Mayor’s chief of staff ‘threat­ened’ coun­cil­man

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - FRONT PAGE - By Isaac Avilucea iav­[email protected]­tu­ry­ @IsaacAvilucea on Twit­ter

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.

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