Complaint in Palisades Park Exposes Bruising Politics

A complaint from 2020 that Stephanie Jang of Palisades Park had allegedly overstepped her position as a candidate, helping seniors with mail-in-ballots, was “administratively terminated” by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.  With apparently no substantive issue at hand, the allegations made against Jang–who was a Democrat at the time but is now a Republican–look to be little more than crude political smearing by the local machine, according to sources.  The fallout from the attack has also precipitated another Democratic defection to the GOP, Councilman Jae Park.

Michael Gardner, an attorney and Republican Municipal Chairman in Oradell, represented Ms. Jang and spoke with Insider NJ.  “I think the public should look at this as the Democratic Party utilizing the judicial system for political gain. The individual who filed the charge against Stephanie Jang is David Lorenzo, who happens to be one of the people in charge of the Democratic Party in Palisades Park.”

Lorenzo is the Borough Administrator for Palisades Park as well as the town’s Democratic chairman.

Gardner said that the allegations against Jang three years ago were being timed as a political weapon.  “She was charged with helping people fill out their ballots. What basically happened is, they were at the senior center that is made up of many senior Korean individuals who have a limited grasp of the English language, and they were asking her questions because she happens to be Korean. She, being totally upfront, signed the envelope of the mail in ballots because she answered their questions. It’s a fine line and I believe once the prosecutor looked at what the alleged conduct was, the prosecutor determined that this was baseless and dropped it now, after election time. Everything is done, but really, what it is, is a matter of timing that comes into question.”

Hope that the charges would be dropped before election day did not materialize.  In the end, Jang lost to her Democratic opponent, Chong “Paul” Kim, for the mayor’s seat by 256 votes.

As for Gardner, he was disgusted seeing the campaign tactics used.  “If you looked at a lot of the campaign material that was sent out to every household in Palisades Park, the Democratic Party was claiming that Stephanie Jang was going to jail based on these charges.”

As to whether or not that would actually transpire, Gardner was dismissive.  “I don’t think they care. I think they would have liked to see her get prosecuted, but I don’t think they cared one way or another. It’s just talking points and they know that there’s no way unless the charges get dismissed before the actual election if you’re going to be able to do damage control.”

Campaign material that went out, Gardner said, included Jang’s home address with the probable cause notice.  “If you’ve got somebody, some crazed maniac out there, you’re putting her and her family in harm’s way,” Gardner said, “you can’t do that.”

Councilman Park, disgusted with the Lorenzo-led Democratic Party, changed affiliations.  One of the consequences, therefore, was a strengthening of the Republican Party in what has otherwise been a very solidly Democratic municipality.

“The Republican Party is rejuvenating itself,” Gardner said.  “For lack of a better word, they were nonexistent for quite a while. Now, given the nepotism that’s taking place in Palisades Park regarding promotions of relatives of Democrats and so on and so forth, the Republican Party is making a slight comeback.”

For Jang’s own efforts through Election Day, she fought her campaign on her own, with little to no support from the outside party apparatus.  Gardner said the GOP had written the former Democrat challenger off.  “I noticed Stephanie reached out to the powers that be in the Republican Party, and no one wanted to help her,” Gardner said.  “They were basically washing their hands of this.  Someone reached out to me, and I just thought what was happening to her was wrong.”

An unnamed senior Republican official, Gardner said, had even asked him to step away from helping Jang, although he chose to stick by her, handling her case for $1.

“She’s a nice lady and I think a little bit of this plays into that she’s a Korean woman,” Gardner said. “I personally believe a lot of these Democrats that are in charge of the party in Palisades Park didn’t want any part of a Korean woman being mayor, or even being on the council.”  Even though Palisades Park has a very large Korean population, and has a Korean mayor, Gardner charges that the Democratic Party was not accepting of the idea of a Korean woman being in a position of leadership.  “Jang graduated from NYU, she’s a very bright woman, and the only thing she’s guilty of is wanting to do what’s in the best interests of the residents of Palisades Park.”

The mayor’s seat may have slipped by Ms. Jang this time around but, having survived what would seem to be a political hit-job, she has gained further name recognition.  At the same time, the Democratic Party must take stock of some of the self-inflicted damage it sustained in its approach to keeping Jang at bay.  Another challenge down the road is an almost certainty.  “She’s not going away,” Gardner said, “she’s not going away any time soon.”

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