Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle took a campaign contribution from a developer the same day she voted to give him a lucrative two-decade tax abatement deal, records show.
Brindle voted to award a tax abatement to Elite Properties, whose Westfield Crossing project I part of the town’s South Side Redevelopment Plan. Instead of paying property taxes, the town awarded a payment-in-lieu of taxes deal that allows the developer to pay a percentage of its total revenues – starting with 10% for the first six year and going up to 13% in year 21.
The same day, Brindle’s campaign reported receiving a $600 campaign contribution from Thomas Powers, a local resident who is a partner at Elite Properties.
Brindle said there was “no connection at all” between her vote and Powers’ campaign contribution and noted that check came in one day before she held a fundraising event with women mayors and First Lady Tammy Murphy.
“It’ coincidental that it happened,” Brindle stated
Still, this wasn’t Powers’ first campaign contribution to local Democratic party.
According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, Powers contributed $1,000 to the Westfield Democratic Committee in 2019.
Brindle noted that Powers’ check came in one day before she held a fundraising event with women mayors and First Lady Tammy Murphy.
“It looks strange, but I wasn’t sitting there monitoring who was coming,” she said. “Maybe it’s unfortunate as to the timing, but Tom had the best interests of Westfield at heart. He was making a contribution as a resident.”
The mayor told the New Jersey Globe on Saturday that she will return the campaign contribution “to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”
“There was absolutely no connection of Tom Powers’ contribution to influence the Elite project,” Brindle said.
In many New Jersey municipalities, like nearby Summit, the Powers’ contribution to Brindle would be illegal. But Westfield has no local pay-to-play ordinance that prohibit local politicians from taking campaign cash from people who do business with the town.
Brindle’s opponent in the November 2 mayoral election, Republican JoAnn Neylan, wants Westfield to pass such an ordinance.
“The sweetheart developer deal was wrong for Westfield on its face, but to learn that there were political contributions involved is sickening. This is a community filled with honest people that expect integrity from their elected officials,” Neylan said. “I hope Mayor Brindle returns the contribution and as Mayor I will put forth an ordinance preventing this from ever happening again.”
Brindle’s decision to return the Powers contribution followed an initial call from the New Jersey Globe and after came Neylan had already demanded that she refund the developer’s donation.
The Democratic mayor is no stranger to allegations of playing fast and loose with taxpayer dollar to benefit her political career.
The Downtown Westfield Corporation used a federal CARES Act grant intended to help rescue a downtown economy affected by the coronavirus pandemic to purchase about 2,000 upscale canvas tote bags that were never distributed and sit in boxes at the Department of Public Works. The tote bags were purchased without competitive bidding from a company run by a Brindle campaign donor.