As reported by nj.com, after days of playing defense, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. apologized for the controversy surrounding his pension, which has drawn condemnation from public employee unions and the governor. DiVincenzo “retired” last year as county executive and started collecting his pension while continuing to hold office and earn his full paycheck. “To Essex County residents and to all the employees here, I want to apologize for what happened this weekend,” he said. He added, “I’m sorry that I put us in this position.”
DiVincenzo did not say it was improper to collect his pension, according to his spokesman, Anthony Puglisi. “He’s not apologizing because he did anything wrong,” he said. “What he said was, this has been a distraction, and he apologized to the employees for taking their attention away from the job ahead.”
The apology, made during a groundbreaking ceremony in West Orange, came after increasing criticism since news of his pension broke. DiVincenzo has worked closely with Governor Chris Christie to reduce public employee benefits, and unions quickly criticized the county executive as a hypocrite.
“This exposes him as a fraud and just another politician who lies to the public,” State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Anthony Wieners said. This week, Christie chastised DiVincenzo, a political ally, during a Statehouse press conference. “I made this really clear. I think it’s wrong,” the governor said. “And it’s not just for him. It’s wrong for all the other people who are doing it.”
DiVincenzo filed his retirement papers in August, three months before winning his third term as county executive. That added a $68,862 annual pension to his full salary, which was $153,207 last year.
State law allows public employees to retire while still holding elected office as long as they previously held a different public job. DiVincenzo held public jobs in Essex County for nearly three decades, working as a parks supervisor, teacher, athletics coordinator and freeholder before becoming executive in 2003.
Christie and lawmakers from both parties have advocated repealing the law, although the Democrat-controlled Legislature has yet to act on Republican-sponsored bills addressing the issue. Both the governor and DiVincenzo said the pension controversy would not affect their working relationship. “I’ve got to work with him. You think I have the luxury of stopping to work with public officials who do something I don’t agree with?” Christie said. “I’d be sitting in there by myself.”