JACKSON, NJ – After a two year battle by the township of Jackson’s municipal council to maintain the quality of life for residents, the new council, led by Mayor Michael Reina approved an ordinance that repeals two controversial zoning laws. The ordinance, drafted by Gregory P. McGuckin of the Dasti, McGuckin, Connnors law firm, which also represents Lakewood Township, removes zoning language that bans religious dormitories and limits the construction of schools in the town. McGuckin’s ordinances were approved by the council in a 3-1 vote. Councilmen Alex Sauickie, the sponsor of the bill, was joined by Councilman Marty Flemming and Councilman Andy Kern in overturning the ordinance. Councilman Ken Bressi, who initially voted to approve the bill abstained from the vote.
In 2017, as tensions rose between the town council and a growing Orthodox Jewish community in town, the council passed those laws. At the time, council members and residents alike feared that with a large population of Orthodox Jewish families moving to the town, along with them would come high-density development, schuls and religious dormitories. Councilman Barry Calogero who championed the law in 2017 maintained that those ordinances were to protect the township from overdevelopment, not to prevent Orthodox Jewish residents from practicing their religion.
“The reality is this ordinance is not against any race or religion and only a bigoted person would think as much,” Councilman Barry Calogero said. “It’s an ordinance that would preserve our current suburban culture, reduce suburban sprawl and limit wanted overdevelopment in our township.”
Calogero’s closest ally in the drafting of the ordinances was former Councilman Robert Nixon. Over the past six months, both Nixon and Calogero had resigned, leaving Bressi the last man standing on the Jackson council who approved and supported the bills in 2017. Flush with new faces, the newly elected council, under the direction of McGuckin, whose firm also serves the Lakewood Township Zoning Board, repealed those laws.
McGuckin said at the Tuesday night meeting, “These ordinances are redundant.” McGuckin also claimed the repeal of the ordinances have no bearing on the four civil rights lawsuits against the township and were voluntary, not part of any agreed-upon settlement between the litigants.
In October of 2018, Bressi, Sauickie and Kern met with Mordechai Burnstein at the Jackson Republican Club headquarters in Romeo’s Plaza to lobby Burnstein for the voting support of the growing Orthodox Jewish community bloc vote. At the time, the vote represented approximately 1,500 votes. The candidates, in the presence of Jackson GOP Chairman Todd Porter and Jackson GOP Commitee Chairwoman Clara Glory, promised to repeal the ordinances if they were to win the election. The meeting was orchestrated by Mayor Michael Reina, but Reina did not show up, offering a last-minute excuse to avoid the meeting. An audio of that meeting exists along with a video of participants entering and exiting the building. Those will be shared as soon as Shore News Network can obtain the rights to publish them.
The campaign got heated after Democrat candidate Tracey Yostpille exposed Reina’s plan to secure the Orthodox Jewish bloc vote.
There were problems with Reina’s plan. After the election, Reina was unable to convince the council majority of Bressi, Calogero and Nixon to repeal the ordinance they fought so hard for. Reina could not repeal the ordinance without their vote. Another problem was Reina’s top political enforcers, Richard Egan, Joseph Sullivan and Dr. Sheldon Hoffstein also supported the ordinances.
In August 2019, in a move insiders say was a political hit-job against the three men who served on the town’s planning and zoning board, Reina’s administration forced Egan, Sullivan and Hoffstein to resign their township positions after attending an anti-development watchdog meeting with residents. In November, with pressure mounting to repeal the ordinances to settle the lawsuits against the town, Councilman Robert Nixon resigned his position. Nixon was replaced by local hardware store owner Marty Flemming.
This month, Barry Calogero was forced to resign for his stance against overdevelopment and local protectionism. That resignation gave Reina and McGuckin the majority vote they needed to repeal the ordinances. Reina had tried hard for the past six months in a widespread character attack on Councilman Bressi to force his resignation, but Bressi stood his ground. It didn’t matter now, because Bressi was the lone vote remaining on the council to block the repeal. The deal made in the back room of the old dance studio in Romeo’s Plaza was complete, brokered and written up by McGuckin. That same night, McGuckin received a political appointment, his 26th public job, from the township of Toms River. McGuckin, hired by Mayor Mo Hill is having similar problems in his town. Hill has been trying to reduce the minimum acreage required for building houses of worship. With McGuckin at the helm of the legal department there, we can expect that ordinance to be overturned in the near future too.
McGuckin’s firm has deep financial ties to the city of Lakewood Township. Two months ago, McGuckin’s political partner, Ocean County Chairman, Frank B. Holman traveled to Lakewood to broker a peace settlement between Jackson Township and Trump campaign philanthropist Dr. Richard Roberts. Roberts had been engaging in a political campaign to force Reina, Calogero and Nixon to rescind the ordinance, but Calogero and Nixon remained defiant. Unable to broker the deal, Holman returned to his hometown of Lacey Township empty-handed.
Now with the support of Sauickie, Kern and Flemming, Reina and McGuckin were able to overturn the ordinances with minor political opposition. At the meeting Tuesday, which was conducted via the online Zoom Meeting platform, business administrator Terrance Wall screened and paraphrased questions from an increasingly irate public, denying many the chance to ask their questions to the council. In some cases, Wall misquoted residents and read bits and pieces of statements made by residents in order to push his agenda to overturn the ordinance. We’ll have a video of Wall’s “Greatest Hits” from the meeting later this week. Many called the meeting a farce and a sham as the public was denied an opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction with Reina, Sauickie, Kern, Flemming and McGuckin.