In what might well be a remake of the classic “Who framed Roger Rabbit,” Freeholder Jose Munoz appears to be hunting down the culprits who left a sample ballot at a polling site that was already filled out regarding the referendum about an elected school board for West New York. There was a check mark to vote against it.
Grilling county election officials during a caucus and regular freeholder meeting after the Nov. 5 election, Munoz questioned whether West New York needed additional oversight when it came to elections.
Munoz said he discovered the doctored document at one of the 29 polling stations, and asked whether or not this was designed to instruct people on how to vote. He said that after investigators were brought in, they found other irregularities.
“If they found four in one polling station, imagine how many more they might have found if they went to all 29 polls,” Munoz said.
While election officials assured Munoz that they take the situation seriously, the problems found at the station were not uncommon, and the questionable sample ballot was removed.
Some of the other violations included mistaken identity when two men with the same name came to the polls. One signed in at the other’s address. The second was allowed to vote provisionally, and later – after the mistake was rectified – both votes were counted.
Some people believe Munoz is on a witch hunt, seeking to find some kind of impropriety in the administration of West New York Mayor Felix Roque after Roque was acquitted of charges that he allegedly conspired to hack into an anti-Roque website run by Munoz.
Many people are fearful of Munoz, who, as vice chairman of the freeholder board this year, may well become chairman of the board in the January reorganizational meeting, and use his post as a platform against Roque. Some see the potential for “Munoz hearings” that are similar to the anti-Communist hearings of the House Committee of Un-American Activities run by then U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy.
Roque still under attack
If Munoz is, he joins a number of people who are looking to drive Roque from office, most of whom showed up at the Nov. 18 commissioners meeting. Some of these people even asked Roque to resign – although it is unclear why he should. And they also grilled the commissioners on why the town attorney’s fees have risen, when many of the more than two dozen lawsuits against the town may be politically motivated.
Those in Roque’s inner circle believe that opponents – as disorganized as they are – are trying to build a case against Roque by filing legal suits, even when some of these are the result of legitimate firings.
A number of lawsuits have been filed as a result of terminations after the Roque administration released people for allegedly failing to do their jobs, insiders claim. Most of the cases are represented by the same attorney.
Over the last year, Roque sought Civil Service protection for a number of his staff – including Silvio Acosta – a key Roque insider. The problem is that the complaint against Acosta’s application was filed by Roque’s arch enemy, Commissioner County Wiley.
Munoz, meanwhile, attacked the West New York school board for hiring Acosta’s daughter, noting that Acosta sits on the school board. But Acosta abstained from the vote, and the woman was merely hired full time from a previously part time position.
Munoz also criticized the board’s decision to hold only one election, not two, in compliance with the successful referendum that would change the board from an appointed board to an elected one.
The school board is at the heart of the upcoming political season. Opponents of Roque see the board as ripe for takeover and the jumping off point from which to beat Roque in the 2015 municipal elections.
Indeed, insiders are aware of this, and know that if they cannot retain control of the board in the April election, they may have trouble getting Roque and his commissioners reelected. Expect the circus to get more animated in the upcoming months.
So who did put that marked sample ballot on the polling table? WNY officials, who had TV cameras in the polling places, will apparently be searching for the culprit over the next few weeks.
Ramos will likely seek Occhipinti’s seat
To misquote Will Rogers a bit, “what we need are politicians with more of a sense of humor and less of a need for revenge.”
But in Hoboken, there are lingering bad feelings over the three-way race some believed allowed Mayor Dawn Zimmer to win reelection.
This is blood-feud time for the anti-Zimmer forces who split the vote. It will be curious as to see how this shakes out over the next two years. Former mayoral candidate Ruben Ramos may decide to unseat Councilman Tim Occhipinti in the 2015 ward municipal elections, setting the stage for another bid for mayor in 2017. Many Ramos people blame Occhipinti’s run for mayor as dividing the anti-Zimmer vote.
Meanwhile, Frank Raia, who ran with Occhipinti, may well seek to unseat Councilman Michael Russo, who he sees as instrumental in having derailed his own campaign for council.
Bayonne election gearing up early
Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith is expected to get stiff opposition in the May, 2014 municipal election in an across-the-border battle with Jersey City.
Supporters of Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop apparently plan to get even for Smith’s support of Fulop opponent, Jerramiah Healy, last spring by backing Smith challenger James Davis next May.
Jersey City also appears to be gearing up to run a challenge against Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico. This victory would give Fulop solid control of the Freeholder board in the run up to the county executive race in 2015.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.