The second candidate is 6th Ward Councilman Dave Roberts, the owner of East L.A. restaurant and a landlord for several properties in town. Roberts' "Hoboken United" ticket is backed by State Sen. Bernard Kenny and Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons and has the capital to compete with the Russo political machine. He believes there has been "overdevelopment" in town without enough proper planning, and he also thinks that Russo has instilled a climate in which people are afraid to speak out against his policies. Another issue he wants to address is taxes, which he thinks are still too high. Roberts was an ally of Russo's until he broke with him two years ago.
The third candidate is community activist Dan Tumpson, a software developer with a doctorate in physics. For years, Tumpson has been a strong advocate against changes to the city's rent control law that could hurt tenants. He is also a firm opponent of any new development without a comprehensive Environmental Impact Study. He does not have experience in serving in city government.
Mayor of Hoboken is a full-time job that involves managing a $54.8 million budget and overseeing three city departments (Environmental Services, Human Services and Administration).
The election will be held Tuesday, May 8. However, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held in June.
In the last two weeks, the Reporter has profiled all 12 of the Hoboken residents who are running for three slots on the City Council. Each mayoral candidate has a slate of three council candidates running with him, and there are three independent council candidates. To read those profiles, check www.hobokenreporter.com.
This Wednesday, Cablevision and the Hoboken Reporter will host a one-hour debate in which the three mayoral candidates can discuss relevant issues for the May 8 election. Questions will be posed by reporters from Cablevision and from the Hoboken Reporter. The show will air on cable channel 70 twice in the early morning, three times at night and once at 11 a.m. on a Sunday. The air times are as follows: Wednesday, May 2 at 9 p.m.; Thursday, May 3 at 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.; Friday, May 4 a 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 6 at 11 a.m., and Monday May 7 at 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
The Reporter will also include an article on the debate in next weekend's edition.
David Roberts, 44, is running for mayor on the Hoboken United ticket. He is currently a Hoboken councilman, representing the city's 6th Ward. Roberts was first elected to the City Council as an independent in 1985. Since then, he has been re-elected to four consecutive terms.
As mayor, Roberts' priorities would be to end what he deems irresponsible development, retain and add to the affordable housing rolls, work to reduce taxes by controlling spending and waste, improve parking, improve traffic conditions, establish a high level of ethics in City Hall, and increase citizen participation in municipal government.
Roberts, a life-long Hoboken Resident, graduated from St. Ann's Elementary School and Hoboken High School. He attended Jersey city State College and Thomas Edison State College. In July of 1981, Roberts joined the Hoboken Fire Department, where he served until elected to the City Council in 1985. He received a Class III Valor Award for the successful team rescue of two young children.
Roberts also has several local business interests. Over the years, the Roberts family has developed a grocery and magazine store called Hoboken Daily News; the Madison Bar and Grill; Amanda's Restaurant; and the Westside Plaza. They currently own and operate East L.A., a very popular Mexican restaurant on Washington Street. (Roberts does not currently own Amanda's Restaurant.)
Roberts married the former Anna Maria LaMastra in 1984. They have 3 children, Amanda, 12, David Joseph, 10, and Christopher, 4.
Roberts believes that excessive and inappropriate development threatens Hoboken's quality of life. He feels that large-scale developments are encouraged by a weak zoning code and frequent variances, and have resulted in what he terms horrendous traffic congestion and city overcrowding. He said that there should be a moratorium on variances for new developments.
"There are some real concerns about how much this old charming town can accommodate," said Roberts in an interview Wednesday. "Parking is a nightmare and we are in a traffic crisis. The granting of variances should be stopped. We need to have a capacity study completed that will allow us to update and craft a new master plan that will reflect the small scale of Hoboken."
According to Roberts, a capacity study would include all aspects of growth and development. It would examine traffic (motor vehicle and pedestrian), parking, sewage, construction and development of new units. Roberts believes that his capacity study is different from the Hoboken Parking Authority's traffic study (which was only very recently completed and released by that agency) because his capacity study would take into account factors such as new building units and sewage.
Roberts proposed a resolution to undertake such a study in a Council meeting in February, but it was voted down because some members of the council felt that there is not funding for such an undertaking and that such a study would only be the duplication of the information that the Traffic Study will provide.
Like many of Russo's opponents, Roberts did not make development an issue until he ran for re-election in 1999. In fact, Roberts had been a strong advocate of dense development on Hoboken's waterfront in the early to mid 1990s.
When running for reelection in 1995, Roberts showed his support for massive development on the waterfront by saying, "I would like to see the Hoboken waterfront fully developed from the Weehawken to the Jersey City borders. I am happy to be part of the current administration which creatively achieved a consensus plan, demonstrated its professionalism in government and persuaded the Port Authority to commit $93 million to the development."
When asked if he had changed his mind on development last week, Roberts said, "If you took a snap shot of Hoboken in the early '90s you would see that we are in need of development." "Our entire waterfront was in dire need of refurbishment. That project was good and smart urban planning because it was placed so close to hubs of mass transit. But now, high density is occurring all over the city. Look at the massive buildings on Clinton Street and Observer Highway. There are high rises all over the city. These are the projects that are inappropriate."
Roberts feels that the current administration has not done the job that it should have when it comes to maintaining and creating new affordable housing. Roberts is a small-time developer of affordable housing in Hoboken. He just recently completed a development on Park Avenue, which with the cooperation of state and county departments, will place 20 units of affordable housing on that property.
"Hoboken is a community which over the last 30 years has established one of the most extensive collections of affordable housing in New Jersey," said Roberts. "Every administration has either retained or added to that number, at least, until this last administration. Affordable housing is important, and maintaining our diversity is in our vital interest."
Roberts went on to say that Russo has not paid nearly enough attention to the issue. "We need to treat this decline [of affordable units] as an emergency," he said. "That is what that mayor should have done all along. If elected, I will pursue options that construct buildings that yield 100 percent affordable housing units and not luxury high rises that only have 20 percent affordable units like the mayor proposes."
Roberts said that there are ways to do this. "There are projects like the HOME project where the state provides a grant to rehabilitate their building if the owner agrees that it will be used for affordable housing for a very substantial period of time," said Roberts.
Roberts recently opposed a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes for a development that provided 23 percent affordable units by saying the city will lose much need funds and that that it was merely a "sweetheart deal" for a developer and that it did not go far enough to provide adequate numbers of affordable housing.
While it appears that Roberts is now against tax abatements, that has not always been the case. In 1995, while in support of the southern waterfront project Roberts was quoted in the Reporter by saying, "The payment-in-lieu-of-taxes provision has been crafted to ensure that all the monies derived will go to the city and not be divided up with the county. Even if the eventual occupants and users of the development use the city services and the schools, we will still have maximized our income to meet those expenses in this manner."
Roberts said that he did support payments in lieu of taxes for the south waterfront development, but that he does not think they are necessary for future developments unless they are largely affordable housing.
Roberts was a supporter of Russo and generally voted for the mayor's projects until he broke with him two years ago. He feels that under the current administration, many citizens have been left in the dark. He wants to encourage participation by proactively advertising openings on public bodies so that the best-qualified residents can be found.
Roberts also said that under him, municipal government will conform to the letter and sprit of New Jersey's Open Public Meetings Act by promoting public participation in council meetings. He said that he will provide advance copies of descriptive meetings agendas and minutes both in person and on the Internet. He pledged to broadcast city government meetings on local public access television. Currently, no public meetings are televised, and agendas are usually short and not descriptive.
If elected, Roberts believes that he can work with the City Council to provide what he deems to be the most efficient and effective city services.
"The key is professionalism," said Roberts. "We will replace the current City Business Administrator [Hoboken's chief operating officer] with someone who has a successful track record of running a city. We will establish a city government where excellent service is the rule, and the residents and employees are treated with respect regardless of political affiliation."
When asked for accomplishments, Roberts notes that he helped sponsor the first charter school forum in the state of New Jersey in March of 1995. The forum, which helped increase public awareness and understanding of the charter school concept, paved the way for the passage of the first Charter School Law in New Jersey.
He sponsored the ordinance which expanded Hoboken's Historic District the entire length of Washington Street in an effort to preserve Hoboken's history.
Back in the early 1990s, Roberts also sponsored the resolution that created the division of cultural affairs. Their division is charged with advancing cultural activities and promoting the arts in Hoboken.
Roberts was the first to red flag longevity payments that went to city workers and city officials, including more than $40,000 to Mayor Russo. Those payments were later found by a judge to be improper, and they are slated to be returned, saving taxpayers more than $300,000 in total.
Roberts also said that the city's $55 million budget is too high, and that salaries and overtime were one reason.
However, Roberts has not come up with any ways to actually cut the budget, even after making several promises to do so over the past two years. Hiring an expert to conduct a traffic study would cost even more money.
"A $55 million budget is obscene," said Roberts. "Do we really need to see our quality of life destroyed [by development] in order to fund irresponsible spending? The truth of the matter is that in [Russo's] two terms, there were a half a billion dollars in new ratables. But [municipal] taxes are still 73 percent higher than when he took office."
Eight years ago, before Russo took office, the city budget was $44.3 million. It then climbed to $56 million and was lowered after that. However, independent audits approved by the state show that there were several items deferred by Russo's predecessor that had to be paid for by Russo in future years.
At the end of the day, Mayor Anthony Russo believes that Hoboken is a better place today than it was in 1993 when he first took office.
Crime is down, he has doubled the amount of open space in the city, taxes are stable and new residential and commercial buildings are springing up on a once-dormant waterfront. Since taking office on July 1, 1993, the emotional and hard working mayor has toiled for 10-hour days to implement changes he'd considered as a 3rd Ward councilman from 1991 to 1993. More recently, he battled and successfully beat cancer.
Some criticize Russo for governing with an iron fist, and they say that he has his hands in too many pots. They say he has a propensity to stack boards with close supporters and to put his moniker across city vehicles and signs. Russo has never advertised for people to sit on city boards. Instead, there have been times when boards like the City Council and Board of Education have consisted nearly entirely of close Russo allies.
In the end, Russo believes that a strong mayor is what the city needs to move forward.
"Hoboken is a much better city today than it was eight years ago when we first took office," said Russo in an interview in his office Thursday. "At that time, our city wasn't even in the top hundred in the state to live in, and now it is number one, and I am very proud of that fact."
(Actually, while Russo has often cited the statistic of Hoboken being the "number one city in the state," that survey by New Jersey Monthly magazine only asked New Jerseyans about seven cities, including blighted areas like Camden and Atlantic City. However, it is clear that many people are coming to Hoboken because they believe it is a great place to live. The resulting popularity has had the side effect of resulting in criticism of Russo, because it has meant more demand for living space and thus higher costs and more development.)
Russo, 54, was born in Hoboken. He graduated from Hoboken High School and received a bachelor's degree at Murray State University in Kentucky. He returned to New Jersey to receive a master's degree in education from Jersey City State College. Russo was a special education teacher in the public schools until he became mayor.
Russo has lived for 30 years in the affordable Church Towers complex (in which rents are kept low but are not subsidized by the government). His wife, Michele, is a real estate broker and member of the Hoboken Parking Authority (HPA) board. The couple has three adult sons, one of whom, Nicholas, is a city police officer.
Russo also runs charitable events through the Anthony Russo Civic Association on Adams Street, which he founded in 1979.
When taking office in 1993, Russo nearly doubled the municipal portion of the tax bill, citing a deficit left by the previous administration. The previous administration, when leaving office, acknowledged publicly that they had used up their surplus, relied on one-shot revenues to make up for a loss of state aid and were leaving their successor with a difficult budget situation. But whether Russo had to hike the budget as much as he did (from $44.3 million to $56 million, a number which came down a bit after that) remains a matter of debate.
After Russo doubled taxes and increased the budget, both numbers gradually started to come down. For the last seven years, taxes have been stable.
Russo did take steps his first year to cut spending and increase revenue to avoid having to fill a multimilliondollar budget gap completely with taxes. He laid off 40 employees during a government reorganization and worked to arrange $10.5 million in revenue deals with the Parking Authority and water company. Today they are fewer workers in City Hall than there were in 1993 when he first took the helm. That first budget was introduced 11 months late.
"In the beginning, I had to make some tough choices to make sure Hoboken's future was protected, but since then I have made it my number one priority to level taxes and keep them stable," said Russo. "We have and will continue to keep taxes stable. Taxes can't change dramatically every year. People have to have an idea of how much they are going to spend, and it is our responsibility to make sure that that amount is about he same."
Russo said that $55 million to run the city is reasonable and responsible and he is strongly opposed to a budget that might dip one year only to skyrocket the next. In the last seven years, residents have not had to fear a sudden tax hikes, and the current administration usually maintains a surplus for emergencies, a fund its predecessors had depleted in 1993.
"Hoboken has been developed economically," Russo declared last week. "Our opponents have taken an emotionally charged issue, like development, and then taken all the temporary inconveniences, like traffic congestion and noise and made it an emotional powder keg to gain support. Roberts supported a 33-story building on the waterfront and now he is saying that the city has become over developed. They are just grasping at straws."
"Right now we are living in the best city in the state," he added, "Sure, there will some short-term problems with our growth, but we are working hard to correct those issues, just look at my traffic diversion plan and the traffic study. I have always been committed to solutions. They only come up with problems."
Russo went on to say that development is important to the city. New projects mean more taxes and more property owners sharing the tax burden. They will, Russo hopes, prevent budget gaps from yawning open in the future.
The south waterfront construction is in full swing. The project, which the Port Authority is investing $93 million, will contribute more than $4 million a year to the city in payments-in-lieu-of-taxes when private developers complete the construction. When complete, the project will contain a hotel, two 13-story-office buildings, a residential building, and two recreational buildings on the waterfront.
The seeds of the new plan were planted in the previous administration, but it took Russo's administration to negotiate with the developers and see the plan come to fruition.
Also beginning shortly will be construction of the Northwest Redevelopment district, planned out in the late 1990s. Plans include approximately 1,000 new housing units, of which a portion will be affordable housing. That development will also include more than 2,000 parking spaces, which will be housed in the residential buildings themselves and in three new parking garages. The plan also calls for a new Shop-Rite grocery store.
Other new parking in the city that was built or planned during Russo's watch is more than 123 free spaces on Observer Highway. A 700-space garage is under construction at St. Mary's Hospital and a 300-car garage will be completed at 916 Garden St. if the city and various contractors can work out their problems.
The city also has opened new dog runs and a multi-service park, which among other things has a roller skating rink. Also beginning this month, the city is commencing demolition of Pier C so that a new swimming pool can dock.
Many of Russo's political opponents contend that there has been too much development in the city. They also point out that developers have contributed thousands of dollars to Russo's campaign. (Reports show that Russo has spent more than $400,000 on this campaign, and that at least $100,000 has directly come from developers. Many contractors who do business with the city also contribute.) Russo says that despite this, he is not in the pocket of any developers.
The city does have zoning guidelines, and in order for a developer to build a project that deviates, the developer has to present the project at a public meeting of the Zoning Board or Planning Board. Residents started complaining in 1998 that too many variances have been given away.
Critics of Russo have also complained that his wife Michele, who is a real estate broker, has unduly benefited from the explosion of new development. Russo shrugged this off by saying that his wife was a broker well before he was mayor and the number of accounts she has now is almost equal to the number that she had when he took office, therefore it makes no sense that he would push development only to pad his wife's pockets.
Quality of life
"The quality of life has improved so much over my time in office," Russo said last week. During Russo's first year in office, the administration attacked noise from bar revelers, eventually implementing a 2 o'clock "one way door" provision on weekends so that patrons could not enter a bar after 2 a.m. (those already inside could stay until the regular closing time, 3 a.m.) Last week, Russo pointed to new parks on the waterfront and the new dog runs that have been built. He also pointed out that crime rate has dropped significantly, and that the streets are safer today than they were eight years ago. He said that in his eight years, he has hired 80 police officers and 25 firefighters.
"When you think of public safety, no administration has been able to accomplish what we have," Russo said. "Our citizens are able to walk the streets without fear at any time day or night."
Russo also believes that despite claims by his opposition, he has been successful in maintaining affordable housing, and that one of his priorities, if re-elected, will be to increase those numbers in the future. (The last new affordable housing constructed in the city was more than five years ago. There are actually many long-time affordable housing units in the city, but tenants who have lived in these units for decades are allowed to stay no matter how high their incomes climb. Thus, turnover is slow.)
From his office Thursday afternoon, Russo pledged that there will be 464 new affordable units planned within the next year if elected. He said that 219 will come as part of the northwest redevelopment district, and that the city is in discussion with an unidentified developer to produce more than 200 additional units.
While he was not able to give the specifics for these units, he said that they are in the works and details will be forthcoming shortly. Russo said that he believes that development, in the end, will be good for the city, despite the temporary troubles it creates.
Earlier this month, Russo suddenly and abruptly took aim at traffic congestion at the city's northern entrance by trying to implement a plan with the police department that would divert visitors up the Viaduct during morning rush hour. However, Russo did not first get input from any neighboring municipality or the county. The ensuing controversy resulted in publicity from the TV media and meetings on the county level. Details of a comprehensive plan are now being worked out among all officials.
No one would doubt that Russo loves Hoboken and works hard, but the streamlining he has brought to city government has had the end result of projects occasionally passing without much public comment - projects that later stirred controversy. In 1995, City Council members voted for retroactive raises for the city's top officials, believing that they should have been earning more than they had been. Councilman James Fitzsimmons and some members of the public had questions about the raises, but the ordinance passed nevertheless. A week later, after members of the public complained, council members (including David Roberts and Russo ally Stephen Hudock) who had voted for the raises changed their minds and said they hadn't fully understood the effect of what they were voting on.
The council also was poised to vote on a law banning dogs from urinating in public parks one year, without realizing what they were doing, and it was only when a slew of residents showed up at the meeting to protest that the council pulled it. More recently, a controversial rent control change was introduced last year by a vote of the council, and it was only amended after city activists like Dan Tumpson complained about it.
As for public meetings, all of them are advertised, as required by law, but none of them are televised.
For the most part, Russo believes that the reason his council allies so ardently support him is that he has had the best ideas and plans for the city. He has said in the past that when his supporters have disagreed, they have hashed out their arguments in private rather than grandstanding before the public.
One image Russo has had to suffer with is the opponents' charge that corruption exists in the city - a charge that newcomers often assume is inherent in old-time city governments, whether there's evidence or not. While the FBI investigated certain city boards in the mid-1990s, which led to the arrests of two Alcoholic Beverage Control board members (and Russo allies) for separate extortion schemes, nothing was ever linked to Russo. Nothing has been heard from the FBI in a few years.
Russo ended his interview by quoting John F. Kennedy. "Change is the law of life," he said, "and those who only look at the past and present will miss the future." Russo said that he is the one candidate who has a track record, and the one candidate who will have solutions for the future.
Dan Tumpson, 50, is fighting an uphill battle, as he is the least-funded candidate in the election. He's employed as a senior software developer who creates financial models and optimization software for a technology company in Millburn, NJ. Tumpson is a scientist who received a biomathematics degree from the University of California at Berkley and a Ph.D. in physics from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.
Tumpson's analytical and inquisitive nature is instantly evident whenever he is encountered walking the streets of Hoboken or giving long statements at City Council meetings. He has lived in Hoboken since 1978 and has been active in issues such as rent control, tenant advocacy, and development since 1981.
Tumpson has fought the powers-that-be and remained relatively independent in terms of prevailing political parties in town. He is generally on the side of whomever is protecting tenants and battling dense development.
Tumpson helped found a group called "Save Hoboken from Overdevelopment" in 1988 and has been active in the "Coalition for a Better Waterfront" since the early 1990s. "We need to stop development now," said Tumpson Wednesday night. "The politicians want you to believe that it's good to bring in more rateables [taxed property], but they are missing the mark. They lead people to believe that the more money the city brings in, the more taxes will go down. But this theory doesn't hold water." Tumpson went on to explain that for every person that moves into Hoboken, more services are required. He added that with every new building, there is an added strain on civil infrastructure, sewers, traffic and other environmental factors. "Development has resulted in the tax rate going from 2.0 to 2.5 percent in the late '80s to what it is now at 3.1 percent," he said. "And there's been a lot of development since then. More development does not mean lower taxes."
Tumpson is also pledging to stop what he feels are predatory factors at work in City Hall. "Right now they are making our decisions for us and not listening to what we have to say," said Tumpson. "If elected, I'd like to bring direct democracy into City Hall, where the people are actually able to vote on referenda that are important to the city."
Tumpson believes that the current administration is only representing a small subset of landlords and influential developers. "We have handed over our city to the developers," he said. "If development goes unchecked, we will transform a little community made up of charming brownstones into an urban hell."
Tumpson feels that there has been an explosion in unreasonable variances, which have lead to the deterioration of Hoboken's small-scale charm. He said that right now, the city's zoning laws say that for any variance to be granted, there must be a benefit to the public, and that any variance cannot harm the public in any way. He speculates that these rules are not being followed and that a moratorium on all variances should be initiated. He also believes that all new construction, road and building, should be put on hold until there is a comprehensive environmental impact study completed.
Tumpson is a strong critic against the granting of tax abatements and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). He does not believe in using them to develop such prime piece of real estate such as the Hoboken Waterfront and even the Northwest portion of Hoboken. (PILOT payments are attractive to developers because they can know in advance how much they will be paying instead of taxes. In addition, PILOT money goes directly to a city rather than being divided among the city, the schools and the county.) Tumpson feels that the strong market, coupled with the popularity of the area, makes it irresponsible of the city to be giving possible tax breaks to developers who want to build on Hoboken's city shores.
Rent control and tenant advocate
Tumpson believes that it is government's duty to protect a person's right to be provided with necessities of life such as housing. That is why he has been a hard-charging advocate for issues such as rent control and tenant advocacy. He strongly opposes rent control that includes "vacancy decontrol," which allows an unlimited rent increase when the existing tenant vacates the apartment. Currently, the prevailing law allows landlords to raise the rent 25 percent every three years if a tenant has left voluntarily. Administrations in recent years have moved to allow more vacancy decontrol for small-time landlords, but such amendments were repealed.
Tumpson's council slate is also made up of community activists, one of whom even said that she believes new buildings should be subject to rent control. Currently, the city's 1972 rent control law applies to buildings constructed before 1987, and limits rent increases to a few percentage points each year.
Recently, the Russo Administration released a traffic study proposing $9.17 million in road improvements to facilitate traffic flow through Hoboken. Tumpson believes that this is a step towards what he and some other activists consider to be a "Stealth Highway" connecting the George Washington Bridge and Bayonne/Staten Island Bridge. He believes the "Stealth Highway" is being built according to Tumpson to accommodate thousands of auto and bus commuters, without the extensive environmental impact study that would be required by federal law.
"The impact of such a road would be monstrous," said Tumpson. "There would be volumes of noise, traffic, and air pollution that would turn Hoboken into a wasteland." He believes that the current administration is skirting the idea of having an environmental impact study by compiling the traffic study in three segments so that it only appears to be minor improvements, while in reality, Tumpson feels, they would be major changes. "Bottlenecks are our friends," said Tumpson. "They keep motorists from flooding our city. Why would you want to mess with that? Bringing the Stealth Highways into Hoboken under the guise of infrastructure improvement is a betrayal of the public trust."
The Nader factor
There are some in the community who feel Dan Tumpson's candidacy for mayor will act much as Ralph Nader did in the presidential election, drawing votes away from a potential ally (in this case, Roberts). But Tumpson feels that his presence in the election will not guarantee victory for the incumbent Mayor Russo. First of all, there could be a runoff. Also according to Tumpson, his appearance in the election spurs Democracy. He feels that he will bring new questions to public debates and increase the overall interest in the entire election.
Hasn't held public office
Tumpson has never held public office, which might make a person question whether he has a proven ability to be the Chief Executive Officer of a municipality and manage a $54.8 million budget and a slew of city workers. Tumpson feels that while there will be a transition, he has the skill to manage the city and its budget.
"I am a scientist," said Tumpson. "I am very analytical and have the ability to deal with budgets and those things necessary for the day-to-day maintenance of Hoboken. That being said, I will not micromanage. In my transition, I will take the steps to hire a professional business administrator who has a proficient record and has the insight to help manage day to day affairs."
Tumpson said that it is his goal to get everyone involved in Hoboken's government. Right now he feels that the mayor's office is running the city heavy-handedly and not getting any input from anybody, so that when he gets in office, he will open it up for everyone to get involved. Thus, by that mandate alone, he feels he will have to work well with the council.