Mayor Wagner and members of the City Council, my name is Burt Ross, and I appear before you this evening to thank you; our city manager, Reva Feldman; and our city employees, who have worked together tirelessly to help the thousands of us who have been uprooted from our homes. Many of us are too preoccupied and distracted to come to these council meetings to thank you personally, but don’t think we do not appreciate your efforts on our behalf.
I was shocked and horrified to hear a recording on television of a recent council meeting at which a man filled with anger charged this government with corruption and a cover-up. He actually went so far as to state that he possessed evidence of criminal activity.
I take charges of public corruption most seriously. I literally risked my life to fight and beat a corrupt political machine. As mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., I worked with the county prosecutor to end the tenure of our police chief, who met with members of the underworld in his office.
And when I was offered a $500,000 bribe by the mafia to rezone property, I immediately reported it to the United States Attorney and offered to wear a wire, which I did on three separate occasions under the supervision of the FBI. My life was threatened, I went into hiding and I was even offered the witness protection program.
As much as I hate political corruption, I also detest when a person recklessly libels and slanders public officials. When baseless rumors are spread on the internet, such as the one saying our city manager went on vacation to Hawaii just one week after the fire—an unmitigated lie—when these vicious falsehoods are stated as facts, it has a corrosive impact on our community. This kind of behavior destroys trust in our public officials, poisons community discourse and could well deter honest people from seeking public office.
It is, of course, our right to criticize policies and the execution of those policies which we do not like. It is a far different thing to spread false and unsubstantiated accusations.
I remember well when a political rag holding itself out as a newspaper charged me with taking money at the very same time I was wearing a wire to help apprehend seven people who, based on my undercover work, ended up in jail. I still feel the frustration of not having been able to respond immediately to those blatant lies.
If any person has convincing evidence of criminal activity, then it is his or her obligation to do what I did and to contact the county prosecutor or the United States Attorney. If that person is unwilling to do so, then at least have the common decency to cease and desist from spreading hatred.
Those of us who lost our homes, or were temporarily displaced, are going through a very difficult and emotional healing process. We need the continued support of our city, not rumor mongering and viciousness. Thank you again for what you are all doing in our behalf.