Author John R. Bohrer

It’s the Ides of March -- the hour of Caesar’s reckoning. The perfect day to believe there are knives under the togas, to allege plots of political assassination.

Some eight months after his arrest in a bribery sting, this is the date that former Assemblyman/political journeyman Lou Manzo has chosen to confront his assailants. Do not be fooled by their titles or familiar faces, he tells us. For though they are robed in government garb and walk the marble halls of justice, they are conspirators who meet in secret, ready to maim for their selfish advancement.

Shall you trust your poor messenger, who professes himself to be a ghost of the man he once was, the man he might have been? Unlike his murderers’, Manzo’s quarters have no pomp to them. The curia he has called us to -- the meetinghouse -- is down a few rubber-laminate stairs to an office suite-cum-television studio off Central Ave.

Manzo’s face is cherubic, full of color and purpose as he greets every entrant.* He looks good, happy to be back in the forum, to have people watching him around a bay of microphones, making a righteous case for justice and civic life. Democracy, the Republic, a nation of laws -- our inheritance from the free civilizations. There are those in places of power wishing to do away with these ideals, and we don’t even know it.

Manzo will explain it all. Everything he knows (or at least, everything he can share) has been packaged into a heavy two-inch briefing binder. Among its contents are:

  • newspaper clippings culled since last summer.
  • portions of the U.S. Code on prosecutorial misconduct.
  • the Attorney General’s guidelines on the use of confidential informants.
  • a 2008 House report on the politicization of the Justice Department.
  • the gubernatorial campaign contributions of key figures in Chris Christie’s U.S. Attorney’s outfit, now employed through the governor’s office in Trenton.

A glossary of terms is provided.

After reading a five-minute statement, Manzo plays a video clip of Christie speaking to a group of Republicans as he campaigned for their party’s nomination last winter. The future governor says that he will win this election and that when he does, he’ll bring his deputy U.S. Attorneys along with him. Once there, he says their jobs will be to ferret out the waste and corruption that they had spent the last eight years prosecuting.

“So I told them, ‘The good news is that when we get to Trenton, we don’t have to worry about ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ anymore.’”

“I can assure,” Manzo parrots Christie’s line, “ya don’t have to worry about ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ anymore.” He says it in a way that’s less ‘Et tu?’ and more, ‘Eff you.’

Any questions?

Manzo is asked about the effect this press conference will have on his case. He notes that he might be arrested for obstruction of justice. His lawyer was nervous about it, too, but ultimately gave him the OK. Whatever the question, his answers keep returning to the pillars of his argument.

Manzo alleges that Operation Bid Rig III denied him and the other defendants of their due process of law. It was a plot designed by Christie and his underlings Ralph Marra and Michele Brown to betray the Constitution they had sworn an oath to protect. They would use their offices to grab at their next ones, Manzo alleges, by conspiring to drive a blade through the vote totals in Hudson County -- “a strategically important county for Democrats to dominate statewide elections.” And he happens to have a salacious example of the Christie crew’s relentless bid to rig Gov. Jon Corzine’s defeat.

Lou recalls the day of his arrest, being locked into a holding cell with a guy who looked like a corpse -- Jesus, it was the political fixer, Jack Shaw. His good friend, and he didn’t even recognize him! Lou shook the poor bastard to make sure he was OK, that he wasn’t in some sort of diabetic shock. Turns out Jack had been picked up the night before, sequestered in a hotel room in Secaucus and given a thorough grilling. Yeah, yeah, he told them some things, but he insisted that no money went to Joe Doria, the ex-Bayonne mayor and member of Corzine’s cabinet.

But look, Lou says: regardless of what Shaw told the Feds, they still raided Doria’s home. Now what does that say?

(Well, for starters, how about, ‘They didn’t entirely trust Jack Shaw?’)

Even if that much can’t be proved, Manzo charges the U.S. Attorneys with denying their guidelines, requiring the recusal of lawyers when there is a conflict of interest or possible loss of impartiality. Furthermore, their corrupt payments injected nearly $200,000 in local elections throughout the state. This is the Federal government infringing upon local elections! Affecting outcomes! Disenfranchising voters!

Arguable, but doesn’t it just show a willingness to accept money disenfranchising voters in instances where it isn’t stamped by the Feds?

His strongest point is that it was the U.S. Attorney’s office that decided to make arrests that July morning before indictments could be handed down, blunting Corzine’s message a week after President Obama made a high profile campaign visit. Then again, they could have made the arrests in, say, October.

Regardless, Manzo is no soothsayer. None of this information is new. He admits as much, pleading with the media to stop ignoring the meat of these conflicts, demanding they dub Christie’s office, ‘The Touchables.’ It’s unlikely this press conference will be the silver bullet, especially when he stands alone at the dais.

So what’s his angle?

Set aside, for the moment, the $27,500 of illegal campaign contributions for which he will stand trial. Bring it up and watch the man’s blood boil. He denies it emphatically, angrily almost. He attempts to wave a sheath of papers, but most of them fall and scatter at his feet. He holds the remaining one up high, defiantly making a point that’s hard to catch. He is, for the moment, obscured by the imagery of what has just occurred: a man, losing his grip, on his papers, on his public image.

He tries to explain why he is taking this stand now. He attempts to put himself off the record for a moment, but he might as well have turned his car down a one-way street. He draws laughter from the room full of microphones, lenses and eyeballs that he invited. The ‘off the record’ gesture might be (and probably is) pretense. It’s hard to believe Manzo doesn’t want this soliloquy played for all to hear.

Let me put it this way -- and I don’t want this out there because, again, I don’t want to look like a sympathetic figure. But for all practical purposes, I was beside myself for two months. ... But this is completely, absolutely aggravating to, to live a life as I’ve tried and to follow ideals and values that I’ve brought up with to be accused of such a thing -- it’s the most heinous thing that could happen. And I’ve accepted it in this way: ya’know, whatever day I -- ya’know, the Lord chooses to take me in this life, uhh, he takes me, but on my tombstone, the date of my death will always be July 23rd, 2009, because every future aspiration I ever had, everything I ever wanted to do again, is gone. It’s over -- no matter what happens at the end of this process. So, I’ve accepted right now I’m living my purgatory. And I’m looking forward, hopefully, to meet my maker at my just reward. But ... but that’s how I classify: it doesn’t matter.

Friends, reporters, Jersey Cityans, lend him your ears; he’s come to bury Lou Manzo ... and slyly praise him.

In these words, this press conference is revealed. What it shows is a man, politically dead, scratching at the coffin he’s been placed in. He’s crossing his Shakespeare now, the Ghost of King Hamlet, crying out from beyond the grave, demanding vengeance for his assassins -- the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Methinks he doth mourn himself too much. In Jersey City, the dead walk again.

Ever meet Gerry McCann?

*An aside: This was the first time that I was ever in the same room as Lou Manzo, but I have a small history with him. I worked for his opponent when he ran for the state Senate a few years back, and though I didn’t have a direct hand in attacking him (and attack him, we did), I was present throughout. I will also add that when my aunt passed away suddenly last year, Manzo’s insurance company sent her flowers. While completely unrelated, it has stuck with me.

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It’s the Ides of March — the hour of Caesar’s reckoning. The perfect day to believe there are knives under the togas, to allege plots of political assassination. Some eight months after his arrest in a bribery sting, this is the date that former Assemblyman/political journeyman Lou Manzo has chosen to confront his assailants.

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