Hill: The case has now been moved out of Hudson County, to Essex. Explain who Amy DeGise is and why this case needed to be moved.
Nancy Solomon: She’s the daughter of Tom DeGise, who is the Hudson County executive. That is a very powerful position, the person who runs county government. And as in most counties in New Jersey, the county executive has close ties to the majority political party in the county – that’s the Democrats. He’s retiring, and Amy DeGise was his heir apparent. Amy DeGise was also the chairwoman of the Hudson County Democratic Committee, better known as “the machine,” for the last few years.
She also works for a county high school. And then she was elected on Steve Fulop’s slate to the City Council. So you’ve got three ways there to exercise power — county government, which includes the county prosecutor’s office, the party machine, and the mayor, who can exert control over the local police.
It’s also worth noting that Hudson machine politics is made up of political fiefdoms, and DeGise was forced out as chairwoman recently as part of a deal to create peace between two other political bosses. I’m told nobody wants to upset that particular apple cart by calling for her resignation.
It’s this tangled web, and all the political interests, that leads James Solomon, the city councilman, to suggest this case be handled at a higher level.
Audio clip of James Solomon: Let me put it this way. I think it would be a good practice if the attorney general’s office could handle politically charged cases across the state, including this one … and demonstrate an ongoing track record of impartiality in those cases.
Hill: So, at the very least, it sounds like a good idea to move the case out of the county.
Nancy Solomon: Several people told me it’s a good first step. But not everyone is buying that this solves the problem. I spoke with Hector Oseguera, who ran in the Democratic primary for Congress in 2020. He’s a Jersey City activist and he has little trust that someone as embedded in the political machine as Amy DeGise can be held accountable.
Audio clip of Hector Oseguera: Because [political influence] spans countywide, it in some ways spans statewide. Because the people who need statewide influence rely on the county influence, which boils down to the municipal influence, which is all the same system, you know, to begin with.
Nancy Solomon: Oseguera is talking about the county line. Anyone running for office needs the endorsement of the political machine to get preferential placement on the ballot. So that includes congressional representatives who run across several counties, as well as statewide races of the two U.S. senators and the governor.
Audio clip of Oseguera: So I think it’s really impossible to expect that there even exists an independent body that could review these sorts of cases without political influence.
Hill: So even though the case is moving to Essex, Oseguera doesn’t think that will help.
Nancy Solomon: No. But it will help the Jersey City police department. I spoke with a former Hudson County officer who had helped the FBI with a corruption sting. His name is Rich Rivera and he is now a police chief in a south Jersey town.
Audio clip of Rich Rivera: Unfortunately it puts low-level police officers squarely in the middle of a potential political volcano. Right? You got people that would favor the individual that was driving and then those that are her potential enemies. And those two forces go at it behind the scenes and the police are squarely placed in the middle.
Nancy Solomon: But Rivera says what is different in this case and what will help is that the hit-and-run was caught on video.