Citing Blurred Government/Politics Lines in Mailer, Challengers File Complaint with Prosecutor in Hackensack

The campaign managerffor the team challenging the incumbents in the Hackensack municipal contest today filed a complaint with the Bergen Prosecutor and the state Attorney General, alleging that Mayor John Labrosse (pictured) and Deputy Mayor Kathleen Canestrino illegally authorized a political campaign brochure paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Mailed citywide as the Bergen county seat bears down on a May 9th nonpartisan election, the brochure prominently featured the two city officials and brandished their accomplishments. Prepared by Vision Media, the taxpayer-funded brochure is displayed on the official City website under “Headlines” –“Billion Dollar Downtown”.

Casseen Gaines, who today filed the complaint, told Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal in a formal letter, “This was the fourth questionable mailing by these officials in terms of the appearance of their political nature while being funded by taxpayers. Although residents complained about those mailings at City Council meetings, I did not report them to you because I recognize that the appearance of impropriety is not the same as proof of a crime.

“The circumstances of this mailing provide proof positive that the mailing was political, not governmental, and requires action from your office to ensure that taxpayers are made whole and that the officials and their consultant are held criminally liable for their actions,” Gaines added.

The Hackensack United for Progress campaign manager pointed to Philip Swibinski of Vision Media, who operates both as a public relations consultant for the City of Hackensack and as a political consultant for the mayor and deputy mayor.

“For them, the line has always been blurred,” Gaines wrote in his letter. “Vision Media prepared the mailer in question at City expense and supposedly as part of their official governmental role. Yet, the City Manager, who under Hackensack’s “strong City Manager” form of government is responsible for overseeing the budget and for all day-to-day activities, and who Canestrino identified at the February 28th City Council meeting as being responsible for these types of mailings, stated publicly that he did not “know anything about it.”

Gaines argued that the mailer clearly had no purpose in terms of notifying the public about any breaking or recent events which would be necessary for the City to publicize, describing it as a list of items which Labrosse and Canestrino apparently believe are their accomplishments.”

Councilwoman Deborah Keeling-Geddis, a sitting member of the Hackensack City Council, publicly stated that she had no knowledge of how or when the latest mailer was approved, and that it was clear to her that the mailer was a political piece of literature designed to promote the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

At the February 28th City Council meeting, she estimated the total cost of the questionable mailings to be $50,000.

The day after Councilwoman Keeling-Geddis publicly exposed their conduct at a council meeting, Swibinski announced that Vision Media was suspending activities as the city consultant to work solely on the Mayor’s re-election campaign.

“Essentially acknowledging that their dual role was inappropriate,” Gaines wrote. “Incredibly, Mayor Labrosse has made it clear that if he wins re-election, Vision Media would be placed back on the City payroll, clarifying that their contract was merely temporarily suspended.”

Phil Swibinski of Vision Media issued a response.

“The Hackensack United for Progress Team is so desperate to distract from their obvious ties to the corrupt Zisa machine that they are blatantly lying about these city mailings and clumsily trying to misuse the legal system for their political agenda,” said the Labrosse Team spokesman.

“This letter was clearly prepared by Richard Salkin, the Zisa attorney who makes his living trolling City Hall looking for opportunities to sue Hackensack taxpayers. The letter has no legal weight and its credibility is zero coming from the Zisa team, a group that ripped off Hackensack taxpayers for decades before they were finally defeated by the Labrosse Team four years ago. That’s what this election is about — a desperate attempt by the Zisa machine to claw their way back into power by any means necessary.”

For more from the Labrosse Team, go here.

A link to the mail piece in question can be found here.
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