Weeks ago, rumors began to surface about an audiotape secretly made by Hoboken Housing Authority Director Carmelo Garcia of a lunch conversation he had in January with the mayor's husband, Stan Grossbard.
On Tuesday, Garcia -- who is running for Assembly in November -- filed a lawsuit against Zimmer, Grossbard, and former housing board chairman Jake Stuiver alleging that they have interfered improperly in Hoboken Housing Authority affairs and engaged in what the lawsuit says is “an ambitious political quest to transform Hoboken politically and ethnically.”
Garcia is the director of Hoboken's low-income public housing, where thousands of families live (and vote). The projects have often been the scene of a power struggle among warring factions in town. Garcia is overseen by an unpaid seven-member board of commissioners, and since last summer, Mayor Dawn Zimmer's allies have held the majority on the board.
This has resulted in struggles between Garcia and Zimmer's allies over issues such as the future renovations of the projects (involving millions of dollars in contracts) and which lawyer to hire.
In January, Garcia had lunch in New York with Zimmer's husband, Stan Grossbard, and former State Sen. Bernard Kenny -- and apparently secretly taped it.
The transcript, obtained by the Reporter, came to light after it was cited in a July 18 deposition of Zimmer in a completely separate discrimination lawsuit brought by former Hoboken Public Safety Director Angel Alicea against the city. The transcript of the tape sheds a light on power relationships and attempts by both political sides to determine the direction of the public housing projects.
Louis Zayas, a North Bergen-based attorney with a history of working for clients opposed to City Hall, is representing Garcia in his lawsuit against Zimmer and also representing Angel Alicea, who is in an unrelated matter suing Zimmer due to his job loss.
Both Grossbard (the mayor's husband) and Garcia have different opinions as to what the contents of the recorded conversation represent, with the mayor’s husband arguing that the conversation was an unsuccessful attempt by Garcia to entrap him into making some sort of illegal agreement, and Zayas saying that Garcia recorded the meeting in an effort to gain evidence of Grossbard’s alleged role as Zimmer’s de facto political emissary, and to provide evidence for the lawsuit against Grossbard and Zimmer, which he says has been planned for several months. Garcia's suit attempts to paint the pair, as well as Stuivier, as improperly interfering in his job and trying to pressure him to make certain decisions about personnel and other matters.
The HHA is meant to be an autonomous agency from City Hall. It is also an important one in Hoboken -- a body entrusted with maintaining the quality of life of the city's most vulnerable residents. As a source of thousands of votes, it has also been a site for political machinations and mudslinging for decades.
Tape recording a conversation is legal both in the state of New York, where the lunch conversation took place, as well as in New Jersey. Zayas refused to say this week whether Garcia has taped conversations with any other officials.
Garcia referred all questions to Zayas.
In one of many interesting side notes, according to a transcript of the tape, Garcia tells Grossbard that he may be willing to support Mayor Zimmer for re-election this November if she allows him greater leeway to do what he wants to do. It is surprising because Zimmer is facing Assemblyman Ruben Ramos Jr. for mayor in November, and Garcia is thought to be supporting Ramos over ZImmer.
Zimmer said Thursday morning that she had not seen the lawsuit and thus could not comment on it yet.
The tape and lawsuit provide many more details that shed light on the types of machinations and accusations that inform politics in Hoboken, a mile square city with changing demographics and millions of dollars in contracts always hanging in the balance. Check hudsonreporter.com later for more details about this story, and watch for a longer story in this weekend's edition of the Hoboken Reporter. – Dean DeChiaro