Outspoken City Councilman Tony Soares has never been afraid to speak his mind. But in the last couple of weeks, Soares has turned up the volume with some very critical comments about Mayor David Roberts.
The relationship between Soares and Roberts has always been a tenuous one, as Soares, before being elected to the City Council, was known to get ahead by being an agitator. But the enemy of an enemy is a friend, and both Soares and Roberts had been set to remove Mayor Anthony Russo from office.
Roberts and Soares helped each other get elected to their respective positions over the last two years, and up until a month ago, according to Soares, the two went to dinner two days a week. But now, according to city sources, the mayor does not even return Soares' phone calls.
"To be slapped in the face like this is not conducive to good government," said Soares Tuesday. "His worrying about me is starting to get childish. If he wants to make it personal, he can, but I'm going to stick to the issues."
On the record, the mayor is declining to trade barbs with Soares.
"Over the past couple of weeks I have been roundly criticized," Roberts said last week, "and I can accept that. It comes with the job, but I try not to take any of those comments personally and I do not wish to critique any members of the City Council."
While Roberts is publicly taking the high road when it comes to the internal feud, one political insider said Thursday that the mayor has nothing to achieve by instigating a war of words with quick-witted Soares. "[Roberts] has nothing to win by starting a war of vicious one-liners with Tony," said the source. "After all, [Soares] is a professional when it comes to those."
The rumblings of Soares break really began to gain steam last month when it was announced that he would no longer be the council's president. Roberts said that he always intended to rotate the presidency between Soares and his successor Councilman Ruben Ramos Jr. But Soares said that he was told by the mayor that he did not have the votes to retain the presidency after an argument over the city's legal handling of the controversial development at 101 Marshall St. Many see Soares' leaving the council presidency as a catalyst for the future break between the two.
Tuesday, Soares said he was effective in propelling the mayor's agenda during his year as council president. "Everything that he pushed for got through while I was president," said Soares. "He really should be looking at other Authorities where he has not been nearly as effective, such as the Housing Authority and the Parking Authority. For the most part, [the council] along with the Planning Board were the most effective and progressive bodies in the city [over the last year]."
He added that mayor, not the council, is to blame for what Soares perceives is a lack of progress of the mayor's agenda. Recently, Soares complained about the fact that Roberts has not made good on several campaign promises, such as one to look around for the best possible professionals to serve in city government by publicly advertising jobs there.
"His failing to deliver is not the City Council's fault," said Soares. "[The mayor's progress] has not been as fast as it should be considering that there is an 8-1 majority on the council. He should be dealing with development issues, providing more affordable housing and solving the city's parking problems."
After it was announced that Soares was stepping aside as president, he unleashed a series of brusque criticisms launched directly toward the mayor. He blasted the mayor for hiring new Business Administrator Robert Drasheff. Drasheff was the former director of Human Services under Mayor Anthony Russo. Soares criticized the mayor for not conducting an exhaustive search for the position. "You can't find new people by going to the same old pool," he said recently. Despite his concerns, Soares voted to approve Drasheff's hiring at the last City Council meeting.
Next, Soares knocked the mayor for negotiating a severance package with exiting Business Administrator Laurie Cotter. Although the city and Cotter are still in negotiations, sources say the package could be as high as $27,000. Soares was quoted as saying that "golden parachutes" are not something that the mayor should be giving away.
Yet, even new council president and fellow Hoboken United member Ramos questioned Soares' recent behavior. Soares and Ramos had been close allies since Soares helped Ramos get elected in 1999.
"He's been extremely critical lately," said Ramos Wednesday. "I think he needs to make a decision as to where he stands. It's very confusing. Is he supportive or not supportive of the mayor's agenda?"
But can't you support some of a person's agenda and make comments on what you believe should be improved?
Tuesday, Soares would not officially say he has broken from the mayor, but did say that he plans on being more assertive now that he is no longer the council's president.
"Basically I'm loyal to the mayor when he is loyal to the platform that he ran on," said Soares. "Given the choice of loyalty to him or to the voters that elected me. I will choose the voters every time."
Some have said that Soares really wants to run for Mayor in 2005. But Soares, who is an art director for an advertising firm in New York, said he'd be taking a pay cut.