PATERSON, NJ – The red flashing lights of two Passaic County Sheriff’s Department patrol cars lit up Ward Street Tuesday evening at 6:45 pm. They were parked outside Hamilton and Ward Steakhouse at the Center City Mall.
Standing at the entrance to the restaurant were two Passaic County sheriff’s volunteer deputies in full uniform.
But this wasn’t a crime scene.
Inside the restaurant there was a $125 per person dinner honoring Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie, an event designed to raise funds for the political party. On the sidewalk, between one of the sheriff’s patrol cars and the restaurant’s entrance were campaign signs for the Democrats’ 35th District legislative ticket as well as for their county candidates.
The presence of the uniformed officers and their patrol cars with the flashing lights raised questions about whether there was a violation of state laws banning the use of public employees and vehicles for political purposes.
"Volunteer Deputy Sheriff units were requested by the Hamilton Ward Steakhouse to assist with traffic issues on Tuesday evening,’’ said Bill Maer, spokesman for the Passaic County sheriff’s department. “These units had been working a detail several hundred feet away in the County Administration and Justice Complex. This detail had no cost to the County of Passaic. Such requests are common, and are granted if the
resources are available and it is beneficial to the area residents."
But William Connolly, one of the Republican candidates for Assembly, said the presence of the sheriff’s deputies seemed to benefit the Democrats more than the public.
“The way I see it, and I could be mistaken, it looks like they’re giving extra security and extra protection they might not be entitled to,’’ said Connolly, when contacted about the situation. “I know they don’t do this for us. They’re getting special treatment. The sheriff is a Democrat, you know.’’
“This is a waste of taxpayers’ money,’’ added Connolly. “This is unnecessary. I’m sure in the city of Paterson, they should have something better to do.’’
In many cities in New Jersey, including Paterson, when bars and restaurants need extra police for events they retain off-duty police officers by paying a fee that covers both the officers’ time as well as the local government’s administrative costs for assigning them.
In this instance, Maer said there was “no fee involved since it was a short term situation and unpaid Deputies were utilized.’’
Hamilton and Ward is a popular location for Democratic fund-raising events.