By JOHN T. WARD
One day after a low-friction debate, Red Bank Republicans went on the attack against a Democratic opponent Wednesday.
The GOP, chaired by council candidate Michael Clancy, posted on Facebook a press release titled “Who is Hazim Yassin?” questioning Yassin’s rapid ascent within the local Democratic party and accusing him of “fraud” on either investors or voters.
Yassin dismissed the attack, telling redbankgreen it was “littered with fabrications.”
The GOP statement lays out what it calls a “curious timeline” in which Yassin became a borough resident just a year ago, was appointed to the planning board in January, and two months later won the Democratic party endorsement to run for council in the November 6 election.
Regarding Yassin’s planning board appointment, made by Mayor Pasquale Menna, the GOP said he had “edged out a prominent member of multiple municipal boards and someone who was considered “40 under 40” & a New Jersey Superlawyer to snatch the nomination.”
The press release, citing what it called Yassin’s “shady past,” also:
• questions Yassin’s quick ascent to council candidate within months of moving to town from the Lincroft section of Middletown;
• questions the timing of Yassin’s appointment to the nonprofit Red Bank Borough Education Foundation, where he serves as unpaid treasurer;
• says there are “serious questions” about Yassin’s employment status and whether he works as a “financial advisor” and is licensed as such. It also alleges he either “committed a felony by providing financial advice without a license, or he inflated his thin resume to appear more palatable to voters. Either way, this is fraud.”
• claims that the American Muslim Action Network, which the release calls “Yassin’s ‘non-profit’ corporation,” raised money at two events, and asks, “Did Yassin pocket the cash?”
The release also accuses the American Muslim Action Network of “a clear violation of election laws” for endorsing political candidates without being registered with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
In a statement issued Wednesday night, Yassin said:
“In an attempt to direct attention away from the issues that matter to Red Bank residents, Clancy’s statement is littered with fabrications and demonstrates a profound lack of understanding for basic financial regulations, IRS compliance, and the Democratic process in general. I would like to thank him for commending my service as Treasurer of the Red Bank Borough Education Foundation, which is a position I imagine he would have been willing to volunteer for if it didn’t contradict his stance of sending the names of our schoolchildren to ICE. At the end of the day I am proud of my service to Red Bank, I am proud that this community has been so welcoming, and I am proud of this town that I call home.”
In April, 2017, Clancy resigned from the borough Human Relations Committee amid a controversy over a text message that the committee’s chairman had termed “extremely threatening” to immigrant children. Clancy said the message, in which he indicated he would send a list of borough schoolchildren to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, had been meant as a joke.
In an interview Wednesday night, Yassin, a 29-year-old Toms River native and graduate of the Ranney School, told redbankgreen that contrary to Clancy’s claims, he “actively works” for United Wealth Group, a unit of Wealth Advisory Group LLC, selling insurance and “bringing in clients” for securities and other products that colleagues are licensed to sell.
The website for Wealth Advisory Group, which is itself an agency of the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, includes Yassin’s photo and identifies him as a “financial representative.”
As Yassin spoke, he called up on his phone the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance website, which indicates that he’s a licensed insurance producer. The license is associated with an address that Google shows is the office of United Wealth Group.
Clancy, he said, is “trying to muddle the water, saying I’m not licensed for one thing, when I’m licensed for another thing.”
Yassin said that he moved to Red Bank a year ago from his parents’ home in Lincroft “because I was financially able to move out on my own, and I chose Red Bank because it’s one of the greatest towns in New Jersey. I mean, why wouldn’t I move here?”
His role with the RBBEF, he said, is “a volunteer position that anybody could have stepped up to, and nobody did. The fact that he’s labeling that as suspicious, that’s pretty pathetic.”
In terms of his rapid ascent within the party, Yassin said: “I went through the democratic process, just like anybody else, and I was proud that my fellow county committee and in the primary, the primary voters, chose me.”
He said the implication that state Senator Vin Gopal told him to move to Red Bank is “not true. I don’t know where he got that.”
According to a press release issued in February by local Democratic party chairman and council president Ed Zipprich, Yassin was the top vote-getter of three contenders vying for two spots on this year’s ticket. He outdrew fellow planning board member Richard Angowski and zoning board member Kate Triggiano, who were tied, forcing a run-off, the release said. Triggiano outpolled Angowski on the second ballot.
Yassin said he was a founder of the American Muslim Action Network and served as its president, but resigned earlier this year in order to avoid conflicts with his council candidacy. Contrary to the Republican’s assertion, he said the organization is an Internal Revenue Service 501(c)(4) organization, which is permitted to make political endorsements.
“I don’t know how he can get this so wrong,” he said.
Menna told redbankgreen on Thursday that he had not seen the GOP statement, but defended Yassin’s appointment to the planning board and selection as a candidate.
Board appointments, he said, are recommended by the party in power on the council at the time of the annual reorganization at the start of the year. Just as he appointed those favored by the Republicans when they were in power, he did the same in this case, Menna said.
Yassin has attended all the board’s meetings and “brought a different perspective and is a representative of different elements of our community that had not been represented,” Menna said.
As to Yassin’s selection as a council candidate, Menna said there was “an interfamily debate that was resolved in the democratic process, and in the end we all came together.”
On Thursday, Clancy stood by his assertions that Yassin has a “shady past.”
“His work history is gray and unspecified, he moved to town for the sole purpose of running for office and he’s run a non-profit corporation that had a major fundraiser and then shut off their website and went dark after raising thousands,” he told redbankgreen via email. “That’s a shady past.”
Clancy further said that Yassin’s “planning board and education foundation appointments are a charade. The democrats goal is to pad his questionable resume so he can run for higher office. His entire candidacy deserves scrutiny whether it Yassin at the driver seat or Trenton Democrats. ”
The GOP broadside is the second of this year’s campaign. In August, Clancy accused Triggiano of “cavorting” with a man he said had made “menacing gestures” toward him at a council meeting. The man in question denied the allegation, and Triggiano said that there was “no evidence” that the events Clancy alleged had transpired.
Clancy himself has been in the spotlight over his residency. In 2015, as a candidate for the borough board of education, he signed a notarized ballot petition attesting that he would have lived in the borough for at least a year by the time of the election. In fact, he would have lived in town only 11 months by that date, and thus was not eligible to run.
As reported by redbankgreen, no challenges to Clancy’s petition to run were filed in time, and the Monmouth County Clerk kept his name on the ballot. Clancy later acknowledged that he had made a “blunder” in the process. He finished fifth among six candidates for three board seats.
In next month’s election, Clancy and running mate Allison Gregory are hoping to fill seats being vacated by fellow Republicans Mark Taylor and Mike Whelan, who each chose not to seek a second term. Also in the council race is independent Sue Viscomi. Republican Pearl Lee is challenging Menna for the mayoralty.