Trenton Mayor George Muschal owns a rural down home transparency that almost contradicts his leading man role of this capital city.
Muschal sounded Will Rogers-like during a recent discussion about a potential removal of police Director Ralph Rivera.
“I was always told never to get rid of an old pair of shoes if you don’t have a replacement for the pair you have,” Muschal said.
Muschal confessed a candidate to take over for Rivera but it’s doubtful Trenton’s interim mayor will wade into such turbulent waters, not even for a recognized arch enemy.
“It is what it . Yes, we talk but he doesn’t tell me much,” Muschal said. “But we’ve always had our problems. I just don’t agree on how (Rivera) does his policing. If things were running smoothly, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Hey, what we have here is two old-time police guys butting heads.”
Muschal, a retired Trenton 40-year police officer, will serve as mayor until July 1, 2014. A federal jury in February convicted former Mayor Tony F. Mack on six counts of corruption.
Mack held off removal for 19 days before Judge Mary Jacobson ordered him off his job. Mack awaits a May 14 sentencing date before Judge Michael Shipp.
Muschal, in his own words, “hit the ground running” with initiatives to reopen four closed satellite libraries. He immediately fired three Mack political associates who had stayed on post Mack conviction.
Rivera and Muschal had waged verbal combat that stopped just shy of something more sinister. They regularly volleyed insults in both print and during city council meetings where Muschal still holds his South Ward seat.
“The man is incompetent,” Muschal criticized.
Rivera excoriated his rival.
“You’re limited as far as management skills go,” Rivera said. He derisively said that Muschal never rose to the rank of a supervisor in the police department. “Someone who hasn’t had that experience, who stayed a patrolman level his entire career, sometimes I don’t think you get it.”
Anyone who knows Muschal understands that Rivera cut deep with that assessment. Muschal, now with charge over Rivera, even hinted that he might consider sending Rivera home with a pink slip.
Muschal would need approval from the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services, doubtful this late in the game.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of mayoral candidates. And I don’t think Rivera lasts after the next mayor is elected. If I don’t get rid of him, he’s history anyway,” Muschal alleged.
If Muschal is right then no need exists for termination of Rivera unless this matter remains more about personality then personnel. Enough blood-curdling words have been expressed to underscore their simmered dislike of each other.
“If things were running smoothly, I wouldn’t even give this a second thought but Rivera hasn’t had the greatest two years. Even now, I don’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t tell me anything about policing,” Muschal accused.
Muschal, held a respectful rank with his police brethren until he complained that police officers were not responding to citizens’ complaints.
Rivera used as leverage that salvo. The embattled police director alleged that commanders and police officers asked him to appear before city council to say something in response to Muschal’s comments.
Still, many old guard police officers and current union heads dislike Rivera. Muschal even mentioned turning back toward a police chief instead of a director.
That comment gained him favor from police bigs. An attempt to remove Rivera would gain Muschal instant love from many rank and file.
Mayor Muschal should remain focused on his immediate duties which require him to holding together a city until residents elect a new leader.
“Hey, I don’t like firing people,” Muschal said. “If that happens then it’s on his resume. Getting fired never looked good on anybody’s resume. It would just be easier if Rivera resigned, just walked away.”
L.A. Parker is a Trentonian columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter@laparker6.