The Asbury Park Press is reporting that Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider is going forward with the defamation suit against Brian Unger, his opponent in last weeks mayoral election, Pat Politano, Unger's campaign consultant, and Victor Scudiery as chairman of the Monmouth County Democratic Organization.
Schneider defeated Unger by 19%, earning a sixth term as Mayor.
The defamation claim is based on the Unger campaign's distribution of glossy mailer that claimed Schneider accepted bribes from confessed swindler Solomon Dwek. Dwek had testified in the corruption trial of former Assemblyman Andrew Van Pelt that he used a middleman to bribe the Long Branch Mayor. The Monmouth County Democratic Organization managed to get a copy of the official transcript of the testimony the day after it was given. The campaign piece in question was distributed the following day.
Schneider's attorney, Vincent Manning, told the APP that he suspected that other besides the Unger Team were involved in a orchestrated scheme, which included Dwek's testimoney, to damage his client and to influence the Long Branch election. Manning said the discovery process would determine the extent of such a conspiracy, if any.
Many, maybe most, lawsuits are settled and never go to trial. Regardless of how far this suit goes, there are already lessons from the Schneider/Unger race that those involved in political process should heed.
Since his defeat, Unger has acknowledged that "Schneider Bribed" piece backfired and cost him support in the election. The attack didn't work because it was filmsy. Even so, it worked well enough to get a swift and fierce response from Schneider. Schneider's response worked. The facts of Dwek's claims remain unknown. Did he really bribe Schneider and the other officials he claimed he did during the Van Pelt trial? We don't know. We may never know. Long Branch voters acted on their perceptions of who was more believable. Schneider's response to the allegations was believable.
Unger also indicated that he regretted relying on Politano who he referred to as "from north of the Raritan River." Politano is from Union County. This is the lesson of Tip O'Neil's old saying "all politics is local" and an acknowledgment the various and diverse cultures that exist in New Jersey. As someone who has lived in four New Jersey counties and does business throughout the state, I know first hand that there is a different culture "north of the bridge" than there is "south of the bridge." There are also different cultures between the Driscoll and Route 78. There is an east of the Parkway and West of the Parkway culture. An east and west of 202/206 cultures. North and south of 195. North and south of Turnpike Exit 4, and many more. There is no formula for what works statewide in New Jersey. What works in Union County doesn't necessarily work in Monmouth County, just as what works in Wall does not necessarily work on the Bayshore.
Should Schneider's lawsuit proceed all the way to trial and result in a judgment in his favor, there will be a chilling lesson for politicos who operate out of a "winning is everything" ethos. That would not necessarily be a bad thing.