Political blood in the water in Bayonne?
Jun 23, 2013 | 6385 views | 1 1 comments | 162 162 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With Mayor Mark Smith voted out as chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, and his key advisor Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell bowing out of the race to become chairman of the state Democratic committee, opponents believe the time is ripe for an uprising in Bayonne. Like sharks attracted by blood in the water, would-be opponents of the Smith administration are swirling around in anticipation of the May 2014 municipal elections.

Their problem, however, is that they need candidates to run.

Without former Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone or retired Municipal Judge Pat Conaghan the opposition seems to have no leader, even through the town has many issues to run on.

Ed Gilligan, Pat Desmond and others who are involved in saving traditional rent control may be able to organize a good base of votes through their campaign. But no one has yet stepped forward to take leadership.

Former 3rd Ward Councilman Gary LaPelusa seems poised to run again. But he is not saying what he will run for. In Bayonne, the mayor and all five council people are elected all at once every four years.

While former Vice Principal Denis Wilbeck has run in the past and will likely run again, many believe that a new batch of candidates will likely emerge as a result of ongoing conflicts in the school district, where teachers and secretaries have not been able to forge a contract with the school district. Since Smith appoints the school trustees and his brother Leo Smith serves as the schools business administrator, some blame the administration for the lack of a contract.

Bayonne will likely face a municipal budget shortfall in 2014, giving even more fodder to a challenging ticket – provided the opposition can find anyone to run.

Can you say Mayor Sal Vega?

Two years ago when Dr. Felix Roque beat then-Mayor Sal Vega, most believed Vega’s political career had come to an end.

But as actor Sean Connery found out when he said in the early 1970s that he would never play James Bond again, in politics you must learn to never say never.

While questioned by some, Vega’s recent successful fundraiser seemed to show he has resilience and could well make his way back to the top of the heap. But he may have to take this in small steps.

Many people are anticipating the resignation of Mayor Roque as a result of charges that have been filed against him and his son. Roque might well be found not guilty. And thus all the plans of mice and men will have gone for naught. Commissioner Count Wiley has mounted a recall campaign that, if successful, would likely unseat Roque in a special election in the fall. But recall elections can be unpredictable.

Even if Roque is convicted or steps down as a result of some plea deal with federal prosecutors, the special election would be for his commissioner’s seat, not for mayor. In West New York, voters elect a Board of Commissioners, who then pick one of their own to serve as mayor. It is unlikely that the remaining four commissioners will come up with the three votes needed to select a mayor, so Commissioner Fior D’Aliza Frias will likely remain as acting mayor until after the special election to fill Roque’s seat. That’s when the real arm twisting will start.

Lining up behind Ramos?

Can Assemblyman Ruben Ramos beat Mayor Dawn Zimmer?

That is the question most on the minds of those caught in the middle ground between the two declared candidates. Many of what are loosely called “the Old Guard,” defined roughly as traditional residents of Hoboken, are expected to back Ramos because he supposedly represents their interests. He came out early with the expectation that if he led the pack he could do away with the usual internal bickering that has crippled the anti-Zimmer people in the past. It was a brilliant move, but one that also angered some old timers who believe they were entitled to a voice in the selection of candidates. Former school trustee Frank Raia is even considering running his own slate of candidates with or without a mayoral candidate, a move that would almost certainly spell a loss for Ramos.

If Ramos is to win, he needs the full support of the anti-Zimmer coalition, and he will need some issue or Zimmer weakness to exploit.

Some in his camp hope to repeat what Peter Cammarano accomplished in 2009 when he beat Zimmer in the runoff. (But he was arrested soon after in the federal Bid Rig II sting, leaving an open field for a Zimmer win.)

Four years later, the coalition once behind Cammarano is far weaker than it was, and many are depending on votes farmed out of the Housing Authority buildings.

One of the key campaign issues will be Vision 20/20, a proposal to replace aged authority buildings with new facilities generated by Ramos ally and HHA Executive Director Carmelo Garcia. Many Zimmer people oppose the plan. Supporters of the project seem to be playing the “race card,” quietly accusing those opposed to the project of racism because those who benefit most from the revamped housing would be poor and often people of color. Opponents of Vision 20/20 say they do not trust those who are in charge of the project and want more accountability over housing waiting lists as well as the proposed use of development fees Vision 20/20 will generate.

Zimmer has been painted as anti-development. But one reason for the slow pace of development in Hoboken lately has to do with the depleted membership of the Zoning Board. The battle over filling the vacant ninth City Council seat has thwarted the council’s ability to appoint zoning members. While the board can still operate since it still has enough working members to vote on projects, developers who need a super majority vote on some zoning approvals may be reluctant to submit applications since they would need all five of the current members to vote for approval.

The divided council may be reluctant to vote to appoint new Zoning Board members because Zimmer could stack the board with people who support her development philosophy. If Ramos or some other anti-Zimmer candidate gets elected, he or she would be stuck with those board members for years.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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June 23, 2013
I hope that Hoboken will never suffer a repeat of the election of someone like Peter Cammerano.

As many remember the key to Cammerano's corruption charges and downfall was that he said he could deliver favorable Zoning Board decisions to a developer for a price.