The Coziness of a One-Party County

Last Thursday night there was a campaign fundraiser for Freeholder Phil Crabb, who has become a kind of cause célèbre for the network of insiders who run most of what happens in Sussex County.  We won't go as far as George Carlin and call them "the owners" but often, it appears that way.

Crabb's event was a packed house and he collected a lot of money.  It was a very different story three years ago when Crabb was up for re-election.  Then his fundraiser managed to attract less than two dozen people and his campaign finance reports were anemic.  Ah, Crabb's campaign finance reports.

Three years ago Phil Crabb was under a lot of pressure.  He was up for re-election and was relentlessly peppered by party officials, county officials, freeholders, legislators, and operatives to clean up his act and file campaign finance reports that were then four years overdue.  These officials met with Crabb and sent him written emails that demanded that he follow the law or else they would push him off the ticket.  After assuring them many times that he had filed, which turned out to be untrue, Crabb finally did file and has, on occasion, filed on time since.

Phil Crabb broke New Jersey election law again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again, well, you get the idea.  It is the one consistent thing that defines his career as a Sussex County politician.

Crabb has been extraordinarily lucky in that nobody has ever filed a complaint against him with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.  Others who have done what Crabb did, but on far fewer occasions, have faced fines and penalties of tens of thousands of dollars.  In neighboring Morris County we have this example:

The N.J. Election Law Enforcement Commission also has accused (Freeholder Hank) Lyon of four violations of campaign finance laws during the 2011 Republican primary. Each violation could result in a maximum $6,800 fine.

One alleged violation involves a $16,000 loan made to the campaign a week before the primary but not reported until July 8. The state says that because the contribution was more than $1,200, it should have been reported within 48 hours.

Another alleged violation occurred when Lyon and his father certified the information on the loan and campaign report was correct but that they changed it in a subsequent report. Initially, Lyons reported that he had made the loan but it was later changed to identify Robert Lyon as the contributor, the state said.

Additionally, the state claims the information about the contribution was submitted after the June 27 deadline.

Further, the complaint says that $16,795 in expenditures were listed on July 8 but were due on June 27. (

Last month, Freeholder Lyon was formally reprimanded by NJELEC and fined $8,100 for his late filing.  Lyon had only four violations, as opposed to the dozens Freeholder Crabb faces.

This leaves some people questioning why Crabb, who enjoyed only limited support in 2011, now has almost all the insiders supporting him in 2014.  Are they, with their words and their dollars, condoning behavior that they, as officials sworn to uphold the law, should have reported?  Why the radical turnabout?

Freeholder Crabb has proven to be useful to those with deep financial interests in the county and their allies.  In June 2012, Crabb was at the center of an attempt to take control of Sussex County's waste disposal away from the County's 24 municipalities and turn it over to a committee of five insiders.  Later the County dump's lifespan was magically extended just as it had once been magically foreshortened.  Blogger Rob Eichmann, who at age 48 died last October of cancer, extensively studied this and other issues.  His notes and papers have been preserved by his alma mater.

Since his current term as Freeholder began in January 2012, Crabb has been a point man for insider interests in Sussex County.  Last December, a dinner was hosted in his honor at the exclusive spot favored by those who run the County.  As a rule these events are priced just below the amount that triggers the state's disclosure laws.  Technically legal but morally suspect and ethically a no-go.  The spirit of transparency isn't flourishing here in Sussex County.

If Freeholder Crabb's problems do come to light and they end up reflecting badly on the County and on those elected officials who knew, but supported and funded him anyway, watch for the blame games to begin.



Sussex GOP Chair endorses Crabb

Sussex Republican County Chair Ailish Hambel formally endorsed Freeholder Phil Crabb for re-election last evening in an email sent to Republican county committee members, elected officials, and activists.  Hambel, who holds a patronage job in the Christie administration, attached a cryptic endorsement of Crabb to a funding appeal.  Hambel wrote:


Please help me make sure we keep Phill on the board he has experience, knowledge of the issues in Sussex County. We need that right now. Thank you for your consideration of these issues.

No mention was made about what "these issues" might be.

The "re-election fundraiser" for Freeholder Crabb is being held on Thursday, May 1st, at the Franklin Firehouse Hall, 137 Buckwheat Road, Franklin.  The event is called a "Gourmet Spaghetti Dinner" and is being catered by the Homestead Restaurant.  Tickets start at $60 per person.

We couldn't help but notice who the checks are being collected by:

Please make checks payable to: Crabb for Freeholder

Please mail to: Dennis J. Mudrick P.O. Box 1014, Sparta, NJ 07871

Is this being done because Freeholder Mudrick can be trusted to file his campaign finance reports and Freeholder Crabb can't?



The Changing Alliances in the Sussex County Freeholder race

In his April 5th column in the New Jersey Herald, Rob Jennings noted that Freeholder Phil Crabb's onetime campaign manager was now working for Ron Bassani, who is challenging Crabb in the June 3rd Republican primary: 

One other detail in Bassani’s opening statement drew notice last week. Listed as his campaign contact was Kelly Ann Hart.

“Kelly is helping me design a website and helping me with fundraising,” Bassani explained.

Hart, president of K Hart Consulting since 2004, is a former executive director of the Sussex County Republicans with contacts beyond the region.

She is campaign manager for Murray Sabrin, a Ramapo College professor seeking the Republican nomination against U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.

Locally, she provided consulting in 2013 to the “Hometown Conservative Team,” a Republican ticket of six incumbents seeking re-election headed by state Sen. Steve Oroho, R-24th Dist., and including Vohden.

Much more intriguing, though, is her prior role with Crabb.

Crabb acknowledged that Hart was his campaign manager against Mudrick in 2011. Now she’s working for Crabb’s opponent.

Bassani, of Hart, said, “I’m glad I was able to track her down.”

Perhaps an understatement there.

Jennings' column set-off a series of vitriolic personal attacks on former Crabb manager/ now Bassani manager Kelly Hart in the comments section on the newspaper's website.  Using aliases, Wantage residents Ann Smulewicz and Kathleen Gorman engaged in name-calling and character assassination designed to damage Hart's personal and professional reputation.    They were joined in this personal attack upon an unelected, private citizen, by other acknowledged supporters of Freeholder Crabb.

Smulewicz voiced her support for Freeholder Crabb in the comments section of Jennings' April 5th column and on Thursday evening at a Stillwater Taxpayers Association meeting, Gorman sat with Freeholder Crabb and gave him her support.  It is important to note that neither Smulewicz or Gorman in any way know Hart besides what they've been told by others about her.  In another word:  Rumors.

While it is clear that Crabb's supporters are angry with Hart for switching sides, what goes generally unacknowledged is why she switched sides. The reason for the switch is pretty obvious when you take a moment to look at Crabb's campaign filings filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Crabb stiffed Hart.

Freeholder Crabb, whose habit of not paying to attend campaign events if he can help it is widely acknowledged, never paid Kelly Hart for her work on his successful 2011 re-election bid.  Crabb faced Dennis Mudrick, who was recruited to run against Crabb by former Freeholder and current Sussex County Community College Trustee Glen Vetrano.  Crabb won the primary against Mudrick by a vote of 2,803 to 2,396 (54% to 46%).  Mudrick went on to win the 2012 primary, coming in behind Gail Phoebus but ahead of Helen Wilson LeFrois.

A look at Crabb's 2011 campaign finance reports shows that Hart's mother was Crabb's biggest contributor, with the Skylands Victory PAC coming in second.  In fact, Kelly Hart's family has contributed over $100,000 to Sussex County Republicans, Republican candidates, and Republican causes.

Crabb likes getting paid.

Like most people -- Kelly Hart included -- politician Phil Crabb likes getting paid.  He takes his full salary as a Sussex County Freeholder and -- as the only Sussex County Freeholder who takes the health and benefits package -- is the most expensive Freeholder in terms of the cost to the taxpayers.  Crabb is doing nothing wrong in this, it is what he is entitled to as an elected Freeholder. 

The point is this:  If you like getting paid and if you take every penny coming your way, then you should have sympathy with others who also like to get paid for their work and you should pay them, especially when they are successful on your behalf.

What you should not do is to round up a posse of haters to trash a woman's reputation simply because she has found someone to work for who will pay her and not stiff her like you did.  Fair enough?


Is Rick Shaftan running Steve Lonegan's campaign again?

Steve Lonegan, last year's candidate for United States Senate and one-time Bergen County Mayor, is now a candidate for the U.S. Congress down in South Jersey.  Last year's campaign was noted for its frequent off-color mistakes by Lonegan -- everything from a tweet that Lonegan had to defend as "not meant to be racist", to an election eve meltdown by Sussex County's top political consultant, Rick Shaftan, who was running Lonegan's campaign.  Shaftan bashed Senator Cory Booker for acting "like a gay guy would".  Full coverage can be found here:

There's something about Steve Lonegan's anger and arrogance that reminds us of George Wallace, the late Democratic Governor of Alabama.  Shaftan has always sought to reinforce that image, going as far as donning a Strom Thurmond tee-shirt for their moment of film celebrity in the documentary, Anytown U.S.A.

All this came to mind after Lonegan tweeted his newest campaign attack ad -- against the latest in a long list of opponents, Tom MacArthur of Toms River.  Lonegan attacked MacArthur, a former small town mayor like himself, for "promoting diversity" because a small number of affordable housing units are to be built in his small town.  Now Lonegan knows, as all 500-plus small town mayors in New Jersey know, that they have to comply with state law and allow affordable housing to be built.  And the reason this works for many small towns is that much of that housing is snapped up by seniors on fixed incomes who face having to move out of state, away from children and grandchildren, if they fail to find cheaper accommodation. 

This all brings to mind the 2008 municipal election in Sparta Township, the most overtly racist in Sussex County memory, that pitted incumbent Scott Seelagy against Carey Ann Shaftan, then the wife of Rick Shaftan.  Shaftan's campaign literature equated affordable housing with people of color migrating from Newark into Sussex County.  Shaftan warned against a wave of incoming "mental patients, ex-cons, drug addicts, and others" who would "increase crime and destroy property values."  Shaftan's literature used the same housing motif found in the attack ad Lonegan tweeted.

Shaftan ran on a platform that "no one has a right to live anywhere they want, people have a right to live where they can afford. That is what America is all about."   Shaftan lost that election, but not before a whole lot of people were offended.  Now, six years later, it's déjà vu all over again. 

If Steve Lonegan is serious about winning a General Election, he needs to curb his baser instincts and wise up. 




Memo to Byram Township Council: Talk to your colleague

Scott Olson, Byram’s out-of-control councilman, is at it again.  This time he has retweeted a snide tweet from a friend who appears to be trying to spread a baseless rumor about Governor Christie having an extramarital affair.  Here is what was posted and then retweeted by Byram Councilman Olson:

Susie Madrak@SusieMadrak 4h

How come the national media hasn't caught on to Gov. Christie's own little Olivia Pope problem?

Retweeted by scott olson


“Olivia Pope” is a reference to the television series “Scandal” in which a White House spin doctor (Pope) has an extramarital affair with her boss (the chief executive, the President of the United States).

Shouldn’t Olson’s colleagues on the Byram Township Council have a talk with him about spreading this kind of malicious rumor?  It doesn’t do the reputation of the Council or the Township any good at all.