Mayor draws increased criticism for his actions

Mayor Sal Bonaccorso

CLARK, NJ — Mayor Sal Bonaccorso has been in the news recently, but the coverage has been anything but positive.

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights announced on Thursday, Dec. 21, that Clark Township had been notified a formal investigation had been opened by the DCR into potential violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by public officials within both Clark Township’s municipal government and the Clark Police Department. The investigation will include, but is not limited to, the matters referred to the DCR by the Office of the Attorney General in its public report released on Monday, Nov. 20, on the findings of its investigation into allegations of misconduct by leaders in Clark Township.

In the aforementioned public report, issued by Platkin, there were allegations that leaders of the Clark Police Department used abhorrent language to degrade crime victims, suspects and prospective employees, raising the alarm of potentially criminal policing and hiring practices. There were also allegations of self-dealing and coverups using public funds to conceal the misconduct of individuals in positions of power, including the mayor, although he has since denied all charges.

In July 2020, when the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the Office of the Attorney General assumed control of the Clark Police Department through exercise of supersession authority, the leaders of both agencies announced that they would make public the findings of their agencies. To many in the community, the release of this report has been long overdue. One of those searching for justice is Bill Caruso.

“I’m going to be going to the next council meeting on Jan. 18,” said Caruso, a longtime resident and former commercial real estate agent in Clark, in an interview with LocalSource on Friday, Dec. 29. “I talked to two councilmen who agreed. They are Republicans and they don’t want the rest of the people to turn on them. But they are going to be speaking at the next meeting. I made arrangements to run a half-page ad in your newspaper about it.”

The topic to which Caruso and the unnamed Republicans are referring is term limits, a popular subject unless you are a longtime politician. Caruso insists it is at the heart of all the problems in Clark.

“Of all the investigations that are going on, the relationships with the mayor and the black people are the worst,” he said. “This is what caused it: That the mayor was here for 24 years and no one challenged him and he ran his business out of the Mayor’s Office.”

Bonaccorso, a Republican who has served for six terms as the mayor of Clark, was cast unfavorably into the limelight when a police lieutenant covertly recorded him using racial slurs to refer to black people. After a $400,000 settlement, the lieutenant agreed to stay on the payroll for two years, without working, in exchange for keeping quiet.

This all came to light when the state Attorney General’s Office’s 43-page report was released on Monday, Nov. 20. Bonaccorso was charged with official misconduct and accused of using his township offices and Clark employees to help run his private landscaping and oil tank removal business. And this is exactly what Caruso is talking about.

“I was a councilman for 10 years, from 1984 to 1994, and I left the office voluntarily,” he said. “I don’t believe people should be turning this into a lifetime career. People in Washington, they’re in it so long, it becomes an income source.

“That’s the only way that we’re going to save the country is if we have term limits. They may be really good when they first get elected, but after a few years, they get bought by special interests.”

As far as his intention of creating term limits in Clark, Caruso acknowledges that there may be legal obstacles to his suggested ordinance, but there are other ways to go about seeing such an idea become law.

“It has to be a question on the ballot, if the people want term limits,” he said. “Having this kind of ordinance allows two terms and that’s it. Just like the president of the United States. If it’s good enough for him, it should be good enough for us. Republicans and Democrats should work together, not destroy democracy.”

Caruso drew on personal history to underline his point.

“I was in the Navy, I fought in Korea, I was willing to die for my country. I think we should have an orderly government.”

As a former councilman, Caruso said he knows how to work across both sides of the aisle and how to get things done to improve the township.

“I’ve worked very hard to try and do some things for Clark. I’m responsible for affordable housing going to Clark,” he said. “I was responsible for getting garden-style homes in Clark, Walnut Hill and Woodcrest. We provided over 200 affordable housing units. I also created a senior citizens bus. I did a lot of nice things for Clark. But this mayor has destroyed the credibility of the town.

“I intend to fight it. Either they pass this ordinance or they put it on the ballot. He’s too stubborn to step down. He’s up to his neck in corruption.”

Courtesy of Clark Township