Jersey Shore? Fuhgeddaboudit. Jersey City is the gem of reality TV. Jersey Shore is MTV. Jersey City is FBI. Like, how real is that? Killer videos of pols talking trash and passing cash have been unspooling in federal court in Newark at the trial of Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini. Beldini was busted last summer in an FBI sweep that corralled dozens of New Jersey politicians. It was one of the largest corruption roundups in Jersey's thick history of roundups.
The majority of those busted were from Hudson County, parent entity of Jersey City, second largest city in the state. Twelve public servants have pleaded guilty; Leona Beldini is first to stand trial. Charges? Bribe taking, attempted extortion, and conspiracy to commit extortion. MTV's Jersey Shore has hot munchkin Snooki, but Jersey City has the far classier-- albeit far older-- Beldini. Back in the day, Beldini was burlesque queen "Hope Diamond". "The Gem of Exotics".
In the here and now, Deputy Mayor Beldini is a prominent realtor, past president of the Hudson County Board of Realtors. Until suspended as deputy mayor (an appointed position) Beldini was Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy's liaison to various development-related municipal agencies. Beldini also headed the board of the quasi-public Jersey City Economic Development Corporation, which among other things administers the city's Urban Enterprise Zone projects. One third of Jersey City is Urban Enterprise Zone. Development projects in The Zone are eligible for a wide array of tax exemptions and utility breaks.
Mayor Jerramiah Healy hasn't been indicted but he appears in FBI videos featuring Beldini. (There are other tapes, starring other pols.) So does former Jersey City Housing Authority Commissioner, Vice President of the Board of Education, and Hudson County Affirmative Action Officer Edward Cheatam (yup, Ed wore 3 hats). Also appearing: the late Jack Shaw, a well worn political consultant. Cheatam has pleaded guilty to conspiring with Beldini and others "to accept corrupt cash payments" in return for "official influence"*. Consultant Jack Shaw died of a Valium overdose a few days after being busted.
Mayor Jerry Healy is Jersey City's version of Jersey Shore's bod-flaunting JWOWW. JHOWW-come-he-keeps-getting-elected and Beldini go back decades. A Healy son has a license in Beldini's real estate office and Beldini and the Healys are neighbors in Jersey City. They have summer homes a block from each other in Bradley Beach at the-- where else-- Jersey shore. In 1999, when Healy was Chief Judge of Jersey City Municipal Court, cops visited his vacation crib. Neighbors were bitching about party hearties. Healy wrestled with the cops on his porch. In the nude. (Though one neighbor said he was clutching a towel when the fracas began.) Healy pleaded guilty to a minor disorderly conduct charge.
In 2004, mayoral candidate Jerry Healy was seen-- and photographed-- passed out naked on his front porch in Jersey City. The nudie pic, which was posted on the Internet by an opponent, might have discouraged a less determined electorate. But Healy swept to victory.
In 2006, Mayor Healy was back for a rematch with the Bradley Beach cops. (This time he was clothed.) Two officers rassled him to the ground outside his sister's bar and gave him a few shots of pepper spray. The shots chased a good deal of beer. Healy was convicted on disorderly conduct charges in 2007. The same year he was made chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, a monster political machine that's been somewhat weakened by a decade of corruption indictments and flaccid leadership.
By the Spring of 2009, Jerramiah Healy was on the mayoral campaign trail again, with Leona Beldini as campaign treasurer. Things were looking good. New York City Mayor Mike "The Situation" Bloomberg was set to toss a $1,000-a-head fundraiser for Healy at his NYC townhouse. (The Situation and his deputy mayor, Kevin Sheekey, have Jersey City roots. Sheekey's family goes way back with the Healy family.) Another big bux event was scheduled at the Beacon, an elegant condo fortress in one of Jersey City's poorest neighborhoods. Plus, a new developer in town was spreading cash around.