Press conference erupts into debate
Published in The Bayshore Courier on July 28, 2005.
Press conference erupts into debate
By JACKIE CORLEY
A routine press conference became a debate on the steps of the Aberdeen-Matawan Train Station, in Matawan, on Thursday, July 21.
Michael Dasaro, the 13th District Democrat candidate for assembly, called on the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General to investigate the financial relationship between Piscataway-based developer Jack Morris and state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth.
In March 2001, Democrat-controlled Aberdeen and Republican-controlled Matawan joined into an interlocal services agreement for the redevelopment of the Aberdeen-Matawan Train Station.
In the early stages of the project, Aberdeen Township Manager Mark Coren said he worked closely with former Matawan Borough Administrator Joe Leo.
“Joe Leo was a real ace in this whole process. There wasn’t a problem that he and I couldn’t sit down and discuss,” Coren said. “He was an honest broker. I can’t say that for the people he was working for.”
In September 2002, five teams submitted plans for the project in response to the interlocal agency’s request for proposals (RFP).
Richard Coppola, planner for the interlocal agency, endorsed a proposal by Silver Oaks Properties saying, “This proposal most closely meets the agency’s plan that has been endorsed by both the [Matawan] Borough Council and the [Aberdeen] Township Council.” Aberdeen agreed, selecting Silver Oaks Properties as the town’s redeveloper
A plan introduced by Morris’s company, the Columbia Group, was deemed “not consistent with the interlocal agency’s vision of the redevelopment project. However, Matawan broke with the agency’s assessment and chose the Columbia Group, along with K. Hovnanian and Mack-Cali Realty, as the redevelopment team for the borough in a resolution adopted December 3, 2002.
On two occasions, once in November 2000 and once on or about December 16, 2002, Coren and Leo met with Kyrillos to discuss the redevelopment project.
Coren said that the first meeting was productive. “The senator told us the two towns should work together and hold a public process that was fair and open,” Coren said.
The second meeting, however, was not a positive one, in Coren’s opinion. “It was the first time that it became clear to Joe Leo and myself that there was a preference made by a state senator.”
Kyrillos confirmed that the two meetings occurred but denied that he lobbied on behalf of the Columbia Group.
Dasaro, however, believes the timing and amount of the contributions from Morris to Kyrillos “appear a little strange.”
From April 1999 to April 2004, Morris, his companies and individuals employed by his companies contributed $52,800 to Kyrillos’s campaign funds.
“A quick review of the timeline shows that: one, the municipalities entered into an interlocal services agreement; two, the Columbia Group’s proposal was inconsistent with the plan; three, Sen. Kyrillos lobbied on behalf of [the] Columbia [Group] in Republican-controlled Matawan; four, [the] Columbia [Group] is designated redeveloper in Matawan; and five, Sen. Kyrillos backs then-Matawan Mayor Rob Clifton over long time Freeholder Ed Stominski in the 2004 freeholder election,” Dasaro said. “The residents of the 13th District can no longer sit idly by as their quality of life is bought and sold for campaign contributions and political support.”
Dasaro’s running mate, William Flynn, was not present at the press conference, but issued a statement.
“The Columbia Group’s proposal for the Aberdeen-Matawan Train Station is the archetype of bad development…This proposal calls for 495 town houses on some 44 acres of land – more than 11 homes per acre. Well, at least that’s better than the 1,000 homes that would have been built if Aberdeen had bought into the raw deal that Mr. Morris was proposing,” Flynn’s statement said.
“The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District has spent millions upon tens of millions of dollars to provide adequate facilities to the students they educate. How can we ask them to take on the new burden of hundreds of students that the Columbia Group’s proposal will place on them?” Flynn’s written remarks also stated.
Buccellato, Matawan Dems spar
Dasaro was joined at the press conference by Democrat candidates for Matawan Borough Council William Malley and Mary Aufseeser, as well as Democrat mayoral candidate William Smith.
Paul Buccellato, a Matawan councilman and the chair of the Matawan Republican Party, also appeared at the press conference and challenged some of Dasaro’s assertions.
“As far as I know nothing was done inappropriately and everything was done above board. We haven’t signed an agreement with anybody; we’re still negotiating,” Buccellato said.
Buccellato also said that the RFPs were kept “under straps” by Coren and that Matawan was not kept in the loop during the interlocal process, statements that Coren vehemently denied.
“[Buccellato’s] statements are self-serving, fallacious and bordering on out-right lies,” Coren said during an interview on Monday. “[Matawan] Borough was totally informed. They did review and signed off on all aspects.”
During the course of the press conference, Malley challenged Buccellato to state his position on pay-to-play.
“How do I feel about it?” Buccellato said. “I think it’s wrong.”
“Don’t you participate in it yourself? You don’t contribute to the [Monmouth County] Republican Party and receive county contracts?” Malley asked.
“If donating to a political party, you feel that’s what’s going on, well —,” Buccellato began, but Malley continued with his challenge.
“Absolutely. I think you’re as guilty as the rest of them,” Malley said.
Buccellato is a principal in Henshell & Buccellato, a Red Bank-based architectural firm. The firm gave the Monmouth County Republican Committee $3,900 between August 2004 and November 2004, according to Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) reports.
On January 13, 2005, Henshell & Buccellato was awarded a $25,000 contract by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders to provide “call-in professional architectural services” for the Monmouth County Department of Buildings and Grounds for 2005.
Dasaro ended the press conference by reiterating the timeline of events, as he saw it.
“From what I see, something’s wrong, something stinks. It’s an easy timeline: Morris gives a lot of money to Kyrillos; people allege that Kyrillos steps in; [the] Columbia Group gets pushed through Matawan,” Dasaro said.
Kyrillos: Press conference “political stunt”
In a Tuesday interview, Kyrillos called the press conference “laughable” and “a political stunt.”
He denied having any conversations with members of the Matawan Borough Council or lobbying to them on behalf of the Columbia group.
“Even if I had lobbied these people, which I didn’t and, in fact, had no communication [with Aberdeen and Matawan officials] outside of the two administrators (Coren and Leo) in my office at the same time, so what?” said Kyrillos, noting that he did not have a vote on the Matawan Council and therefore could not exert any real influence on the project.
Kyrillos said he believed the proposal issued by Silver Oaks Properties, which called for some 2 million square footage of commercial and office space between the two municipalities, was not consistent with the character of the area.
“I didn’t lobby for [Morris’s] project. But, at one point, I expressed an opinion that [Matawan and Aberdeen] should have 10 proposals. But if you only have two and you’re only going to pick one of the two, you’ve got one that’s a 2 million square foot monstrosity run by a guy who spent time in jail for trying to bribe an IRS agent, and the other is K. Hovnanian, publicly traded company, a Middletown company; Mack-Cali, one of the biggest office builders in North America; and Jack Morris, who’s a controversial guy, no doubt, but at least he’s got experience in this stuff. And [the Columbia Group’s] project was about a quarter of the size. I’m entitled to opinion,” Kyrillos said.
“From what I see, something’s wrong, something stinks. It’s an easy timeline: Morris gives a lot of money to Kyrillos; people allege that Kyrillos steps in; [the] Columbia Group gets pushed through Matawan.” –Michael Dasaro
“Even if I had lobbied these people, which I didn’t and, in fact, had no communication outside of the two administrators in my office at the same time, so what?” –State Sen. Joe Kyrillos