Suspended Water Official Gave $1,500+ to Local Politicians in Recent Years

UPDATE (11/25): This article has been updated to include donations made by Edward O'Rourke directly to Mayor James Cahill's campaign.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The man who has been blamed for a years-long cover-up of water quality violations has given more than $1,500 to support local politicians in New Brunswick, according to the Election Law Enforcement Commission's website.

As water quality problems in New Brunswick first made their way onto the state's radar in March, Edward O'Rourke made a $500 contribution to "Friends of Mayor Jim Cahill," a fund to support the re-election of the six-term mayor.

Previously, a woman at the same address named Donna O'Rourke had been giving regularly to Cahill's political fund since September 2009.

Last year, Edward O'Rourke also made two $500 contributions to the New Brunswick Democratic Organization (NBDO) exactly six months apart.  

The NBDO donations appear to be the first reported political donations of O'Rourke's career.  State law requires donations in excess of $300 be reported.

Those gifts were reportedly made on March 13, 2012 and September 13, 2012.  The reporting for the first donation identified him as an employee of the "City of New Brunswick Water Utility," but the second donation lists no employer.

Donna O'Rourke gave $500 to the NBDO on May 14, 2011.  She had previously given $250 to "Friends of Mayor Jim Cahill" on two previous occasions: September 11, 2009 and April 20, 2010.

Ed O'Rourke was hired by the city in 1976 and had been the licensed operator of the city's water plant since the 1980's.  As we reported earlier today, O'Rourke has not been fired by the city.  Instead he is suspended without pay.

The same year O'Rourke gave to the NBDO, Betsy Garlatti, Glenn Fleming, and John Anderson benefited from O'Rourke's $1,000 and won seats on the council.

Fleming defended the decision not to fire O'Rourke at Wednesday's tumultuous Council meeting, while Garlatti and Anderson largely did not speak during the meeting.

"There are bad seeds everywhere.  Things are going to happen. We are a city, just like any other corporation where things happen," Fleming said during an extended monologue.

"I want that person fired also, but there are ways that we have to go about it," the councilman said.  "This is a professional thing we have to do."

Fleming's running mate John Anderson spoke very briefly at the meeting about the water issue, thanking the staff of the Water Utility and downplaying the scandal:  "Unfortunately, the actions of one or two can often lead to a negative reaction from different people."

Garlatti, the longest-serving member of the Council, remained silent for the entire evening.

NBDO Chairman TK Shamy, who also serves as an assistant city attorney, was unavailable for comment this afternoon because he was in a meeting with Mayor James Cahill.  Cahill has yet to address the water quality cover-ups directly.

Attempts to contact the council candidates who most likely benefitted from O'Rourke's donations were also unsuccessful.

City officials did not immediately respond to questions about O'Rourke's upcoming hearing to determine whether he will continue to be a city employee.

Today at City Hall, New Brunswick Today visited Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin, the official who was in charge of the Water Utility during the cover-ups.  He refused to answer questions about the situation until next week.

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Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.