The controversy over Jersey City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez’s dual residency in Florida and New Jersey is a battle just like her recent election.
The candidate she defeated in a May race for the Ward C council seat, Jimmy King, is challenging her legitimacy as a candidate, but this time it is through a lawsuit rather than via campaign rhetoric. King charges that Lopez is a Florida resident based on tax rebates she claimed on a home she owns with her ex-husband in Orlando, and because she is registered to vote in both Florida and New Jersey.
Thus, King says, she should give up her newly acquired seat as councilwoman.
On May 26, Lopez came in first place in a field of six candidates for the Ward C seat, covering the Journal Square area. She won by a 51-34 percent margin over King, who came in second. He filed the lawsuit on June 26 in Hudson County Superior Court.
Lopez’s attorney, William Northgrave, recent filed a brief in response to King’s lawsuit. No date has been set for Northgrave and King’s attorney, Alex Booth, to meet in court.
Lopez has faced calls by the public to step down. Some even believe she should be prosecuted. After Florida authorities got wind of the controversy, they said she will have to pay over $30,000 in back taxes from 2002 to 2008 to Orange County, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Calls to the Tax Appraiser’s Office in Orange County, Fla. for comments about the payments were not returned before press time.
Unlike election season, both parties have been silent in the past week, citing advice from their attorneys. King said on June 30 he wants to see the Ward C Council seat “vacated.” On July 1, the day of the Jersey City mayoral and council inaugurations, Lopez called King’s lawsuit “frivolous” and “sour grapes.” She was sworn in.
There were no public speakers at Wednesday’s council meeting who broached the Lopez controversy. After the meeting, however, Lopez showed the Jersey City Reporter a flyer posted in her neighborhood listing her personal phone number asking the public to call her and tell her to resign.
Mayor asked her to run
The revelations about Lopez, who runs a business consulting firm in Jersey City, have been an eye-opener for both the public, and particularly for residents of Ward C.
Lopez started her campaign a bit cryptically. When asked by a reporter back in March why she was running, she said, “My mayor asked me.”
Questions posed about her during the election pertaining to Lopez were along the lines of “Who is this woman?” “Where did she come from?” and “What has she done in the community?”
Ward C resident Tony DeLuco, a developer, met Lopez recently and said he found her to be an “intelligent” and “professional” businesswoman. But DeLuco has also been hearing from neighbors who feel “betrayed” by Lopez.
“The people who voted for her feel betrayed and they want her to step down,” DeLuco said.
At the same time, DeLuco said that if Lopez did step down and a special election was to take place, those neighbors would rather not see King run again, because he did so poorly. Instead, they would like to see new faces.
Various politicial observers said the “new” people mentioned include Vanessa Czaplicki, wife of city employee Carl Czaplicki; mayoral aide Kevin Lyons and city fireman Tom Murphy, both of whom worked on Lopez’s campaign. Also mentioned was Lopez’s predecessor Steve Lipski, although his controversial arrest last year after public urination in Washington D.C. club took him out the political picture. Some also mentioned Lipski’s wife, Yraida.
One of the Ward C residents who feels betrayed is Rich Boggiano, a retired Jersey City police officer who has lived with his wife and three children in the ward for 28 years. Boggiano is also president of the Hilltop Neighborhood Association.
“He is bitter that he lost to a Latina and a first-time candidate.” – Jerramiah Healy
A female Ward C resident for nearly 10 years who asked to remain anonymous said Lopez is a reminder of the “embarrassing” political situation in Jersey City.
“The Healy political team picked someone who had these problems, and sadly she has come into office off to a bad start,” she said.
Lopez still has the support of Mayor Jerramiah Healy. In an interview on Tuesday, Healy said he did not do a background check on Lopez because in the 13 years he has known her, he always knew her to live in the Journal Square area. He also didn’t sound worried about the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit has no merit, and the only reason Jimmy King filed this lawsuit is because he is bitter that he lost to a Latina and a first-time candidate,” Healy said. “I stand behind her 100 percent.”
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.