When Hector Lora became mayor of Passaic in 2016, he inherited the ghosts of Alex Blanco, Sammy Rivera, and Joseph Lipari – predecessors forced from office after pleading guilty to federal crimes.
Now Passaic has finally found an honest man.
Lora came out on the right side of an integrity test last year when Omid Bayati, a onetime aide to former Assembly Minority Leader Paul DiGaetano, tried to bribe two commissioners in order to gain a promotion at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. The state attorney general charged Bayati on Wednesday.
Lora and former Fair Lawn Mayor John Cosgrove are both commissioners at PVSC. Each of them, separately and immediately, notified law enforcement.
“My immediate response was to take it to the appropriate authorities. The political world we operate in can often be treacherous and full of dangerous traps and gray areas,” Lora said. “Ethical boards and officers along with law enforcement agencies are set up to hold us accountable but also for us to turn to whenever there may be doubts regarding any interactions or blatant attempts to violate the law.”
Cosgrove told the New Jersey Globe that he wore a wire for a follow-up meeting with Bayati, who delivered him $1,200 cash with a request for a better job at the sewerage commission.
“I’m proud of my colleague Commissioner Cosgrove,” Lora said. “Though we never spoke to each other prior to or throughout this process about these matters, it is extremely encouraging to know we both had immediate and similar responses in rejecting any attempts to be compromised. It fills me with even more faith in working with good people that just want to serve the public.”
As a direct appointment to the PVSC board by Gov. Phil Murphy, Lora said he has a “responsibility to serve in a way that does not violate the public trust.”
“Serving in political office can feel a lot like a vertical learning curve with many mistakes along the way but when it comes to right and wrong there should be no questions or wavering especially on today’s world where many in the public are losing faith in those who hold public office,” the two-term mayor said.
Lora and Cosgrove abstained in a vote on Friday to fire Bayati.
“I am honored to work with ethical leaders like Executive Director of the PVSC Greg Tramontozzi, our Chairman Tom Tucci, and all of the Commissioners on the Board,” Lora stated. “I am blessed to serve with individuals that believe in doing the right thing.”
The sewerage commission has had a troubled past.
Almost a decade ago, then-Gov. Chris Christie accused the PVSC of becoming a political patronage pit of unchecked nepotism and forced six of seven commissioners out.
Blanco resigned in 2016 after admitted to taking more than $100,000 in bribes from housing developers seeking federal funding. Rivera admitted taking bribes in exchange for insurance contracts in 2007 and Lipari left office in 1993 after his conviction on conspiracy and tax charges.
The only one of Lora’s immediate predecessors who had no hint of scandal was Marge Semler, who served from 1993 to 2001.