Joe Waks is a good artist and we admire his work.
But there is another side to him. It happens. The poet W. H. Auden wrote about it in his "The Prolific and the Devourer." Art is at war with politics and it cannot help but be. Art can never be the servant, for when it is it is no longer art but propaganda disguised as art.
Joe Waks is also a lawyer, a political operative, and a career patronage employee with the Hudson County Democrat machine. He's held every kind of patronage job from Chief of Staff to Mayor Doria to Appointments Counsel to Director of Municipal Services to his current gig in the Hudson County Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs. His political gods are Joe Doria and Vinnie Prieto.
Yes, Joe Waks is a man at odds with himself. The good artist and the machine politician inhabit uneasily the same skin. And the demands of politics are many.
When the bosses tell you to crush a woman whistleblower... you crush her.
And when they tell you to start a SuperPAC as a means of flushing $550,000 in unspecified contributions into attack ads on a woman legislator... you do it. Because, they own you.
It is a crime that an artist as talented as Joe must rely on base politicians for his bread and cheese. But needs must. It happens. A thousand little compromises go by and you wake one day and realize that you have been totally compromised.
From all accounts, the Deputy Registrar of Bayonne, a union organizer in Hudson County, is a woman who resists being compromised. She is a woman of strong personal conviction -- with a solid sense of right and wrong. It was she who blew the whistle on two employees who she claimed had misused federal money that had been meant for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The bosses didn't like it and they didn't like her, so they went to her supervisors and... well, she filed a lawsuit in federal court over what she claimed they did to her. The case number is 14-cv-03695 and was filed in the U.S. District Court in Newark on June 9, 2014. It is an active case and is still before the Court. Most of the documents associated with the case are available to the public. Here are some excerpts from those documents filed in federal court:
The latest filing from that case was on October 25, 2017. The defendants -- including the political machine that runs the City of Bayonne -- are doing their best to slow the process, drag it out, knowing that they have an endless pot of money called property taxpayers, while the lady union leader does not.
And it was about this time that a new SuperPAC suddenly appeared, called the Progressive Values Committee. Funny name, isn't it?
The SuperPAC's front was Joe Waks. The PAC lists Joe Waks' home in Bayonne as its headquarters. The political consultants running the PAC are a couple of media buyers who work for gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy and the Democrat legislative campaign committees. In the case of the Progressive Values Committee, they operate from a shell company within their principal company.
Somehow, a couple of major donors to Democrat Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto got the word to send $550,000 through the mail slot in Joe Waks' living room in Bayonne, New Jersey. Now imagine that.
Yep, they want us to believe that this artist has SuperPACs on his mind. They want us to believe that one day he had the notion to be creative and, instead of painting, he said to himself, "I'll create a SuperPAC." But it gets better, because then they want us to believe that two major donors to Speaker Vinnie somehow figured out that there was this artist with his SuperPAC in Bayonne and if they sent him over a half million bucks he would somehow, on his own, figure out exactly how Speaker Vinnie wanted it used.
That's right. $550,000 magically appeared through his mail slot and this artist in Hudson County figured out that he needed to send it to exactly where Speaker Vinnie needed it sent -- to Bergen, Passaic, and Morris Counties. And what's more is that Joe Waks doesn't get to keep any of it. It just comes through his letter slot, plops onto his living room floor, then the professionals come by to collect it, take it to the cable television stations and buy the time.
When contacted by Matt Friedman of Politico, the NJEA's spokesperson said that their "quarter million dollar contribution was aimed at supporting candidates it has endorsed, not in propping up Prieto." Okay, then why not use your own SuperPAC? Why the subterfuge? Why move $250,000 from your perfectly good SuperPAC into a SuperPAC operated out of someone's living room?
We get it. You were told what to do. That's how machines operate. You're told to sexually harass a woman employee... you do it. You're told to send a quarter million dollars from your SuperPAC to one directly controlled by the machine bosses... you do it. Told to use that money to trash a woman legislator... you do it. Heck, when Joe Doria needed a face for his lobbying business, Joe Waks dutifully complied. It's not called a "machine" for nothing.
It is a real shame that Joe Waks didn't have the courage to say NO to Vinnie Prieto. He should have told Prieto to shove his SuperPAC scheme.
Joe's father would have. Judge David Waks was a man of great integrity. He was not only an honest man, David Waks was a compassionate and decent man. The story goes that David Waks once gave his shoes to a man who had just lost his home to a fire. He didn't have shoes and so the Judge gave the man his... and then walked home in his stocking feet. A man like that would not have done the bidding of Vinnie Prieto.