Mayor Dawn Zimmer delivered some good news for residents in her State of the City address on Feb. 22 in the DeBaun Auditorium at Stevens: Taxes are going down “significantly more this year.”
The mayor stuck to major city talking points in her speech, including the crumbling waterfront, fiscal responsibility, open space, parking, quality of life issues, and tax relief. She also struck a few subtle jabs at her political opponents.
Delivering a State of the City was a first for Zimmer and an uncommon practice for Hoboken mayors.
The major news to emerge from the hour-long speech was that a $20 million bond ordinance for the acquisition of new parks will be proposed to the City Council on March 2. The idea initially was made public in December, when Zimmer hosted a well-attended public meeting announcing that her administration had plans to introduce a bond to acquire more park space. However, until the State of the City address, Zimmer had not introduced any specific details.
“Now is the time to act to improve the lives of Hoboken residents forever.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
The bond would be paid for entirely with revenue from the Open Space Trust Fund and “would not cost taxpayers a single additional dollar,” according to Zimmer.
Various members of the council, some of whom politically oppose Zimmer, expressed concerns last week.
Councilman Tim Occhipinti said that he is looking forward to more discussion about the acquisition of parks, but wanted to know where the parks will be located.
If Zimmer’s speech is an indication of where new park space will emerge, Occhipinti’s southwestern portion of the city in the 4th Ward will most likely benefit from the proposed legislation.
“Our focus should be new parks in our underserved neighborhoods along the western side of the city from north to south, so that every Hoboken resident will be a short walk from a quality park,” Zimmer said in the speech.
Zimmer also set forth three goals for her administration, which include “operating with fiscal responsibility,” addressing the city’s “significant infrastructure challenges,” and improving “the quality of life for all Hoboken residents.”
Local campaign finance reform
In a sign of the political makeup of the crowd, audience members booed when Zimmer mentioned that the council recently voted down a controversial campaign finance reform put forth by the administration. Zimmer had pushed a measure against “wheeling,” the practice of donating large sums of one’s own money to a political candidate through a political action committee (PAC) in order to get around caps on individual donations. The measure was partly inspired by the actions of Council President Beth Mason, who (with her family) had donated a total of $13,000 to Occhipinti’s campaign last November. Mason used a PAC to donate some of the money.
Zimmer vs. opponents
In the speech, Zimmer had issued a veiled shot at Councilman Michael Russo, a political opponent of hers. “Our city is tired of politicians who call themselves ‘budget hawks’ while they throw away our dollars as they pretend to count pennies,” Zimmer said. Russo has described himself in the past as a “budget hawk.”
Russo issued rebuttals last week to several of Zimmer’s points.
“When it suits her purposes, the mayor will take credit for waterfront accomplishments, like Pier C Park and the park at Maxwell Place,” Russo said. “But when it’s not politically convenient, she pushes the blame on every administration that preceded hers. It’s time for the mayor to stop blaming everyone else for the problems of current-day Hoboken.”
Those comments were in response to one of Zimmer’s remarks, which was, “If we had spent more wisely when we built our waterfront and done the necessary maintenance, perhaps we would not now be facing an estimated $20 million dollar price tag to rebuild [the waterfront]. But as I told the New York Times a few weeks ago during a tour I gave them of our waterfront, I cannot take back the decisions of the past, but it is my job to solve the problems for the future.”
Russo also said that one particular line in Zimmer’s speech was “especially offensive” to him.
Zimmer had said, “With shipworms eating our waterfront, termites at City Hall, and flooding, I sometimes feel like I am taking on the plagues of Hoboken.”
“It says a great deal about the mayor’s true colors,” Russo said. “Her sometimes-condescending comments are very revealing. There are no plagues in Hoboken, Mayor Zimmer. This is a beautiful city with wonderful people. I hope, as you get more comfortable in your job, you’ll consider it a blessing to serve her citizens.”
A perhaps less controversial response was issued by Council President Beth Mason, who issued a letter congratulating Zimmer “not only on a job well done” but for addressing issues that are important to residents of the 2nd Ward.
But Mason said her concern still lies with the city’s budget surplus. In the past, Mason has said that it’s a high surplus and that some of it should be given back to the strapped taxpayers.
“I remain steadfast that as much of the surplus as possible must be used to provide immediate property tax relief,” Mason said.
The parks ordinance will be addressed at the upcoming City Council meeting, according to Zimmer.
The budget will also be introduced on March 2, and amended throughout the month.
Budget workshops, which are open to the public, are scheduled for March 9 and March 23 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Before the budget is approved, a public hearing must be held at least 28 days after the introduction on March 2. No formal date has been set for this hearing yet.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com