Mayor’s chief of staff ‘threatened’ councilman
TRENTON >> The mayor’s chief of staff Yoshi Manale is being accused of threatening at-large councilman Jerell Blakeley for not supporting Carol Russell.
The Trentonian learned about the alleged threat from reliable sources, a day after the youngest member of the legislative body grilled the acting police director about the plan to address violence in the city and her educational background.
The at-large councilman, who was initially fervent in his support of Russell when the mayor announced her as his pick during his State of the City address, has backpedaled from Russell in recent weeks, citing concerns about her qualifications.
Blakeley confirmed the exchange with Manale when he was informed that the newspaper already knew about it. He claimed it happened during a discussion about Russell’s candidacy.
The at-large councilman remembered Mayor Reed Gusciora’s chief of staff offhandedly telling him, “You know you’ll never be mayor
if you don’t vote for her.”
Blakeley, who is rumored to have ambitions for a higher office in Trenton, said he took offense to Manale’s insinuation he must vote to approve the city’s first black woman police director otherwise he risks losing points with constituents in the majority African-American capital city.
Malane didn’t respond to phone calls requesting his explanation about what he told Blakeley.
But he texted The Trentonian after learning it was working on a story to say, “Any inclination that I threatened him is ridiculous.”
The mayor didn’t respond to phone calls requesting comment. His spokesman said the mayor was declining to wade into the controversy.
Blakeley said he has been attacked by foot soldiers for the administration over the way he questioned Russell at Thursday’s night meeting.
His aunt, Crystal Feliciano, came to his defense Friday, in a lengthy Facebook post dismissing her nephew’s haters.
“He is no one’s puppet, errand boy or child except for my sister who is the woman who birthed him,” she wrote. “Gone are the days of ‘little 14 year old Jerell’; he is a grown man proudly and thoughtfully representing his city and the residents.”
Blakeley asked Russell about the city’s crime stats, her plan to address the violence following last month’s midday execution of a Crip gang member, her lack of a college degree and a still-inthe-works plan to bring back a deputy police chief to help her with administrative tasks.
Russell relied on notes when answering. She reported the city has experienced 12 murders and 71 shootings, but admitted she may be mistaken.
Actually, the city has had 20 homicides, according to The Trentonian’s Homicide Watch count.
Fifteen of the victims died from beating, shooting or stabbing, while three others were killed as a result of vehicular homicide, a newborn died after being abandoned by her mother, and Tahaij Wells was killed by police during a firefight at the Art All Night festival.
Another Russell critic said he was unimpressed with her responses, though he felt Blakeley’s questions were better suited for her confirmation hearing.
“Messing up on numbers, you are the police director,” South Ward councilman George Muschal said. “You are the person who is going to put the numbers out to the people. If anything, you want to have your numbers right. [Former police director Ernest] Parrey always knew his numbers. This is part of the job. This is the territory. You know you’re going to be scrutinized. She was not prepared.”
Other council members didn’t respond to phone calls requesting comment.
Blakeley said he was repeatedly rebuffed by the administration when he asked for a one-on-one with Russell to ask her some of his questions behind closed doors.
Thursday represented the first time anyone has had a chance to question Russell at length, although Blakeley didn’t dive into her most controversial actions, including her alleged involvement while still on the force in a race-baiting scheme to entrap white cops into arresting minorities.
Russell has repeatedly declined interview requests with The Trentonian, fearing those questions would come up.
She also hasn’t explained The Trentonian’s uncovering of property records that show she sold her Bryn Mawr Avenue home in 2006, and owns property in another county.
She still lists the Bryn Mawr address on her resume as her residence.
Blakeley, who didn’t delve into the residency controversy, defended his questions as “relevant” for the community to assess Russell’s qualifications.
“I don’t play politics with the responsibility,” he said. “I have to make prudent and a thoughtful decision about the issues that come across my desk. I’ve learned additional information that has caused me to reconsider my initial support.” The mayor previously shrugged off any suggestion he or his administration has handled Russell with “kid gloves” by limiting her public interactions and media access. Gusciora did, however, admit to being “overprotective” of her because he wants her to succeed. Russell faces an uphill battle, perhaps moreso now that there is the perception the chief of staff may have attempted to strong-arm Blakeley’s vote. Blakeley said he’s not backing down despite the pushback he’s received. Hinting what he may get into when he gets another crack at her, Blakeley indicated Russell should expect another round of tough questions at her confirmation hearing. “All of her neighbors say she hasn’t lived [on Bryn Mawr Avenue] for years,” the at-large councilman said. “The fact of the matter is it is not required for her to live here. What disturbs me the most is the fact that she was not truthful. … If you can’t be honest about where you live, then that sets a bad precedent about the future execution of your duties. She could live on Mars for all I care. I just want her to be honest, and there’s some questions about the veracity of her residency.”
Trenton City Council member Jarell Blakeley listens as Mayor Reed Gusciora delivers his first “State of the City” address in City Hall.
Yoshi Manale will start next week as the Trenton mayor’s chief of staff.