BLOOMFIELD, NJ — First Ward Councilman Elias Chalet made a dramatic return to his Town Hall council chamber seat on Monday evening, stunning a group of 40 Bloomfield residents who were grouped in the building’s lobby, protesting against his remaining on the council. Chalet was arrested on Nov. 16 for alleged bribery in official and political matters.
The lobby protest, by a newly formed citizen’s group calling itself CORRUPT, an acronym for Citizens Organized to Rapidly Remove Underhanded Political Takers, had just presented its first speaker, Cathy DeMarino, president of the Bloomfield Board of Health. After she had spoken only a few words, everything went silent as Chalet unexpectedly entered through the front door of Town Hall, accompanied by about 18 supporters. Chalet and his supporters quietly filed through the cluster of silent protesters and entered into a side hallway as more pro-Chalet followers arrived. During this time, not a word was heard from either faction.
Once Chalet and his supporters had departed for the upstairs council chambers, Bloomfield resident Stephanie Gulley spoke.
“This is not the only issue in town we’re interested in,” Gulley said. “Maybe we haven’t been paying the attention that we should have,” she said. Nearby placards read, “Bottom line: Chalet must resign,” and “We’re curious the mayor’s not furious.”
In a Sunday, Jan. 3, telephone interview, a founding member of CORRUPT, Yudi Sobharam, said the organization was started two weeks earlier by five citizens.
“If Chalet is not willing to resign,” Sobharam said, “we would like the mayor and council to write a letter asking him to resign. From my knowledge, this letter has not been written.”
Sobharam acknowledged that he has not attempted to contact the mayor or any council members except for Councilman Joseph Lopez.
“He’s the only one willing to speak about it,” he said.
Lopez did, in fact, during the reorganizational meeting, attempt to introduce a resolution for Chalet’s resignation but it did not get a second motion to bring it up for a vote.
Sobharam said other issues besides Chalet included the Hartz Mountain and Scientific Glass properties.
“From what I’ve read, the state has requested records from 2011,” he said. “But I am not suggesting corruption in any other issue.”
A media alert issued by CORRUPT last week said CORRUPT was a citizens’ group concerned with the bribery allegation against Chalet, and “questionable actions that the Venezia administration has taken concerning many issues.”
The media alert also pointed out that official Town Hall records dating back to Jan. 1, 2011, the date Venezia had first taken office, had been subpoenaed, and that Chalet had not taken office until Jan. 2012.
Venezia was sworn in as a councilman in January 2011.
“CORRUPT is just a group of citizens trying to get this distraction out of the way,” Sobharam said of the allegations against Chalet. “It’s not about innocence or guilt. It’s about representation in the 1st Ward.”
One speaker at the protest, Stuart Ruffer, a Kinder Tower resident, told the crowd that he had helped in getting Chalet elected.
“Now he’s given us a bad name,” he said. “We need representation we can trust.”
Before the protesters left the lobby for the reorganizational meeting, they were advised by Robert DeMarino.
“We’re going upstairs,” DeMarino said. “But remember, we’re in the council chambers.”
The meeting in council chambers was held without disruption. The audience appeared to be evenly divided between Chalet supporters and critics, with the critics, having arrived later, sitting in the back rows.