William V. Musto (March 27, 1917 – February 27, 2006), also known as Billy Musto or Bill Musto, was an American Democratic politician who was sentenced to prison for corruption. He was the Mayor of Union City, New Jersey, from 1962 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1982. He served in the New Jersey General Assembly from 1947 to 1966 and in the New Jersey Senate from 1966 to 1982. The New York Times called him a "charismatic and visionary force" in New Jersey politics for decades.
Musto was born in West Hoboken (now part of Union City) on March 27, 1917. He had a brother, Patrick Roy Musto. He was a graduate of John Marshall Law School (now the Seton Hall University School of Law) in Newark. He served in World War II as a Captain in the 80th Division, 315th FA, Co C (as CO), General George S. Patton's Third Army, earning a Bronze Star.
In 1946 Musto was elected to the New Jersey assembly, where he started his long political career. After three years in the assembly working alongside Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, Musto allied himself with the John V. Kenny Victory Ticket in 1949, and by 1953 became the Democratic minority leader of the state assembly. By 1965, Musto was elected to the New Jersey State Senate. In 1970 he lost the city election to reform candidate William Meehan, and did not return to the mayoral seat until 1974, where he served in a second, non-consecutive term until the 1982 election.
In 1972 Musto originated the North Hudson Council of Mayors, which was meant to offset Jersey City's 'dominance' of county government. He is also responsible for originating the New Jersey State Lottery, and casino gambling in the area, funds from which were used for education. He is also credited with revitalizing the New Jersey Meadowlands. He was known for being an advocate of women's rights and health care reform.
In 1977 investigations began into the city's dealings with Rudolph Orlandini, who was hired for a $2.2 million project to construct additions on the city's two high schools at the time, Emerson High School and Union Hill High School, projects that ultimately incurred $12 million in spending. In 1979, with a trial looming, Deputy Public Works Director Bruce D. Walter and Board of Education Secretary Robert Menendez (both of whom would later serve terms as Mayor of Union City) formed the Alliance Civic Association, and publicly questioned the overrun costs on Orlandini's construction company.
In April 1981, a grand jury indicted Musto and six others on 36 counts of racketeering, extortion and fraud. They were eventually convicted of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from Orlandini, in part due to testimony by Menendez, a former aide of Musto's. Musto's conviction drew disbelief from some of his contemporaries, as well as skepticism at the validity of the accusations against him. On March 26, 1982, Musto and his co-defendants were convicted in skimming $600,000 in kickbacks from Orlandini contracts for the school construction projects. Musto was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Despite his legal troubles, Musto still managed to maintain his adoration from Union City and continued his 1982 reelection campaign for the city commission, winning the election against Menendez on May 11, 1982, the day after his sentencing. The courts forced him from office, and his wife, Rhyta, won her husband's seat in a special election. He was succeeded in the New Jersey Senate by Christopher Jackman. After two years of appeals, Musto began serving his prison sentence in 1984 on a reduced sentence of five years. After serving three and a half years, he was granted early parole to a Manhattan halfway house in 1987, where he stayed for two months.
Retirement and death
Musto retired from the public eye following his release, and continued to proclaim his innocence for the rest of his life. In his free time, he was a member of the American Legion and VFW, as well as a member of The Elks. He also served as Honorary Chairman of the American Red Cross, North Hudson Chapter.
Musto died on February 27, 2006 at the age of 88 from complications of Alzheimer's disease. He was survived by his wife of 60 years, Rhyta, (née Palmerini), his son Patrick E. Musto and daughter Patricia Griffin, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was buried in Fairview Cemetery.
On June 18, 2011, Union City honored Musto by opening the William V. Musto Cultural Center, which houses the Union City Museum of Art, the Union City Police Museum, the Union City Art Gallery and Concert Hall, the Union City Museum of History and a senior citizen center. The center is housed in the former public library on 15th Street, which was originally built by Cranwell family builders, with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. The naming of the center drew criticism from Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Governor Chris Christie, who questioned the appropriateness of honoring a convicted felon, but Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack, who began volunteering on Musto campaigns as a young boy, and was present at age 16 at Musto's sentencing, pushed to name the building after his former mentor, and defended the decision by praising Musto's fairness toward rich and poor alike, and his generosity in helping those in need. Said Stack, "He changed the physical and political landscape of the state. He created the Meadowlands Racetrack, was the father of casino gambling in Atlantic City, he single-handedly created the (political) career of former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley. [At his sentencing], the judge said a lifetime of good is not wiped out by one wrong." James Plaisted, the lead prosecutor in the 1982 case, agreed with Stack, saying, "The senator dedicated his life to public service for his community over many decades. Those good works over such a long period of time should be recognized."
- Rosero, Jessica. "The last boss: Former Mayor, State Senator, and Assemblyman William Musto dies at 88". Union City Reporter. March 5, 2006. Accessed March 6, 2008.
- Kim, Yung. "William Musto, 88; official ousted in corruption scandal", The Record, March 1, 2006. Accessed March 6, 2008.
- Gettleman, Jeffrey. "William Musto, 88, a Mayor Re-elected on His Way to Jail, Is Dead", The New York Times, March 1, 2006. Accessed March 6, 2008.
- Mestanza, Jean-Pierre (June 11, 2011). "William V. Musto Cultural Center in Union City officially opens". NJ.com.
- "15 Most corrupt politicians in N.J. history". NJ.com. March 10, 2014.
- Sanabria, Santo. "New UC center holds museums, senior center" The Union City Reporter. June 19, 2011. pages 1 and 14
- Abby Levine and Craig Radhuber. A Visit to the Museum Archived 2012-03-30 at the Wayback Machine". The Hudson Independent News. August 2011. page 4
- Archilla, Dylan M. "'Pop' goes the donation Cola giant lends a hand to UC literacy", The Hudson Reporter January 24, 2003]
- Nardone, Christine. "Closing the books Plans for a central library may close other two". The Hudson Reporter. 2002. accessed January 19, 2010
- Mestanza, Jean-Pierre (June 3, 2011). "Union City naming new Cultural Center for discredited ex-mayor". NJ.com
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