Everybody was talking about Jack Kelly in Trenton Monday – and nobody had anything nice to say about the embattled Ocean County Freeholder Director and nepotism extraordinaire.
Freeholder Kelly isn’t going to get any help from Senators Ray Lesniak and Loretta Weinberg in his quest to obtain a six-figure, pension-padding patronage job from Governor Chris Christie over at the state parole board, as the two held a press conference Monday afternoon in the state capitol lambasting Mr. Kelly on everything from his record of useless crony hires at various public agencies, to the national embarrassment he brought to Ocean County through the treatment of veteran Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office detective Laurel Hester, which invoked widespread condemnation and created the plot for the award-winning “Freeheld” movie.
State Lawmakers Disgusted With Kelly Patronage
“I started my campaign against Jack Kelly’s Parole Board nomination when he was first nominated last December because he is totally unqualified for the position, and because the parole board is bloated to begin with,” Lesniak told press conference attendees at the State House Annex building.
Mentioning Kelly’s worthless “airport analyst” position at the Atlantic City International Airport – which Burlco Republicans used to sink his 2008 congressional primary campaign – Lesniak added “I subsequently learned Freeholder Kelly has made a career out of being appointed to public positions for which he was not qualified.”
The airport job required a bachelors degree and 5 years of aviation experience, and Kelly had none of the above.
Senator Lesniak also formally requested that the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Senator Nick Scutari, place Kelly’s nomination on the agenda of the next committee meeting, so members could have an “up or down vote” on the freeholder’s confirmation to the parole board.
Senator Weinberg said that she did additional research into just who Kelly would replace on the parole board. She said that the person Kelly would replace has three masters degrees, including one in social work and one in criminal justice. The unnamed parole board member did not receive so much as a phone call that he was going to be replaced by Kelly, according to Weinberg.
“If there’s one of the most wrong places to put Jack Kelly, this is it.” she said.
LGBT Activists: Kelly Is A Bigot
Also speaking at Monday’s event was the founder and current executive director of Garden State Equality, the state’s leading LGBT civil rights group.
“Jack Kelly is as qualified to be on the parole board as Donald Trump is to lead the national organization for women,” said Steven Goldstein, founder of the LGBT rights group. Mr. Goldstein has said that over the years his group has received apologies from other Ocean County freeholders involved in the Laurel Hester pension saga, except one.
“Who didn’t apologize? Jack Kelly,” he said. Citing the “sanctity of marriage,” Freeholder Kelly did not even attend the special meeting of the freeholder board when his colleagues finally relented and allowed Laurel Hester to assign her pension benefits to her same-sex domestic partner, in light of the fact that she was dying from terminal cancer.
Senator Lesniak echoed the sentiment expressed by the LGBT activists “The nomination of Ocean County Freeholder Kelly to bolster his pension with a cushy $120,000 job has opened up sore wounds and brought to the foreground how he tried to the end to deny the pension rights of a police officer – who put her life on the line every day to protect him, his family and his community.”
The speakers, including Hester’s sister and a colleague from the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, ripped Kelly’s refusal to accommodate Hester’s request as an example of bigotry, and cited it as an example of Kelly using religious beliefs to compromise his objectivity when voting as a freeholder – something they say makes him even less qualified for the parole board seat.
Governor Wannabe Sweeney: The 800-pound Gorilla In The Room
State Senate President and likely 2017 Democrat gubernatorial contender Steve Sweeney – a lieutenant of George Norcross’ South Jersey machine – made his presence felt despite not even being at the press conference.
Mr. Sweeney, despite playing an instrumental role in the whole ordeal, did not take any heat from either Lesniak or Weinberg during their Monday presser, despite brokering a backroom deal with Ocean County’s own GOP boss George Gilmore to try and push Kelly’s nomination through.
With Sweeney being a rival against Lesniak for the Democratic nomination for governor, one couldn’t help but question why Lesniak did not use the venue to attack the senate president for rolling out the red carpet to give Kelly a hearing.
Could it perhaps be because Loretta Weinberg is backing Sweeney? We’ll leave that determination to you, dear reader.
Either way, Sweeney will remain an influential force in whether or not Kelly makes it to the parole board, as the senate president will have the final say on whether he gets a vote – or not. At this point the ball is in his and Scutari’s court. Lesniak said he is confident that they have the votes to stop the nomination.
After the press conference, Ocean County Politics caught up with both sets of candidates seeking to unseat Jack Kelly from the freeholder board along with his running mate Ginny Haines in November. All four Democratic freeholder candidates attended the press conference in opposition to Kelly. (Fast forward to 34:29 on the video above). While there’s no love lost between the two sides as they move toward a contested primary election on June 7th, both tickets are unified in their condemnation of Freeholder Kelly’s career of patronage and insensitivity to a dying county employee’s plight.