By Joe Petrizzo
New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) received a less than cordial welcome from a group of picketing The College of New Jersey students on March 6 in front of Daly’s. Kean, who was at Rider to speak at An Evening with Hon. Thomas H. Kean Jr. hosted by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, was accused by the protestors of unethical practices stemming from the awarding of a no-bid contract to AshBritt, an environmental service company that cleans up debris from natural disasters.
“We’re protesting because Senate Minority Leader Kean has decided that it’s ethical to give no-bid contracts to companies like AshBritt so they can do the cleanup job from Hurricane Sandy without having to put in a proper bid, meaning that whatever price they demand, is the price the government is going to give them, and Tom Kean sees this as something that is acceptable,” Chris Staronka, a member of the TCNJ College Democrats, said. “We just want to make it known to people who are going to see the speech what’s going on.”
Staronka said that the no-bid contract hurts New Jersey taxpayers.
“This is a big issue for us because New Jersey has incredibly high taxes, and they only get higher,” he said. “When there’s wasted money, especially unethically when you’re giving out no-bid contracts to companies that are politically friendly, we think that’s an issue. This is just an issue of ethics. We want money to be used appropriately. We don’t want are money to be used for political purposes, and that’s exactly what it’s being used for.”
The protesters said that not only will New Jersey taxpayers foot the bill at whatever cost, but also that Conti, a subsidiary of AshBritt has donated to state Republican Party and Kean, the party leader in the state senate, is guilty by association.
“Conti are the ones who have been giving donations to the state Republican Party, and this happened, more or less, right after the contracts were delivered.”
“I think accountability and transparency are the two things that, especially in New Jersey, the government needs, and we should do our best as students because it will affect us the most in the future,” said Urvashi Banerjea, another TCNJ protester. “We will hold our leaders accountable for their actions.”
Rider students were friendlier toward Kean and gave him the benefit of the doubt.
“I think he’s done a great job on a number of things and instead of just throwing around allegations, you actually have to look at his filings to see,” said Charles Measley, chair of the Rider University Republicans. “Just because someone donated, doesn’t make them a criminal or anything like that.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney has called for all state officials to decline contributions from AshBritt and its subsidiary companies. Kean had this to say about the protesters and the scandal.
“I think it’s silly for the senate president to act in this way,” he said. “It clearly shows that the senate president is insecure in himself, his own seat or his majority or all three.”
Sweeney has called for all state officials to decline contributions from AshBritt and its subsidiary companies.
Rebovich Director Ben Dworkin brushed the protests off saying, “There were a handful of protesters. It’s not the first time it has happened at a Rebovich event. It won’t be the last time. But in the end, I think it was much ado about nothing. The real action was in the room with Senator Kean taking questions from Rider students.” .
Additional reporting by Maggie Sarlo.