Former clerk Conti quits as consultant over mayor’s acrimonious gripes

Things were not bad enough in Trenton, where the city government has been leaping from one fire into another since electing a chief executive with a greater desire to please the political establishment that regularly convenes in the city than to serve residents, who are generally far lower on the economic ladder.

Anthony Conti

Former Trenton City Clerk Anthony J. Conti quit his consulting job after Mayor Reed Gusciora alleged that he had an apparent conflict in a letter to the New Jersey Attorney General.

It would be fair to say that the semi-retired Conti agreed to do the city a favor by filling in while the City Council sorts out what to do about the absent City Clerk Matthew Conlon, who went out on medical leave after sexual harassment charges surfaced against him, although he remains on the payroll of the acrimonious acropolis.

Gusciora has had an adversarial relationship with the City Council since he replaced Eric Jackson and became the 48th Mayor of Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, nearly four years ago.

Gusciora may have complained because Conti is a Republican, but the mayor claimed there was a conflict between performing the city clerk’s duties while serving as chairman of the Mercer County Board of Elections. Whatever his real problem with Conti, the chief executive left a gaping hole in his municipality’s ability to function.

The municipal clerk holds one of the most important and exacting positions in municipal government.

So important, in fact, that in New Jersey 1) the position is a statutory one, 2) Municipal Clerks may attain tenure in office, and 3) Municipal Clerks must achieve certification through education and testing.

If a governing body fails or refuses to appoint an appropriate person as a municipal clerk, the director of the Division of Local Government Services may order them to comply with the law by a certain date. With elections coming up, the position has even greater priority.

The municipal clerk is the chief administrator for all elections held in the municipality and the city’s principal registrar of voters.

Gusciora is expected to have fierce competition when he runs for another term, and all seven City Council seats are up this year as well.

Councilman George Muschal is not seeking re-election, Councilman Jerrell Blakely resigned at the end of January, and Councilman Santiago Rodriguez plans to depart on June 30, six months before his term expires as a protest against Gusciora’s executive orders.

“We went from a democracy to a dictatorship in Trenton,” said Rodriguez. “Mayor Reed Gusciora and his gang issued an executive order usurping the function of City Council. By executive order, he approved around 20 resolutions some of which we had rejected in the past.”

Gusciora only narrowly defeated businessman Paul Perez in 2018, earning 52 percent of the vote in a June 12 runoff election since no candidate won the 50 percent threshold or more in the May 8 election. Right now, it looks like Councilwoman Robin Vaughn will be his only opponent, and she is a popular representative of the section of the city in which the incumbent prevailed most in his last campaign.

The chances for his defeat are high, although it is expected that Gus could raise more than a million dollars in outside special interest money in a desperate bid to hold on to power, but his local allies are already behaving like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

Trenton City Councilman Jerrell Blakely resigned in January.

Another one of Gusciora’s political allies, North Ward Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson, authored a statement in response to “misinformation being put out to the public by the mayor’s office” after the council crushed his proposed economic development plan by a vote of 5 to 2.

“We do not work for the Mayor but have tried many times to work with him,” said the statement that alleged, “the actions of the administration were improper” with regard to the Princetel redevelopment plan.

Council President Kathy McBride implored federal prosecutors to investigate corruption claims leveled against the administration by a former high-ranking member of Gusciora’s cabinet.

Among Gusciora’s promises was eliminating homelessness within the Capital City, but that problem tripled during his reign.

The Rescue Mission of Trenton provides the only emergency shelter in Mercer County that is licensed by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). There were an estimated 448 homeless individuals in 2019 but the 2021 Rescue Mission of Trenton’s 2021 annual report says that the shelter helped 1,415 individuals.

Gusciora promised to reduce crime but his administration not only set a new high record number of homicides but matched that new record the following year.

“I’m out,” Conti told the Trentonian. “I thought about it over the weekend. I found myself defending my character. I just couldn’t work with the guy. I felt like I got slapped walking into the building. What he said was totally off the wall.”

Gusciora’s hope for an ally in the office responsible for the election process may not be ‘off the wall’ but it is sleazy.

Friends warned Conti before going in that the city was a toxic workplace even before Gusciora left his seat as a Democratic assemblyman and was elected mayor, but the darling of the party establishment has presided over new levels of chaos, economic blight and political repression in this community.

Trenton City Council members Santiago Rodriguez, George Muschal, Kathy McBride, Marge Caldwell-Wilson, and Robin Vaughn

Since getting sworn in July 2018, Gusciora has experienced such a mass exodus of high-ranking members of his cabinet that employment here is considered one of New Jersey’s greatest inspirations to explore alternative career paths.

Ben Delisle claims he was forced out as his job because he refused to fast-track “illegal” demolition projects that might have aided the re-election prospects for Gusciora, who tolerated the city’s housing and economic development director using bigoted language and subjecting employees to racial discrimination.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted life for everyone but in Trenton, the consequences are suffered disproportionately by those already disadvantaged by prejudice and unequal opportunity.

Business Administrator Adam Cruz is the third person to fill that position under Gusciora, who is on to his sixth police director in Steve Wilson, his fourth water director, Mark Lavenberg, and his fourth fire director, Kenneth Douglas, counting two interim leaders who filled-in when the top job was vacant.

Gusciora fired Sheilah Coley, a former Newark police chief who became Trenton Police Director in 2019, even after standing by her when she told officers to stand down during riots that broke out after the city experienced a series of peaceful protests over themirder of George Floyd.

Ex-fire director Derrick Sawyer left for a better job, amid frustrations with the acrimony between the administration and council.

Gusciora also lost his chief of staff Yoshi Manale, the city’s law director John Morelli and former health director Shakira Abdul-Ali.

Morelli is suing the city over claims of reverse racism, saying he was unjustly booted by council members who didn’t like that he was white.

The upheaval and lack of retention in hiring could be a stumbling block for Gusciora as he seeks a second term in 2022.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: