Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"I'm George Muschal. I'll never change."

One of the many "Tony Mackiavellian" cartoons
by former Trentonian editor Joey Kulkin

BENNINGTON -- Trenton's new interim mayor George Muschal is about to find out what Hunter S. Thompson meant by the phrase buy the ticket, take the ride.

"It's been chaos with the media!" Muschal told an old Trentonian editor who left Capital City 20 months ago but still keeps up and called today to see if Muschal was flipping cartwheels in his mind because of what happened in a federal courtroom 24 hours earlier.

A jury convicted Tony Mack on 6 counts of bribery, thus ending his only term 6 months early. As president of the Trenton City Council, Muschal becomes "Mayor Muschal" once the paperwork clears Monday and he's sworn in. 

He'll become Trenton's third mayor since Art Holland 25 years ago. 

Doug Palmer followed Holland in 1990 as the first black mayor in Trenton history and worked the post for 20 years before Mack won the 2010 election. Muschal wouldn't say if he's running for the seat full-time in a few months but odds are he will.

Mayor George Muschal, huh? Quite a long, strange trip for a 65-year-old who, as a kid, hawked 3 newspapers across much of the South Ward.

"I still have the picture of me in The Trentonian being named Most Aggressive Paperboy!" Muschal said with great pep in his voice. "I delivered The Trentonian, Trenton Times and Philly Inquirer over 18 blocks. I made one hundred and twenty-five dollars a week -- that was a lot of money then!"

After graduating Trenton High in 1966, then police academy, Muschal became a Trenton cop and walked the beat for 39 years. He said being stabbed and, during the Gordon kidnapping case of '72 having a gun shoved in his mouth, remain two of his badges of honor.

For 20 minutes he explained why Tony Mack, one of the best athletes Trenton's ever known, fell victim to political hubris and failed his way to prison. 

"Tony listened to everybody, and the wrong people pushed him in the wrong direction." Guys like JoJo Giorgianni and his brother, Ralphiel Mack, both of whom were indicted in the FBI's case of kickbacks relating to a phantom parking garage contract. JoJo pleaded out and Ralphiel was convicted on 3 counts of bribery.

The passion in Muschal's voice increased as questions focused on Tony Mack. He said Mack once told him "I'm like Teflon, George." 

In the beginning of his term, however, Mack would show up to Muschal's Wishy-Washy Laundromat and fixate on removing City Clerk Dee Dee Stanton because she was one of Palmer's people. "He'd say, George, I have to get rid of Dee Dee. George, how do I get rid of Dee Dee?" Muschal said Mack's behavior bordered on psychotic.

So he finally got rid of Dee Dee Stanton and put in his own clerk.

And the hits kept on coming.

Mack began to guzzle more and more of his own Kool-Aid and poo-poo'd Muschal time and again even after Muschal went to the AG's office with grave concerns about the city ledger. "I said, Tony, stop it! Stop it now! But he said, I've gotta do what I've gotta do. Marge Caldwell-Wilson went to him to try to get him to stop.

"I didn't know he didn't have money or a pot to piss in or I would have helped him," Muschal said, his voice reaching a crescendo of speed and passion, as those who know him know what that sounds like because sometimes he forgets to take a breath. Muschal was one of Mack's biggest supporters during the 2010 mayoral campaign. "I worked hard for him."

Muschal's blood boiled when he'd show up to City Hall and see "10 guys with brooms and shovels and I'd say, What are you guys doing here? And they said, We're cleaning up the parking lot. Then they'd be disrespecting women like, Hey, baby! How ya doing, baby!? Tony was paying them 10 bucks an hour. I went to Tony and said you can't do that and he said, George, they're my friends."

Muschal said Mack and his gang brandished a "catch us if you can" attitude as they raided the rec department budget, where the real money was. Trenton's cop shop and firehouse, meanwhile, were turning into flophouses. Firetrucks went on calls carrying outdated ladders and/or unsafe ropes. Scuba gear had holes. The TPD ran out of ammo often and had to go to the county to re-up.

"Those are things the public didn't know about!" Muschal said angrily.

The interstate call went on like this for 10-15 more minutes before the guy on the other end of the line in Vermont tried to steer George to a new reality: Mayor George Muschal.

"You should know me -- I work every day in the city," he said. "I'm hands-on. I'm the one out there with the snowplow and I never take a penny from anyone so this isn't changing the life of George Muschal."

The caller remained amused and intrigued by Muschal's ascent to the top and asked, You mean to tell me you haven't looked in the mirror yet and said, I'm Mayor George Muschal.

"I'm still George Muschal. I'll never change," he said. 

As for what Trentonians can expect from government on his watch, Muschal said "It'll be honest, honest honest for the first time in 25 years!

"I have a plan ... economic development and fixing the police and fire departments."

[Times of Trenton editorial: Quit now, Mack!]