After a year and a half of waiting breathlessly for the outcome of the charges against Felix Roque and his son, Joseph, those hoping to replace Roque as mayor may have to wait a little while longer. This is not because the outcome of the trial will drag on. If anything, by the time this column comes out, news of Roque’s fate may have spread far and wide. No, those seeking to replace him will not have first dibs on his seat, but will have to wait another year for a special election.
Insiders close to Roque are not going to let anything like a potential federal conviction put them out of office so soon, and have already, reports suggest, found a suitable replacement from the Board of Education whom they will plug into Roque’s seat until they can come up with a better strategy. If Roque is found not guilty, then they will have almost two years to regroup.
Theories vary on the political impact of court victory for Roque. Some believe that if he son takes the blame for the alleged hacking into the website of political opponents, then family-oriented residents in West New York will drum the father out of office for not protecting his son.
But insiders shouldn’t head for the paper shredders yet. In Hudson County, everybody loves a winner, and another school of thought thinks Roque will be even stronger for having gone through the fire.
This could pose a problem for Commissioner Count Wiley with his move to recall the other commissioners, even if Roque is still there. Wiley figures the sooner he gets the lot of them out, the sooner he can fumigate City Hall and get on with city business. But a strong Roque could mean a repeat of the recall of Mayor Anthony DeFino, which saw voters approve dumping him, only to immediately reelect DeFino on the same ballot.
What’s a son to do?
Roque’s trial hinges on whether or not the jury will find sympathy for him and the plight of a loving son, Joseph, who admitted in court that he felt the urge to help his father.
Everybody knows that Hudson County politics is a shark’s den and that there are some pretty ruthless people who would eke out revenge against anyone who might wander into their water.
Roque became an easy target because he won against the political machine, a military man whose victory came as a result of synergy of political factors: his opponent, then-Mayor Sal Vega, raised taxes, hoisted blame on Rep. Albio Sires, and cut a number of Sires job-holders. In making an enemy of Sires, Vega brought together a powerful coalition of supporters that included Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who had his own reasons for disliking Vega. Stack won his state Senate seat over Vega in what is seen as a particularly nasty campaign. So with Sires and Stack on his side – along with the unspoken support of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez – Roque beat an already weakened Hudson County Democratic Organization which was behind Vega.
After getting elected, however, Roque managed to offend many of those who supported him, and even though he has since made up with a number of them, he can’t count (pun intended) on them to stand behind him when the political sharks try to unseat him and his administration.
Roque will have to rely on the good will of his own community to beat back any challenge, and this may not be possible with some many former supporters looking to take his place.
For his political insiders, this means reinventing the wheel – finding a new candidate who will seem as wholesome as Roque did when first election. This will likely involve some deal-making behind the scenes – even deal making with some of the sharks from whom Roque’s son tried to protect his father.
The best of times for Zimmer?
There is a lot of name-calling taking place in Hoboken these days as supporters of mayoral hopeful Ruben Ramos call Councilman Tim Occhipinti a spoiler.
While the point can be argued, Occhipinti’s entering the race may provide previously unseen opportunities for voters, who thought they would have to choose between supporting Ramos and his ticket or voting for Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
Ramos mistakenly assumed that anti-Zimmer people would fall in line behind him if he put out his ticket early. His mistake is that he didn’t think to talk to any of those he hoped would support him and gave them the ultimatum to accept his ticket without input.
Although anything is possible, Ramos looks less likely to win against Zimmer than he did prior to Occhipinti’s entering the race.
But as peeved as Ramos supporters might be, Zimmer is not out of the woods. Occhipinti thinks he can bring together anti-Zimmer forces. Some working for him see a possibility of stealing the council from her.
With three tickets and nine candidates, there is even an outside chance that unaffiliated candidates might be able to take advantage of the split vote, and slip into a council seat.
For Zimmer, who pushed to have a November election without a runoff, this is the worst possible scenario.
Currently the council is split four to four with one seat vacant. If any candidate other than those on Zimmer ticket wins, then that person becomes a power broker who can broker deals and become in effect the most powerful person in Hoboken until the next election in 2015.
Emails became an issue this week as Zimmer opponents filed an OPRA request for exchanges between Zimmer and her husband using official city email accounts. The request, apparently, was denied.
Meanwhile, local blogger Nancy Pincus (AKA the Grafix Avenger), acting as her own attorney, began serving notice to various witnesses in her defense to a suit against her by Lane Bajardi alleging libel.