A dictionary definition of reform says, "to make better by removing faults, to improve or correct, or to persuade someone to behave better." Mayor David Roberts - who is leading one of the five unofficial factions that are expected to clash in the May elections - won on a reform ticket seeking to "remove" former Mayor Anthony Russo rather than to "correct" or "persuade" him.
Unfortunately for Roberts, others are now seeking to "correct" or "persuade" in an effort to supposedly reform the reformer - although the details of their complaints are as varied as the collection of characters emerging. One group's big issue is overdevelopment, another feels that some development is okay, and caught in the middle are groups backed by Russo, who wants to reinstate his own people.
These days, you can't put a shovel in the ground for a new project without digging up a new reform group, all of whom are complaining about the current administration, not to mention complaining about every other reform group.
As of the end of the year, the Hoboken council election seems to have five groups vying for the distinction of "true reformer."
They are: Mayor Roberts, who may or may not incorporate Councilman Mike Cricco into that group; Councilman Tony Soares - whose search for candidates was backed by Councilwoman Carol Marsh this week; Russo's people; former councilman Michael Schaffer, with allies including small developers; and the trio of Chris Campos, Ruben Ramos and Carmelo Garcia (not to be confused with Rudy Garcia, former mayor of Union City). (The Campos/Ramos/Garcia faction may or may not be on Roberts' side, or they may push him to accept their candidates.) And as if that isn't enough to confuse the voters, former school board member Perry Belfiore may be running as an independent for the 5th Ward.
Several times over the last few weeks, Mayor Roberts has stumbled upon Soares interviewing potential candidates. To the mayor's credit, he actually bought Soares a drink.
All of this action is coming about a month earlier than usual in Hoboken politics - the council elections aren't until spring - making it seem as though the elections were actually less heated, and less vicious, back when the self-proclaimed reformers were unified against the Russo group.
Now, split up, each group wants City Hall to focus on its own issues, or they want to take over.
Before the filing deadline in February, at least one of the groups will be singing "I've Got a Golden Ticket," a song from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Love that political swing
Earlier in December, Strategic Media's public relations contract with the Hudson County Improvement Authority was not renewed. Since the contract expires at the end of December, and the HCIA routinely awards its contracts for the upcoming year in December, it is extremely likely that Joe Lauro's firm will be replaced by his former partner, Paul Swibinski.
This proves once again the inability to predict political fortunes in Hudson County, since Swibinski - the master technician behind Vision Media public relations in Secaucus and a firm intimately connected to State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco - had been shunned after his unsuccessful effort to get Tom DeGise elected mayor of Jersey City in 2001.
Lauro, his former partner, is part of the continued political shakeup in the county in the aftermath of the election of DeGise as county executive. Lauro, who severed his connection with Swibinski several years ago, found himself on the wrong side of the political spectrum. The one-time chief of staff to former County Executive Robert Janiszewski had survived longer than most people expected, considering the shifts in power. Lauro was behind the 2001 mayoral campaign that had Glenn Cunningham defeat DeGise. So it stands to reason that Lauro would not last long in the new county climate.
DeGise's appointment of Jim Kennelly - who worked with Swibinski to support DeGise in the 2001 mayoral bid - may have warned Lauro of the impending change.
Dramatic changes in the county can be expected over the next few months, echoing the recent decision to create a new County Welfare to Work Department. Strong rumors suggest that DeGise plans a new Strategic Development Commission to be installed in Journal Square which will combine the Hudson County Transportation Management Association with the Hudson County Economic Development Commission.
A dreadful mistake?
In what some people have called the biggest purge of Hudson County politics since the beginning of the Janiszewski administration in 1988, many view the firing of Willie Flood as a dreadful mistake - one that may give Mayor Glenn Cunningham a candidate who can strike back at the Hudson County Democratic Organization.
With state Senator Joseph Charles expected to trade his legislative role for judges' robes, Flood could lead an opposition ticket in the 31st District (including part of Jersey City and Bayonne). Former Freeholder Lou Manzo is expected to run in the primary for assemblyman along with one of the Bayonne councilpeople. While Assemblyman and Bayonne Mayor Joe Doria seems like a formidable foe, several political observers claim he's vulnerable, especially if Cunningham backs the opposition ticket and Flood runs.
Flood is a prominent figure in the black community, plugged into many of the churches. She is a powerful campaigner, winning a seat on the Jersey City council despite a losing ticket.
Flood has served in numerous key roles including chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization - after Janiszewski's resignation and as a member of the Jersey City Transition for the Board of Education. She has served on the Jersey City Board of Education as a teacher and assistant principal in the schools. She also has sat as a trustee on the Liberty Health Care System Board of Trustees. Last month, DeGise replaced her as the county consumer affairs director.
Flood, however can be sharp-tongued and a loose cannon; and has been described by one knowledgeable source as "a renegade."
"She once called [President] Bill Clinton to complain about Janiszewski," this source said.
At the same time, most people close to her say she is "sweet-tempered, giving and honest" and particularly loved her position as director of consumer affairs.
Letting the sunshine in?
Former Jersey City Councilman Jamie Vazquez said he intends to file a complaint with the Jersey City Ethics Board over a lunch meeting between Rep. Bob Menendez and eight city council members.
"You can't have five councilpeople sitting at lunch together," Vazquez said. "There are exceptions such as conventions and parties, but if a majority of the council gathers to discuss city business, that's against the law."
A representative from Menendez's office said the meeting did take place, but that the congressman only had a holiday lunch with the councilpeople.
"There was some discussion of politics, but no city issues were discussed and no decisions made," the spokesperson said.
Vazquez, who declared earlier this month that he would run in next June's Democratic primary against DeGise, said the move to keep the councilpeople loyal to DeGise and opposed to Mayor Cunningham's policies interfered with the function of municipal government in Jersey City and constituted a violation of the state's open public meetings act - commonly known as the Sunshine Laws.
"Opposing the mayor is bound to have a strong impact," Vazquez said. "I strongly resent a congressman from Union City dictating the politics of Jersey City. As long as the mayor and council are divided, the people of Jersey City suffer."
As the turnstile spins
Ester Suarez is leaving as Corporation Counsel in Hoboken. Rumors suggest that Suarez will give up the seat to another member of Donald Scarinci's firm, Joe Sherman - who served as county counsel and Menendez watchdog over former County Executive Bernard Hartnett.
Jonathan Metsch lasted about a week as a member of the newly created Hudson County Board of Ethics. He told the freeholders that his job as president and chief executive officer of Liberty HealthCare System kept him too busy.