Cardinale: Corzine Opens Door to Corruption in Sale of Camden Prison

October 27, 2009

Senator Gerald Cardinale, a Republican on the State House Commission, said that Governor Corzine has opened the door to corruption with his plan to sell the Camden State Prison property under a no-bid contract. The State House Commission voted to approve an opaque process of the kind that has failed taxpayers repeatedly in the past with such projects as the disastrous EnCap development and the bungled Xanadu project. Only commission members Senator Cardinale and Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon voted against the governor’s wrong-headed plan.

“The governor has opened the door to corruption by refusing to let the sale of the prison property be conducted by public auction,” Senator Cardinale said. “That he would even think that a no-bid contract is appropriate in this prison sale makes it clear he’s learned nothing from the conviction of so many political bosses and elected officials over the last eight years.”

Cardinale pointed out that former Senator and Newark Mayor Sharpe James is now a prisoner because he manipulated a land sale to benefit a girlfriend.  “That example – which is just one among many — shows that this prison sale should not only be transparent, but conducted with an absolute ban on no-bid contracts like the one the governor is proposing,” Cardinale said.

The treasurer has put forward a plan that allows political appointees like governor’s hand-picked treasurer, the board of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the Camden Redevelopment Agency and the Delaware River Port Authority to decide which developer will redevelop the Camden prison site. This opaque and highly subjective process allows political appointees to select whomever they wish as the winning bidder, then present their decision to the Legislature for a rubber-stamp vote. But by the time this gets to the Legislature, the prison already will have been torn down at taxpayer expense as a result of today’s vote, Cardinale pointed out.

“Only an auction guarantees that taxpayers get the best price for the land and that the process is conducted fairly and with transparency,” Cardinale said. “No one in the public can or will follow how this collection of political appointees decides who gets this property. The real decision will be made in a back room some where.”

An official for the Economic Development Authority testified to the commission that a no-bid sale was necessary because the agency wants to ensure that the property isn’t re-sold after an auction and that the property provides maximum tax revenue and job creation.

“With all due respect, the idea that a government agency has the ability to determine the highest and best use for a commercial and residential development simply doesn’t square with the history of such projects as EnCap,” Cardinale said. “Moreover, this process practically guarantees that most politically connected investors will play key roles in the final decision.

“We should be putting this property up for auction, with the requirement that whoever wins the bidding doesn’t just re-sell the land but meets very specific criteria for what is done with the property. That is the best way to ensure both best deal for state taxpayers and justice for Camden, but Corzine’s folks on the State House Commission voted that down today.”