jon S. Corzine quietly signed into law the Referendum Kill Bill — a law solely intended to protect elected officials from the will of the people by forcing citizens to wait 10 years between running any ballot initiatives that would change the structure of city government. The previous law allowed voters to exercise their right to direct democracy every two to four years, depending on the form of municipal government.
The Referendum Kill Bill was a direct attack on the student movement at the University. A group known as Empower Our Neighborhoods, which grew out of the Tent State Movement, ran a ballot initiative in 2009 that sought to change the council system in New Brunswick from an at-large system to a ward-based system.
EON sought to increase the seats on the council from five to nine, composed of six ward-based councilmen and three at-large members. The reform movement believed that a ward-based system of government would insure a more equitable division of New Brunswick's resources since it would provide traditionally underrepresented communities a voice on the city council.
Their initiative lost by 82 votes, but it scared New Brunswick politicians enough that they turned to the state legislature in order to protect their seats. Joe Egan, New Brunswick councilman and state assemblyman, campaigned hard to gather the support necessary to pass the Referendum Kill Bill.
To add salt to the wound, this law was only accidentally passed in the legislature when Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) mistakenly pressed for rather than against when voting. Weinberg vowed to rectify her mistake, and she urged Corzine to veto the bill.
Corzine originally listened to the woman he picked to run as his lieutenant governor, and he announced in a press release he was vetoing the bill. Then, just minutes before leaving office, Corzine was convinced otherwise, and with a flick of the pen signed the Referendum Kill Bill into law.
A New Brunswick police lieutenant was charged on Friday with illegally voting in four city elections — including the one that decided the fate of the student movement's ballot initiative. Lt. Robert Tierney voted in New Brunswick general elections the past five years, even though he lived in East Brunswick, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor. As a policeman who was responsible for upholding the rule of law and protecting the people of New Brunswick, Tierney violated their trust and undermined the democratic process. But what else can you expect when New Brunswick elected officials have created a culture that supports their re-election at any cost?
When EON finally had their ballot question approved, New Brunswick politicians helped with the creation of a "grassroots" group called Unite New Brunswick that submitted a competing ballot question to confuse voters. Superior Court Judge James P. Hurley found that the city's "submission of a second question acts to dilute the ability of voters to effectively decide" the student movement's original ballot initiative, and thus it was struck from the ballot. The damage was already done, however, for UNB they managed to portray themselves as the true "grassroots" group and discredit EON.
A brief review of UNB's Committee of Petitioners emphatically demonstrates the organization's close ties to the city of New Brunswick. Rebecca Escobar, who was described in papers as a "concerned community member," was the chair of the New Brunswick Housing Authority and is now councilwoman-elect. Benjamin S. Bucca is the attorney for the New Brunswick Rent Control Board and the New Brunswick Board of Adjustment. William L. Dunbar sat on the New Brunswick Board of Education. UNB hired the political consulting firm Message and Media, which was also in charge of the publicity for Mayor Jim Cahill's campaigns. Further cementing the ties between UNB and the political machine in New Brunswick was a $7,200-contribution from the Friends of Mayor James Cahill, "the mayor's war chest for his re-election campaign in 2010," according to an nj.com article. Shame on the Friends of Mayor James Cahill for supporting a group intended to confuse the voters of New Brunswick.
Ballot initiatives and referendum were intended to act as the gun behind the door to insure politicians serve the will of the people. The Referendum Kill Bill eroded the right of New Jersey citizens to self-govern and should be repealed by the legislature. Our elected officials in city government should listen to their constituency rather than undermining the democratic elections. You know the leadership in New Brunswick has set the wrong standard when a lieutenant in the police force is charged with illegal voting.
Gordon Morrisette is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and history. His column, "Progressive Offensive," runs alternate Wednesdays.