The Hoboken race for mayor has seen a number of candidate polls, the most recent of which appears to show a logjam for the top with Freeholder Anthony Romano and Councilmen Michael DeFusco and Ravi Bhalla neck and neck.
“One thing is for sure, you can bet we won’t know who wins on election night,” said one political observer, believing the race will be so close that each side will challenge votes cast in an effort to get the one or two votes needed to put them over the top.
Councilwoman Jen Giattino appears to be behind the pack, but could play a huge role in determining the next mayor.
For the first time in recent memory, the so called “Reformers” are split.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer has always maintained a determined following, who apparently are willing to throw their support behind Bhalla because of her endorsement.
This has partly resulted in a split among some reformers, who are critical of Bhalla’s inheriting the mayoral throne without significant discussion among those who have supported Zimmer’s philosophies in the past.
Some of these see Zimmer as an ineffective mayor, despite her ability to divide her opponents and maintain power. These critics see Bhalla as equally uninspiring, determined to follow in Zimmer’s footsteps.
But for many Zimmer supporters, this is a good thing, a continuation of a policy that has largely resisted the hefty development impulses going on elsewhere on the waterfront from West New York to lower Jersey City.
A new administration under any of the other mayoral candidates would likely review this supposed anti-development stance in hope to allow Hoboken to get its piece of the economic pie.
Who will vote for whom?
Whereas Bhalla clearly knows who will likely vote for him in November, some of the other candidates don’t.
Giattino needs to draw votes not just out of the Bhalla camp, but also from what is traditionally called “Old Hoboken,” and these votes appear to already be committed to Romano and DeFusco.
She might benefit if state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack decides to back her. But by all indications, Stack will likely stay out of the Hoboken race this November.
DeFusco, who was once seen at the strongest candidate to run head to head against Zimmer, appears to have less support now than before Zimmer’s decision not to seek reelection.
It was presumed that DeFusco would siphon off some new Hoboken voters as well as draw from Old Hoboken. But this remains an untested theory. With the support of Councilman Ruben Ramos, DeFusco may be able to count on voters in the 4th Ward. But it appears that other Old Hoboken voters may be gravitating to Romano – especially if former First Ward Councilwoman Terri Castellano endorses Romano. Councilman Michael Russo appears to be leaning towards Romano as well, possibly part of a deal that could later see Russo become freeholder.
Russo can become king maker as far as this election is concerned. Unlike the 4th Ward, where voters may or may not follow Ramos’ lead, Russo has a huge influence in the 3rd Ward, and his endorsement would likely create a block of votes that would go to Romano.
Where former school trustee Frank Raia ends up may also affect the election, since he can help bankroll a candidate who otherwise might be short of cash.
“But this isn’t really about money,” said another Hoboken political observer. “It’s about knowing where your votes come from.”
Old Hoboken, however, cannot win the mayoral seat for Romano. So his big challenge will be how to get new unaligned new voters to support him rather than Giattino or Bhalla, and perhaps steal just enough former Zimmer voters to get himself elected.
Dirty tricks started already?
The recent lawsuit challenging Romano’s ability to run for two offices on the same ballot – freeholder and mayor – is seen as something orchestrated out of one of the opposition camps.
The suit, however, does not address the fact that this issue is not exclusive to Hoboken. The Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor is also running for reelection to the state legislature. A GOP assembly candidate is also running for the Board of Education in Bayonne.
Several political observers, however, said the suit has the potential to backfire against those opposed to Romano.
“If they force him to choose, he’ll put all his efforts into running for mayor,” one observer said.
Jersey City council races remain complicated
The Jersey City mayoral race is pretty straightforward, with Mayor Steven Fulop challenged by Bill Matsikoudis.
The council races have become quagmire of political intrigue, as numerous candidates scramble to stand out in races that in some wards have as many as seven candidates.
While in some cases council candidates are aligned with one of the two mayoral candidates, many are not.
So the election could result in a council that strongly resembles European parliaments where council members may for temporary alliances over particular legislation, and then oppose each other on other issues.
Fulop’s announcement that he will not seek a third term if reelected makes him largely a lame duck if he manages to win a second term.
The decision by Ward E Councilwoman Candice Osborne to not seek reelection has brought out seven candidates, only one of whom is marginally aligned with Fulop.
The three at large council members, Joyce Watterman, Daniel Rivera and Rolando Lavarro, are running with Fulop. They may be strong. But one of them could be picked off in the upcoming election by a strong maverick candidate.
Unlike Hoboken, Jersey City retains its runoff election cycle, and some believe that many or even all of the council races might wind up in runoffs.
Ultimately, political observers believe Fulop could lose most if not all six ward council seats and thus lose the control of the council he has maintained during his first term as mayor.
Ward F will be a particularly nasty battle, partly because of the political divorce between Fulop and street operative Eugene McKnight.
“Some people around the mayor seem to think Eugene has become too powerful,” one observer said.
This has the potential to unseat Fulop’s candidate, incumbent Jermaine Robinson, if McKnight throws his support behind another candidate.
McKnight helped Fulop gain control of the council in 2012 when he orchestrated the special election victory of Diane Coleman. Some believe he can take the seat away from Fulop. Insiders believe there will be a September surprise that could turn the Ward F election.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.