Dear Editor:

There is a quote, attributed to various people, including Albert Einstein that states, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”, that is fitting for our current election for Union County Democratic Committee (UCDC) chair.

There is no shortage of polling data related to the functioning of our Federal, State and Local governments, with the vast majority reflecting a mood of anger and frustration at the misuse of public trust and failure to arrive at solutions to the many challenges facing our nation. Political party structures vary from state to state; New Jersey is one of a few states that still maintain a machine style political structure. 

Sign Up for E-News

While there can be arguments, pro and con, as to the effectiveness, fairness and efficacy of machine structures, it would be hard to argue that New Jersey’s political machines are reflective of democratic ideals. With heavy use of patronage positions, strong-arm tactics and intimidation to maintain power, they may be more closely aligned with a moderate totalitarian style of government than a democratic institution. 

The UCDC election is a perfect example. Historically, the UCDC chair has held outsized power for such a position, placing large numbers of party members in positions of employment within the county government, controlling county management its elected officials and the related contracts associated with the hundreds of millions of dollars used for delivering county services.  A recent example of this is the placement of Edward Oatman as Union County Manager. 

Mr. Oatman has a long history of state government employment as chief of staff to various elected officials, most recently in that capacity to State Senator Scutari. However, there is no indication that he has the necessary experience or education to manage an organization with thousands of employees and a budget of over $500 Million. One might say that he was the best candidate for the job, but that would be hard to support since no search was performed. In fact, the county freeholders own guidelines were not followed and the “County Manager Selection Committee” made up of citizens and Freeholders, was not formed. 

In essence, the power of a county politician placed his underling in this very important $169,000 per year position. So a taxpayer-funded government institution being used as a tool for an individual to gain political power and control – exactly the kind of behavior that creates voter disdain in every survey.

We should ask ourselves when we gave such broad hiring authority and influence to our elected officials and party chairman and when we decided to have our tax dollars used for the personal political gain of our elected public servants, We should ask ourselves when we became so immune to our elected officials individually choosing candidates and ignoring the will of the voters in place of their own totalitarian game of power chess. Most importantly, we should ask ourselves when we started working for our elected officials and stopped requiring them to work for us.

Senator Scutari, in a publicly recorded statement, said that he didn’t want to be county chair and is only doing it at the request of his ailing friend Assemblyman Green. So we are left to believe that Mr. Scutari is not interested in adding county chairman to his current positions of State Senator and Municipal Chair of Linden and is only running for UCDC chair out of a solemn commitment and not the additional power and control he would obtain?

With one of the highest taxed counties in one of the highest taxed states in the country, we as voters and members of the UCDC must ask ourselves at what point do our actions meet the definition of insanity? At what point will we stand-up and change our behavior that has taken the power from the voters and placed it in the hands of a small group of individuals? At what point do we admit to ourselves that we have been complicit in continuing this behavior at the expense of our fellow union county citizens and acknowledge that to continue like this is not only ineffective but also unsustainable?

Robert Kennedy, in his 1966 Day Of Affirmation speech, outlined the essential elements of liberty, saying in part “A third danger is timidity. Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society.  Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.”

Voting for Mayor Colleen Mahr as UCDC chair on February 21st will help to change the political discourse in Union County, and I am proud to support her in this effort. 

Sean McKenna
4th Vice Chair, Plainfield Democratic City Committee