Lakeland Bank VP resigns after Frelinghuysen plays dirty

Saily Avelenda is a lawyer active with NJ 11th for Change, a group formed to pressure Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen to meet with his constituents.  Until recently, the West Caldwell resident was also was a senior vice president and assistant general counsel at Lakeland Bank.  But then ...

theletter-500.jpgFrelinghuysen wrote to Joseph O'Dowd, a campaign contributor and member of the Board of Directors of Lakeland Bank. Besides asking for a contribution, Frelinghuysen complained about the activities of NJ 11th for Change, a grassroots activist group of Frelinghuysen constituents that has grown from a handful of members to a Super PAC in a few months.

Frelinghuysen’s letter, sent on his campaign stationary, contained this handwritten statement in the same ink and style as his signature: “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!”

Avelenda was the “ringleader” referred; O’Dowd brought the letter to the attention of Avelenda’s superiors at Lakeland Bank. It was made clear that she had a lot of explaining to do. Frelinghuysen’s note put her in a position that ultimately led to her resignation, which was accepted.

“I had to write a statement to my CEO, and at my level as an assistant general counsel and a senior vice president, at this employer it was not something that I expected. I thought my Congressman put them in a situation, and put me in a really bad situation as the constituent, and used his name, used his position and used his stationery to try to punish me,” Avelenda told WNYC, New York public radio, which broke the story Monday morning. Within hours it had gone viral.

Frelinghuysen, a 22-year-veteran of Congress and chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which effectively controls federal government expenditures, had long been thought to be safely ensconced in his congressional seat until he chose to retire.  This year, however, all bets are off, and he is considered vulnerable to replacement by a Democrat in his district, which has been moving slowly to the left at the same time Frelinghuysen was making a beeline to the extreme right.

Most recently he has infuriated constituents by refusing to meet with them in person at Town Halls, and by approving the Trump/Ryan “replacement” health care act.

According to his letter, however, it is not the people he represents who have a problem, but the Democratic Party, even at the national level, which he paints as sharks who finally caught a whiff of blood and are unfairly targeting him: “Let’s be clear that there are organized forces — both national and local — who are already hard at work to put a stop to an agenda of limited government, economic growth, stronger national security,” he wrote, asking for campaign contributions well ahead of the 2018 elections.

O’Dowd, who passed along the letter to Avelenda’s superior, has donated in excess of $1,300 to Frelinghuysen over the years.

Rather than man up and meet his constituents face to face to hear their concerns, Frelinghuysen chose to take a page from the GOP Trumpster in chief and mount a personal attack on, and damage the livelihood of, an opponent who was playing by the rules.

“Congressman Frelinghuysen has moved from refusing to listen to his constituents to intimidating them. All of the residents of the 11th district should be alarmed by such ethically challenging behavior,” said Leslie Huhn, chair of the Democratic Committee of Sussex County, in response to Frelinghuysen’s dirty pool. Frelinghuysen’s district includes Byram, Hopatcong, Ogdensburg, Stanhope and Sparta.