Threatening a candidate who wanted to run for the last year with the elimination of his son's Board of Education job unless he played ball with a local political party is "clearly illegal," said a Rutgers constitutional law scholar.
But just try and prove it, he said.
"They'll deny it," said Frank Askin, professor of law and director of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic in Newark.
Askin was commenting on what he called the "strange" case of , a former Iselin teacher who retired two years ago, and who tried to run for the Woodbridge school board last year.
Capitano withdrew last year because he said he wasn't given permission by the local Democratic party to run for a school board seat.
But this year, Capitano wrote in a letter. hoping to curry favor with a local political activist, that from the Democrat powers-that-be to run in November. And that he was reassured his son's tradesman job with the Board of Ed wouldn't be at risk.
Not that Peter Capitano, Jr. would have been fired from his $80K-plus job last year. It's that the job "would have been eliminated," Capitano Sr. said in an interview, if he hadn't withdrawn his name from last year's race.
BOE elections aren't non-partisan
School board elections in New Jersey are supposed to be non-partisan, but it's a badly kept secret that political parties throughout the state run their own candidates for BOE positions.
In Woodbridge, a seat on the Board of Education has often been a jumping-off point for municipal political office, or even higher.
It's true there's no wall of separation between the municipal side of government and the Board of Education, Askin said.
"Boards of education are clearly political. Politicians aren't supposed to get involved, but they do."
In his opinion, Askin doesn't believe there's anything anyone can do about it. "I don't think there is any legal force [to keep political influence out.] If [politicians] want to get involved, they can," he said.
But the Capitano case clearly crosses a line.
"The guy has the right of freedom of speech. You can't retaliate against his son," Askin said.
"That's clearly illegal."
Capitano wrote the letter in longhand last month to Tom Maras, a Woodbridge resident who ran and lost for the Board of Education last year when Capitano withdrew his name from consideration.
In the letter, Capitano is looking for Maras' support in his election run, for which he "got the green light" from the local Democratic organization. Capitano also details how two incumbent board members - Judith Leidner and Lawrence Miloscia - will be placated with various benefits into dropping their candidacies.
Miloscia "is looking for a watchmen's job in the town garage. If he gets it, he will get out of the race," Capitano wrote. Leidner, he said, was looking for a promotion for her husband, a member of the Woodbridge Police Department, so he could plump up his pension before his retirement.
That was to clear the way for the candidacies of incumbent BOE member Ezio Tamburello and newcomer Daniel Harris, a legislative aide to Woodbridge Council attorney Craig Coughlin, who is also the assemblyman for the district.
Capitano was the third member of the Tamburello/Harris 'ticket.' But when the Maras letter got out, Capitano said Mayor John McCormac, the leader of the party in Woodbridge and a powerhouse throughout Middlesex County, was "all upset" with him.
Capitano was then forced off the ticket, but allowed to stay on the ballot this year.
McCormac did not return repeated phone calls for comment.
"If it is true that they threatened him, that's illegal," Askin said.
"There is law and then there is fact. I deal with the law."