Mayor Dawn Zimmer has regained her 5-4 majority on the Hoboken City Council thanks to the election this past Tuesday, so there may be an ouster on the way for the current council president and some other changes.
In Tuesday’s council election, Zimmer’s team won two of the six ward seats up for grabs, giving her a narrow 5-4 majority on the nine-member council. Zimmer still has her three allies in the council-at-large seats, which are up for election in 2013.
But some of Zimmer’s biggest foes, including Council President Beth Mason and Councilman Michael Russo, also won their seats.
The new majority will take over on July 1.
Despite the favorable weather, only approximately 22 percent of the registered voters came to the polls.
In the biggest surprise of the election, political newcomer Jennifer Giattino defeated longtime 6th Ward Councilman Nino Giacchi 579-488. Giacchi was the only incumbent to lose a seat.
Another curious note was that Russo defeated political newcomer Greg Lincoln by a 947-459 vote, despite Russo’s controversies leading up to the election. Russo had appeared on a recently released FBI surveillance tape from 2009 that showed him discussing a potentially illegal $5,000 campaign donation with informant Solomon Dwek. Ultimately, Russo never came back for the money, and was never charged with a crime. But some believe he wanted to take the money and was warned off it.
Just a little more than a month after scores of people protested against Russo outside City Hall, he was celebrating his re-election in his Civic Association headquarters on Adams Street with his supporters Tuesday night.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said after the race. “It’s not a victory for Michael; it’s a victory for the residents.”
Lincoln and his supporters knew they had a tough climb to defeat Russo, a lifelong 3rd Ward resident. Lincoln called himself “the reluctant candidate” at an after-party on Tuesday.
In the 1st Ward, Theresa Castellano defeated campaign finance reform activist Eric Kurta, a Zimmer ally, garnering 664 votes, while Kurta received 502.
“I’m happy, elated, and humbled,” Castellano said on Thursday. “The residents are very smart. They respond to what I’ve done over the four years. It’s not just what you do in the time leading up to the election.”
Castellano will now serve on the council for her fifth straight term, which she’s been told is a record. Former Councilman Richard Del Boccio had served for five terms, but not consecutively.
In the 4th Ward, Council Vice President Timothy Occhipinti defeated Rami Pinchevsky, receiving 1,023 votes, compared to 679 votes for the young challenger.
Second Ward candidate Tom Greaney, a Zimmer ally, almost got into a runoff election with Beth Mason. Four candidates ran in the ward, and in order to win outright, one of them had to receive more than 50 percent of the vote. Mason received 50.19 percent.
“It was a divided ward, but voters made their decision,” Greaney said. He added the election would “strengthen [his] public involvement” and called Mason “a tough opponent.”
Mason received 671 votes, Greaney received 542, challenger Franz Paetzold had 81 votes, and Patricia Waiters received 26 votes.
Mason said at her uptown after-party that she was thrilled with the results.
“They threw everything at me, and there was no runoff,” Mason said on Tuesday night. “And citywide, the people sent a message.”
In the other uptown ward, the 5th Ward, incumbent Zimmer ally Peter Cunningham faced three independent challengers. Many sources believed a runoff would occur with Cunningham and either Perry Belfiore or Scott Delea. City Historian Lenny Luizzi also ran for the 5th Ward seat, but received only 70 votes.
In the end, Cunningham received 680 votes, Delea received 319, and Belfiore received 227. Cunningham received 52.9 percent of the vote.
In the 6th Ward, Giattino said she hadn’t been sure what to expect on Election Day.
“I was much more comfortable [Monday] than I was halfway through Election Day and I don’t know why,” she said.
She said she enjoyed campaigning, and is hoping to continue to spend time with the people of the ward.
Giacchi said he’s very satisfied with the way he ran his campaign, and said he was proud he did not take part in negative campaining. He charged that his opponents used negative campaigning against him.
“You had the mayor and the administration very determined to regain control of the council,” Giacchi said. “To that end, they put a lot of time and resources into winning.”
Nearly all of Zimmer’s opponents made a point to note that citywide, Zimmer’s allies lost the popular vote, meaning that when all of her opponents’ votes were totaled, they received more than her allies. Zimmer’s allies received approximately 40 percent of the citywide ballots.
According to one source, in the short term, it doesn’t mean anything for her opponents, but in the long term, she could face a tough challenge if she runs for mayor in 2013.
A leading challenger, according to many sources, is Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos (D-Hoboken), who was working at Occhipinti headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.
What’s going to happen now?
Zimmer emphasized that she is looking forward to the sale of the municipal hospital without any opposition from the council, and will hope to move forward with more transportation initiatives, saying she’s going to put Transportation Director Ian Sacs “back to work.” The anti-Zimmer council majority had criticized several of Sacs’ initiatives or asked questions about them, including the “Corner Cars” rental program that puts Hertz cars on the streets to be rented at an hourly rate.
Now, she should be able to move her initiatives forward without much resistance.
Cunningham said he will bring back legislation to target “wheeling” – the practice of using political action committees (PACs) to donate large sums of money to candidates in order to exceed individual campaign spending limits. One impetus for the legislation, according to the sponsors of the ordinance, was Mason’s total $13,400 donation to Occhipinti in his special election in the fall against former Councilman Michael Lenz, a Zimmer supporter. She and her husband each donated the maximum $2,600, and her largely self-funded PAC donated $8,200.
After Occhipinti won, the council majority had shifted against Zimmer, and Mason became council president.
Mason has said that attorneys have told her the legislation as proposed is illegal, while Zimmer’s team says the legislation has been vetted through the city’s Law Department.
With the controversy surrounding the measure, some members of the council have asked the non-partisan group People for Open Government (POG) to help revise the legislation.
Cunningham said on Thursday that he plans to reintroduce the legislation, and that he received input from POG, and is hoping to put the ordinance through a subcommittee before bringing it back to the dais.
The legislation would limit largely self-funded PACs, such as Mason’s, from donating more than $500 to a candidate.
The council majority will switch on July 1.
Sources say that Councilman Ravinder Bhalla, who is challenging Ramos in the upcoming Assembly Democratic primary in June, may be chosen as the next council president, but the timeline is unclear.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com