This morning's FBI arrest of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack on federal corruption charges will only weaken the private sector's willingness to engage with the state government, a New Jersey business leader said.
"A violation of public trust by any elected official at any level — even at the local level of a town council person — makes everybody more wary and suspicious, and that makes it more difficult to engage people and businesses with the state and the city of Trenton," said John Galandak, president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey. "We need the level of engagement in Trenton to get stronger, but things like this will only make it weaker and make the (public) body less effective."
The Times of Trenton today reported Mack; his brother, Ralphiel Mack; and Joseph Giorgianni, owner of JoJo's Steak House, in Trenton, have been charged with accepting or anticipating to accept a total of $119,000 in cash payments from a developer seeking to build a parking garage on city-owned property on East State Street. The criminal complaint filed today indicates Giorgianni brokered the deal on Mack's behalf in exchange for his support of the development project.
"Certainly there's been corruption throughout the state over the years … but the more incidents there are, the harder it is to get businesses engaged, so it's a sad day for Trenton," Galandak said. "Most businesses out there are operating ethically, but their appetite for acting diminishes when they see these things happen. They have to think twice about how they'll entertain certain kinds of conversations with public officials so they can protect themselves."
Galandak said that extra caution is bad news for Trenton and the rest of the state, since there can be "lots of good dialogue and insights for elected officials through businesses, and both parties gain lots of benefits from each others' knowledge."
"Business people really get discouraged when they see elected officials violating public trust, and that doesn't help anyone," Galandak said. "Businesses know there will always be bad actors, but hopefully, for the state's sake, there are just a few of them."
John Boyd Jr., principal with Princeton-based relocation consultant firm The Boyd Co. Inc., said the recent instances of corruption involving elected officials in Hamilton and Trenton are giving his warehousing and distribution clients who are currently considering sites in central New Jersey pause.
"The relationship between business and government is an important factor when businesses are looking to locate here, and seeing the mayor of Trenton being indicted reminds people that Trenton has had a history of underperforming, which is inexcusable for a state capital," Boyd said. "Companies are already extremely selective in where they are going to invest, so it's easy for them to eliminate Trenton and Hamilton now and look at West Windsor and East Windsor, where they perceive they can form a better relationship with the mayor and town council."
Though Boyd said "pitching corporate prospects takes up a big portion of mayors' time," he noted "when a mayor shows up to a meeting with a company and he's under indictment, it's hard for a company like Amazon.com scouting space in the state to take him seriously."
"I think this incident reminds people of the value of having good leadership, which is becoming even more of business issue as our corporate clients are spending more time trying to get a sense of local legislative climates ... because of the contracting economy and the highly publicized issue of fiscal mismanagement," Boyd said. "The state government can go and cut taxes and regulation and say it's business friendly, but the main thing it can provide to a business is some sense that there is leadership. But I think this incident gives businesses the notion that the leadership is a mess."
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