Cape May Sentinel Coverage of Campaign Contributions Was Partisan Politics


This posting concerns the article written by Robert Dreyfuss covering campaign contributions in Cape May published in Mr. Dreyfuss’s online publication “The Cape May Sentinel” on October 19. 2020. It reproduces in part a communication previously addressed to Mr. Dreyfuss from the undersigned. 


While I’m sure Mr. Dreyfuss wanted it to be thought-provoking, I found his article to be more slanted political propaganda than objective journalism. Frankly, considering his prior experience in the field and previous contact we had on another subject, I expected better from him.


I should state at the outset that my wife and I are ardent supporters of the Lear-Hendricks team, being among its scores of non-business connected contributors– and we are not “outsiders” to the City or the issues involved. Our family has had a connection with Cape May City dating back to the 1920s, and we have been residents here since 1985. Currently, I serve on the City’s Historic Preservation Commission and on two of its advisory committees.  I am also President of Concerned Citizens for Sewell Tract Preservation Inc., a non-profit organized to protect that resource from development. As such, I have witnessed and been involved with some half dozen or so City administrations. After all that time, my general observation is that this administration, by far, has been in the top rank as concerns participatory democracy, civic probity, and high standards of ethical behavior at the local level of government.


Turning to the article itself, it appears that no serious attempt was made in it to find underlying causation for the main subject matter of the piece or achieve balance in the quest to infer that the Lear-Hendricks team raising an unprecedented amount of campaign financing will result in the evil of Cape May City government becoming “for sale” to campaign contributors.


In pursuing his predicated endpoint, it appears Mr. Dreyfuss ignored, or failed to consider or weigh, a number of factors that would have led to a more responsible piece. In my view, a shortlist would include the following:


Failure to Properly Analyze Causation.

The contributions to Lear-Hendricks not only dwarf the contributions to their opponents in total, but they are multiples of funds raised by the opponents to that slate from among non-outsiders alone.  Why would that sweeping result be applicable across the board? 


Rather than jump to the simplistic inference that it must mean there is influence peddling going on, or will ensue, Mr. Dreyfuss could have explored much more plausible connections as to why such contributions were so substantial. The most obvious and logical is that they are large because residents, and hopefully voters, are appreciative of the improvements made from the prior administration of putting the City back on track to good government and the fact that progress has been made despite implacable opposition since 2016. The first two years of Lear-Hendricks were hampered by leftovers from the Mahaney era and the second two by immature and irresponsible Council members who brought City business to a near standstill. One of them, having failed to prove he could serve as a team player on Council, now thinks he’s qualified to be mayor.  


Equally plausible, the contributions have been large with the donors’ view to protecting the future. Many who take an interest in City affairs fear that the consequences of Lear-Hendricks not being re-elected would be a disaster for the City across a broad range of issues on which they have made progress.  Thus, there is a fear and apprehension factor that something valuable that has been achieved in the local government will be lost. The fear is heightened because it may be replaced by the wasteful chaos of inexperience, or possibly worse, a return to the last administration’s insufferable modus operandi of backroom, divisive and vindictive politics.


Nothing Surprising or Untoward about Labor Support.

Perhaps Mr. Dreyfuss didn’t make himself aware that contributions from organized labor are not at all unusual in a unionized state like New Jersey. Moreover, those contributions have some aspects he seems to have ignored. First, the unions, though not based in Cape May, have dues-paying members who are locals in the area.  They may not all live in Cape May City, but the county is a small one and, frankly, it doesn’t make one some kind of an “outsider” or unrelated to Cape May because a carpenter or electrician lives in Lower or Middle Townships. Second, in prior performance and practice, again all regulated by the bidding and contract letting process, this administration has given union workers a fair shake at work–fair wages and benefits for jobs and families. This contrasts with the labor used by some contributors to the opponents of Lear- Hendricks’ who take pains to hire cut-rate, non-union labor from afar with no responsibility to our local workers. 


Organized labor has helped its friends since the beginnings of the AF of L and the CIO, and in Cape May, there has never been any allegation (other than vague and defamatory charges carelessly hurled about by Mr. Mullock) that improprieties have occurred from that support. Moreover, as I understand it, the labor organizations’ contributions noted in the article were unsolicited by the candidates or their organization and, in fact, were a surprise. So, there is nothing dark or even particularly newsworthy about them other than indicating who organized labor would like to see win the election.


Needless Impugning of Public Officials’ Integrity.

Implying that individuals who have business development interests and who contributed to Lear-Hendricks would be given preferences leading to favoring their projects is not only unsubstantiated speculation, it misses the mark morally by insulting the probity of specific City officials who would be involved in the processes necessary to do so. 


Clearly, Mr. Dreyfuss must be unfamiliar with (and didn’t think to consider) the personal honesty or integrity of the two candidates themselves or the character of upright persons like City Manager Jerry Inderwies or CFO (and former City Manager) Neil Young and the organization of competent and honest employees they administer. These are honest people of high principles and ethics who steward the public contract process, and it does great discredit to suggest with no evidence they would behave otherwise. The same can hardly be said of some players in the opposition camp. For example, in the recent ballot challenge for the upcoming local election, a lawsuit was launched with allegations framed in the complaint specifically designed to impugn the integrity of the City Clerk (and County Clerk), as well as the Mayor and Deputy Mayor—and all were founded on the perjurious affidavit of the campaign manager of an opposition candidate.  


Further, because Mr. Dreyfuss published an earlier story about the aspirations of a developer with an existing business in the City to build a towering hotel on the former Beach Theatre property (a fantastic impossibility in and of itself for numerous reasons), there is no proper foundation to assert that a minor contribution to Lear-Hendricks by that person increases the probability that such a project will come about.  The attempt to plant the seed that the two stories should be connected, one drawing strength from the other, looks more like a parlor trick to muckrake where there is no muck. 


The fact really is that local business owners in general and their organizations like the Chamber are deeply appreciative of the support given to them by Lear- Hendricks over the past four years. Their concerns have been methodically addressed instead of being selectively ignored as they had been prior to 2016.  Most recently, this has been confirmed as witnessed by the flexible COVID 19 accommodations the City has made over the last six months. A number of local restaurants, for example, likely would have failed had their capability to serve not been increased spatially outdoors and had their margins, under severe pressure from low capacity, not been enhanced by expanded beverage service.  Lear-Hendricks has been sensitive to the business sector, and it should come as no surprise to an objective observer that business owners are appreciative of that. There is nothing dark or sinister about gratitude as I tried to say in point #1.


Overly Narrow Focus

Conspicuous by its absence (like Cataline) from the article was the issue of reporting of campaign contributions themselves– and not just speculation about what they could lead to. Of more concern to many, in an age of increasing amounts of campaign financing, is the issue of whether contributions are being accounted for properly, reported timely, or at all. Even the smaller totals claimed to be raised by the opposition candidates are subject to these concerns. 


I assume some rudimentary review must have been made of pertinent laws and rules of the New Jersey Election Enforcement Commission dealing with contributions. Among other things, those provisions define contributions and require their timely reporting. [Citations to statutes are not included here.]


In that vein, many of us observed planes streaming “Zack Mullock for Mayor” banners over Cape May’s beach strand numerous times in August and September (probably in lieu of Chalfonte fried chicken ads).  Yet, one searches in vain to connect those flights with Mr. Mullock’s required reports as contributions or expenditures.  Whether contributed as cash from other Mullock family members and spent, or non-cash contributions, they are unexplained, which raises the inference they have not been properly reported. As such, they could well be violative of NJEEC rules and give rise to civil penalties upon complaint to the commission.  


Now, that actually would be real news–election campaign finance violations by the candidates themselves which, of course, are absent from a story myopically focused on potential influence peddling. And that would not be surprising to those who have witnessed over the past nine months the process of strident objections made by Mr. Mullock to Councilmember Tricia Hendricks voting on financial assistance by the City to Concerned Citizens regarding Sewell Tract. 

As I pointed out in the Star & Wave newspaper recently (issue of 10-14-2020), in fact, Mrs. Hendricks never voted on aid to Concerned Citizens, while Mr. Mullock, on the other hand, openly flouted the Local Government Ethics Law ( N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.1 et seq.) by voting twice on Council funding resolutions for his family-affiliated Tubman Museum.  Mr. Mullock chose to disregard advice from the city solicitor to recuse himself on Tubman, while Mrs. Hendricks, by contrast, chose to follow the solicitor’s advice regarding Concerned Citizens faithfully.

So, a candidate for mayor with recent putative ethical violations on City funding matters then appears to fail to file timely reports on aspects of his campaign financing. And Mr. Dreyfuss chooses to limit the scope of his campaign financing story and pursue the angle of Lear-Hendricks raising large sums (and reporting them accurately) as susceptible to questionable practices? If that does not smack of partiality and favoritism in structuring the article, I don’t know what does. 


Selective Slanted Sourcing.

Finally, let’s address the quoted authoritative sources on financing amounts in the article.  Did I miss disclosures that Susan Tischler (who sat on the Beach Theatre Foundation Board with me in trying to preserve cinema in Cape May) has been a major contributor to, and supporter of, the opposition to Lear-Hendricks? Could that affect her credibility or color her remarks? Did I miss seeing that Lear-Hendricks campaign officers were asked and /or what their response was as to financial needs for a campaign in 2020? 


Then, there is the coup de grace of Ed Mahaney, an individual who served several terms as mayor and left office having been beaten soundly by Chuck Lear after years of exemplifying autocracy in office. Never mind that Mr. Mahaney is broadly recognized for his ability to manufacture facts, and was well known for working out his personal animus in City politics on persons and groups, but he just happens to be cited as a source for historical fundraising in town 25 years ago? Of what relevance can that be toward conducting a campaign in 2020 when there are extensive and expensive media and campaigning is on a whole new plain? What’s perhaps even more astounding is that in a story about potential undue influence– pointing a finger at Lear-Hendricks—the article relies on an individual who was also notorious while he led the City for contract cronyism (particularly with his Temple University pals) and running the City in the manner of a quasi-fiefdom. Witness the Convention Hall construction debacle, the East End parking meter fiasco, and the Sewell Tract settlement bungling…the list could go on and on. I’m astounded with all the potential sources and candidates from prior contests around, even if they were relevant, that Ed Mahaney, with all his biased baggage, became the authority for anecdotal quotes. Was that tongue-in-cheek irony?


The Dreyfuss story on campaign contributions starts out with a weak premise and descends from there to be tailor-made for the Mullock and Bezaire campaigns.  This is confirmed by it being featured almost instantaneously on Mr. Mullock’s carefully censored postings and linked with his allegations of “corruption” attributable to his opponents.  In that posting, the candidate actually claims with a straight face he takes no money from inside or outside business interests and yet right there omits to mention contributions from his own family that have such interests.  


To me, the article was just partisan political advocacy on the sly. It seriously damaged the credibility of its author to claim to stand for journalism that could be investigative and analytical, but also objective and fair. Ultimately, the article added nothing to political dialog in Cape May, except to bolster campaigns of individuals that have emphasized the smear of innuendo instead of the merits of issues. 


Jim Testa

Cape May, NJ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 Comment

  1. October 26, 2020 / 12:31 pm

    If anyone gets to the bottom of this lengthy diatribe by Jim Testa, it’s accuracy is revealed to be wrong in its very first sentence. The piece in question was written by Bob a d Barbara Dreyfuss, as its byline clearly stated. For an example of truly slanted political bias, Testa’s post is nearly perfect.