“Under the leadership of Alex Blanco, we can all gain. We can all win” – Gary S. Schaer
While former Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco was being sentenced in federal court in Newark today to 27 months in prison, we were busy scouring the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission records of Passaic Council President and New Jersey Assemblyman Gary Schaer. Several donations by attorneys and law firms that were awarded contracts for legal work by the City of Passaic immediately stand out as does the fact that the donations were made to Schaer’s Assembly accounts rather than his City Council account.
Schaer, a Democrat, is both the President of the Passaic City Council and a State Assemblyman. Schaer is relevant to the Blanco corruption scandal as he is seen as a kingmaker in Passaic politics and in essence installs the man of his choice as mayor. Blanco, who pleaded guilty to extorting two city developers for $110,000, was praised by Schaer in a 2008 article in the New York Times:
“He’s a classic American success story,” said Assemblyman Gary S. Schaer, the longtime city council president who has been acting mayor since Mr. Rivera’s resignation, and who encouraged Dr. Blanco to run. “Above all, he is ethical, and has what I believe are high moral standards. In other communities we may take those things for granted, but given Passaic’s unfortunate recent past, we cannot take them for granted here.”
In July 2016, Blanco promoted Schaer’s son, Jonathan Schaer, a Passaic police officer, to the position of Lieutenant, according to NorthJersey.com.
Suspicious Donations, Potential Bribes and Kickbacks
Passaic’s 2015 Pay to Play schedule shows that Eric M. Bernstein & Associates, a Warren, NJ law firm, received numerous legal contracts from the city. On April 22, 2014, Passaic awarded Bernstein two contracts: (1) As Special Legal Counsel at $120.00 an hour, not to exceed $15,000 and (2) As Labor Counsel at $120.00 an hour not to exceed $150,000. On May 1, 2014, Passaic awarded Bernstein a contract to act as Rent Leveling Board Attorney at $145.00 an hour. On May 6, 2014, Bernstein received another contract to act as Parking Authority Legal Counsel at $125.00 an hour. On May 8, 2014, Bernstein was awarded a contract to act as Passaic Redevelopment Legal Counsel not to exceed $15,000.
On May 21, 2014, Bernstein donated $1,500 to Schaer’s Primary Campaign for General Assembly in 2015 account. Bernstein would donate another $1,250 in June and December and then another $2,000 to Schaer’s 2015 general election account.
Joseph G. Monaghan, a former Hackensack based attorney and now a Superior Court Judge, received a contract from Passaic on of $35,000 on April 17, 2014 to act as Passaic’s Community Development Counsel. In July and December 2014, Monaghan donated $1,250 to Schaer’s primary campaign and a total of $2000 to Schaer’s 2015 general election campaign.
Edward Florio, a partner at the Hoboken law firm Florio Kenny Raval LLP, donated $2,600 to Schaer’s campaign on November 20, 2015. On April 22, 2014, Florio’s firm received a contract of $350,000.
Jeffrey Bliss of Lerch Vinci & Higgins, an accounting firm, donated $300 to Schaer in December 2014. The firm’s Dieter Lerch donated $1200 to Schaer in 2015. The firm received four contracts in May 2014 totaling $88,800.
Alamo Insurance Group of North Bergen, which received a $60,000 contract from Passaic on May 15, 2014, gave $2,600 to Schaer’s campaign on November 20, 2015.
In an lengthy speech at Blanco’s campaign headquarters in 2013, Schaer praised the ex-Mayor. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a call at 2 o’clock in the morning from [Blanco] saying did you hear what’s happened?” Schaer says in the video. “Some people have said that he works 3 hours a week. I think they meant to say he works 3 hours in an hour.”