In the wake of Councilwoman Amy DeGise’s fateful decision twelve days ago to drive away as a cyclist she had just hit somersaulted to the street with what for all she knew were fatal injuries, the questions have mounted.
Was she intoxicated? Was she under the influence of drugs? If it is true that the police knew within a half hour of the 8 a.m. hit-and-run that the car was DeGise’s, why wasn’t she brought in and given an alcohol or drug test?
Where did she go after the hit-and-run? Whom did she speak with? Was she tipped off that the police had identified her car from CCTV footage?
And was it only after learning that she had been identified or after evidence of alcohol or drug use had dissipated that she fessed up and reported her involvement?
Jersey City deserves answers to these questions. And those answers must come from an investigative agency independent of Jersey City and Hudson County politics.
Fortunately that agency is already in place.
On September 10, 2018, then-Attorney-General Gurbir Grewal announced the creation of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. He described it as “a unit within the Office of the Attorney General to combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions.”
OPIA, Grewal said, would “investigate and prosecute criminal abuses of the public trust and handle other sensitive matters that implicate the public’s confidence in both government and the criminal justice system, including sensitive matters involving federal, state, or local officials.”
Happily, the unit is up and running with a highly qualified director and many recent successes.
If ever there were a case that that “implicate[s] the public’s confidence in both government and the criminal justice system,” this is it.
As the former chairwoman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization and as a daughter of the Hudson County executive, Amy DeGise is the most politically connected member of the city council. Her myriad relationships throughout Jersey City government run wide and deep. And a video released this week in which she tried to use her connections to prevent her car from being towed in Hoboken this past November is ample evidence that she is willing to use them.
At a rally on Saturday calling for DeGise’s resignation, activist and former congressional candidate Hector Oseguera said, “The worst thing you can have in a so-called civilized society is somebody who believes that they can commit crimes against you, and nothing will happen.”
While DeGise was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and failing to report an accident, many in Jersey City, cynical from observing the self-serving ways of the Hudson County Democratic machine, believe she will receive little more than a slap on the wrist. And until proven otherwise, right or wrong, many will suspect she may have avoided a more serious DWI charge with a little help from her friends.
An OPIA investigation should subpoena phone records and interview, under oath, any person, including any Jersey City official, who spoke with DeGise or her associates and family members that day. In essence, it should seek to determine whether DeGise received special treatment by virtue of her position as a political insider.
Hopefully, an investigation will show that the Jersey City Police Department and local officials acted in a thoroughly ethical and professional manner. But there are simply too many legitimate unanswered questions that cannot be ignored.
In creating the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, Grewal said, “We must root out the corruption and misconduct that undermines faith in our public institutions.”
Jersey City’s faith has been undermined. An OPIA investigation should commence now.