Menendez: The Ties That Link Developers and Elected Officials

The Ties That Link Developers and Elected Officials

Any developer knows that success in the real estate business takes persistence, good instincts and not a small amount of luck. Connections can help, too.

Carl Goldberg has connections. Mr. Goldberg, 48, is a principal of the Roseland Property Company in Roseland, N.J., which plans to build 1,643 housing units and 1.3 million square feet of office space on the Weehawken waterfront.

In March of last year, Mr. Goldberg was also named chairman of the campaign finance committee for United States Representative Robert Menendez, whose district covers most of Hudson County and parts of Essex, Middlesex and Union Counties.

And Mr. Menendez's longtime campaign treasurer, Donald Scarinci, is Mr. Goldberg's lawyer for the proposed project, known as Port Imperial South.

Three months after Mr. Goldberg was named to head the finance committee, Mr. Menendez, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, announced a $12 million Federal grant to help build a new ferry terminal next to Port Imperial South. The ferry, of course, will help the people who buy homes in Mr. Goldberg's project to reach jobs in Manhattan.

Who will operate the ferry terminal? New York Waterway. And the president of New York Waterway is Arthur Imperatore Jr., the son of one of Mr. Goldberg's partners in Port Imperial South, Arthur Imperatore, a longtime contributor to Mr. Menendez.

Mr. Menendez, who as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee inserted the grant into a mass-transit spending bill, said the terminal would help reduce congestion and promote economic growth in his district.

Both Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Menendez say that there is nothing wrong with their relationship, and that, in this case, Mr. Goldberg's financial interests and the interests of the district happen to overlap. Mr. Menendez said he began pursuing the grant in early 1997, and Mr. Goldberg, who has helped raise more than $1 million for the Congressman, said he has never sought any favors in return.

No one has accused either man of wrongdoing. But their relationship highlights the financial ties between elected officials and developers that some government watchdog groups say erode the public's confidence in their leaders.

''There is no question that these kinds of appearances are what make New Jersey citizens cynical about the political process,'' said Curtis Fisher, executive director of New Jersey Public Interest Research Group.

Developers with projects on the New Jersey waterfront who have contributed thousands of dollars in recent years to Democrats and Republicans alike include Mr. Goldberg's company, Roseland; Arcorp Properties of Weehawken, which is controlled by the senior Mr. Imperatore; the Applied Companies of Hoboken, N.J.; Hartz Mountain Industries of Secaucus, N.J., and the Hovnanian companies of Red Bank, N.J., which have contributed $290,000 to state-level political parties and candidates alone since 1985, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Chuck Haytaian, the former State Assembly Speaker who is chairman of the Republican State Committee, said he saw nothing improper about Mr. Menendez's actions or his relationship with Mr. Goldberg.

''I just don't believe that there is a negative in this situation,'' Mr. Haytaian said. ''Let's face it, people get involved in Congressmen's as well as Assembly people's and state senators' campaigns because they have an interest in what those folks are trying to do. Otherwise, they wouldn't get involved.''

And Mr. Menendez said he and Mr. Goldberg were playing by the rules.

''If he ends up, along with everybody else, being a beneficiary of what I've been advocating,'' Mr. Menendez said, pausing to develop his thought, ''what can I say?''

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