Many were hoping to see former Middlesex Borough Mayor Ron DiMura sobbing or nervously sweating before a packed courtroom as he answered the charges in his December indictment.
Due to COVID-19, that’s not the way it played out Thursday. The ex-mayor pleaded guilty to a charge that he stole from political campaign accounts, but did so via remote hookup. The result is still the same. Now, he faces a January date with State Superior Court Judge Benjamin S. Bucca to find out his sentence.
The ex-mayor’s plea gives a degree of closure to a matter that’s been ongoing for eight months, part of that time with pandemic restrictions. The case and past history suggest certain things about Middlesex and our political process – at least what it’s been up to now.
The indictment by the State Attorney General’s Office was not DiMura’s first tangle with authority. His decades-old insurance industry sanction for forging a client’s signature had been a long-time sore point. DiMura’s political opponents typically rolled it out during election time and had mixed results. One thing that remained constant was that he was not graceful explaining it.
In a 2013 newspaper column, he called the old offense ammunition from a “smear” campaign, adding that the transgression showed no malice on his part. It was done out of “laziness and stupidity,” DiMura wrote after losing a Borough Council election. It was not a flattering defense.
Last October, several political adversaries lined up at the microphone during a council meeting. They verbally grilled DiMura about past indiscretions. When reminded of the old forgery allegation, he replied – “I signed something I shouldn’t have signed.” How could constituents even respond to such mumbo jumbo?
Despite that and other past ethical challenges, DiMura continued to have his supporters. At various times during his tenure, the ex-mayor advocated unpopular redevelopment initiatives, wouldn’t publicly answer questions about political donations and pushed a disastrous lease deal with a local church that resulted in litigation. It’s come out recently that he was no wiz with municipal finance. He handily lost his re-election bid last November, but received 1,076 votes. You have to wonder – who were those 1,076 people?
The ex-mayor’s ability to navigate the forgery whispers for so many years, pilfer political money from his own party and govern in such a domineering manner do not paint a picture of the electorate thoughtfully picking leaders. It could be argued that we, the collective Middlesex Borough community, allowed DiMura to maneuver into position where he could abuse authority and didn’t do enough to stop it sooner.
For too long, familiarity – either through political party or from involvement with a volunteer organization – has been a springboard to Middlesex Borough elected office. It would be informative to also look at a candidate’s resume and see what skills they could bring to the governing body. By refusing to do that, we often end up with recognizable names on the ballot, but not people who are capable of picking through fiscal, land use, personnel and environmental issues.
Perhaps the old way of thinking does go back to DiMura and other past political bosses. If a council member doesn’t fully understand an issue, isn’t it easier for a mayor or local party leader to manipulate things their way?
Stories have floated around about some past, prospective council members being told, “You don’t have to do much. Just show up to the meetings and vote.” You’d like to think it’s mythology, but there are reasons to suspect otherwise.
Some claim DiMura had a convincing way and it helped him bamboozle. Others might say the community practiced willing disbelief, refusing to come to grips with suspicions. Or maybe it was just easier for some to go along, rather than try to stop the madness.
Maybe the ex-mayor’s transgressions will now spur a new way of Middlesex Borough voter thinking. Perhaps we’ll start better researching the names on the ballot before we give them the honor of our vote. If not, we should.