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Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, right, with Assemblyman Gordon Johnson. (Photo: Assembly Majority Office.)

Johnson says Englewood developer bundled campaign contributions while seeking local approvals

Vainieri Huttle calls criticism ‘desperate and absurd’

By David Wildstein, June 02 2021 5:06 pm

Six days before next week’s Democratic State Senate primary, Gordon Johnson is hammering rival Valerie Vainieri Huttle for accepting campaign funds from a Bergen County businessman who had sought local approval for projects in Englewood while her husband was mayor.

The businessman, Orthon Mourkakos, has bundled contributions to Vainieri Huttle for the last decade.  Between Mourkakos’ family and employees, the five-term assemblywoman has received over $130,000 in campaign contributions since 2011 – including $10,400 this year, according to reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy for Huttle to claim fabricated moral high ground as a campaign finance reformer, when she solicited tens of thousands of dollars from businessmen who sought project approvals from her husband,” Johnson said. “This is the epitome of insider politics. She’s trying to take a moral lap on campaign financing while she’s writing herself a $150,000 check and counting on max donations from her husband’s shady developer friends. It’s shamelessly disingenuous at best and it’s enough already.”

But Johnson’s allegation of a conflict is tenuous.

He says that Frank Huttle, the lawmaker’s husband and a former mayor, was a major shareholder in ConnectOne, a community bank where Mourkakos obtained a mortgage in 2015 for a development project in Englewood.

Johnson thinks that Huttle should have recused himself from planning board votes involving Mourkakos’ projects, but there’s no evidence that a recusal was required.

“This attack is desperate and absurd.  We are family friends — our kids went to school together,” said Vainieri Huttle. “They’ve even donated to Governor Murphy’s campaign.”

The scrum over campaign dollars has been part of the fight between Johnson and Vainieri Huttle, two longtime running mates who are battling to succeed Loretta Weinberg in the safe Democratic 37th district Senate seat.

According to Johnson, contributions bundled by Mourkakos represents “exactly the kind of politics voters in Bergen County are sick of.”

“While 43,000 residents were unemployed during the pandemic, Valerie Huttle put her feet up in luxury because her insider politics have made her recession-proof,” Johnson claims. “Valerie couldn’t possibly represent us in Bergen County because she doesn’t live like us, she’s a far cry from being ‘our voice.’”

Vainieri Huttle thinks Johnson’ late-breaking criticism of Mourkakos is just an act of desperation.

“Gordon Johnson’s campaign is losing and this ridiculous attack is proof,” she said.  “Gordon should be the last person to point fingers about who is funding their campaign after accepting hundreds of thousands from South Jersey party bosses and Republican-friendly dark money groups.”

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