Ethics panel implodes

Ethics panel implodes
October 23, 2006  Star Ledger

The first meeting in more than a year of a special committee set up to police ethics in the Legislature collapsed into an eye-gouging, name-calling political brawl this morning.

"This is a dictatorship; this is not a democracy here," Assemblyman Peter Biondi, (R-Somerset) complained as Democrats on the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards pressed forward with a vote to make former state Labor Commissioner Ray Bramucci, chairman.

Biondi and other Republicans on the committee objected to the heavy-handed way Sen. Bernard F. Kenny, Jr. (D-Hudson), the Senate Majority Leader, installed himself as acting committee chairman at the start of the meeting, then used his authority as chairman to order a vote on the Bramucci nomination.

The nomination failed when Braumucci received eight votes, one short of the number needed to secure the chairmanship.

Before and after the tally, however, Repuboicans and Democrats traded bitter barbs over the handling of the election and the committee's work in general.

"I am quite frankly appalled," said Assemblyman Steve Corodemus (R-Monmouth). "I am embarrased."

"You should be embarrased," shot back Kenny. He dismissed complaints that he had unfairly seized the chairmanship by saying he had discussed the process with Al Poronni, Legislative Counsel, before the meeting.

"I am the chairman," he insisted many times during the two-hour meeting. "You didn't do your homework. That's your problem."

The morning's fireworks left non-Legislative members of the committee frustrated.

One, Thomas C. Brown, declined a request to be considered as a compromise candidate for chairman.

"After what has been demonstrated here for the last two hours, I really am not interested in having my name put in," Brown said.

Another, William Kersey, said the bickering between Republicans and Democrats had wasted the time of the public volunteers on the committee.

"You've had the debates; you've had the name calling back and forth," he said. "I think the seven or eight of you need to get your acts together."

Committee members recessed shortly after 11 for an hour to attempt to reach a compromise.

The committee has not met in more than a year, even as 34 ethics complaints have been filed against lawmakers by a former GOP gubernatorial candidate, and the Legislature and Treasury Department have been subpoenaed as part of an ongoing criminal probe into the public and personal dealings of Sen. Wayne Bryant (D-Camden).

"This committee needs to do something to re-establish its credibility," Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) said during one of the meeting's heated exchanges.

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