The real annoying thing about the Hoboken special election in the 4th Ward is how people on both sides are pretending to be nice guys and gals, while behind the scenes, it’s politics as usual.
Incumbent Councilman Michael Lenz, who was appointed to fill the 4th ward council seat vacated when Dawn Zimmer became mayor last year, seems to be in a tight race against political newcomer Tim Occhipinti which could be decided by a few hundred votes in November.
At stake is control of the city council. Lenz is seen as the deciding vote, an ally of Mayor Zimmer, who can help move her agenda along if he manages to squeak by.
Early on, Lenz was seen as the clear front runner, but over the last month or so a series of unfortunate events have given Occhipinti momentum.
While he has had the benefit of what some call “Irish Luck,” Occhipinti has also become the focal point of everyone that is opposed to Zimmer, many of whom have issues with each other, but are so anti-Lenz that they are working together to defeat him – power brokers such as Councilman Michael Russo and former mayoral candidate Frank Raia, who will seek some control over Occhipinti’s council vote if he is lucky enough to be elected. Occhipinti has also been saddled with the remnants of the Peter Cammarano campaign from last year, people who saw their political world go up in smoke with Cammarano’s arrest and later conviction on corruption.
But the real boost to Occhipinti came from Zimmer, who alienated the police and their families with proposed layoffs and demotions prior to the election. Possibly a good governmental move, it became a political disaster – from which she has since tried to back off, but after the damage has been done.
One of the police officers affected by the changes was a member of the Amato family, a key group that helped Zimmer win her election last year, but won’t be in her ballpark this year.
While people have tried to paint Occhipinti as another Cammarano, he is not – which has its downside. Occhipinti is not the slick, political speaker Cammarano was, nor does he know local politics as well.
But he has a few really knowledgeable people around him, such as Jamie Cryan, who could have run against Lenz, but has chosen to be Occhipinti’s campaign manager.
While money is scarce for both sides in this election, Occhipinti is likely to see funds flowing in from Raia and from Councilwoman Beth Mason at a critical time in this election.
Key to any election is who can get out their vote, and the soldiers for Occhipinti are already working to get senior citizens and people in the projects out for him, leaving Lenz to draw largely from the newcomer base. This could be a problem, because this is not a presidential or gubernatorial year when large numbers of people come to the polls. A low vote turnout could hurt Lenz.
It is also uncertain where the big boys of Hudson County politics will land, but Zimmer’s hiring Ray Lesniak’s firm as city attorney may have created a rift between her and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez. This may explain last week’s meeting in a local eatery between high level Zimmer representatives and former state Senator Bernard Kenny and his legal partner, Ed Florio, both of whom publically opposed the police layoffs and are close friends to Menendez.
Kenny had urged Zimmer to reduce the police department numbers through retirements, as did Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith and Freeholder Frank Rommano, both of whom tried to help calm the situation with the police.
The Invisible Man
With banks of cameras waiting for the outcome of a Superior Court ruling on property in Union City owned by the developer of the Ground Zero mosque, you would think that someone from Fox News or any of the opportunistic news stations eager to make hay of what has become a national issue would have recognized State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack when he emerged from the court house after the hearing last week.
But no one did. The dozen news cameras and their tenders kept silent vigil even as Stack walked down the steps in front of them, their lenses focused on the doors from which he had come. Even the normally vigilant Fox news reporter failed to recognize Stack as the man instrumental in filing the suit against Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Some believe Stack had deliberately waited years to make his move, capitalizing on the national debate over whether a mosque should join the host of other religious institutions located within blocks of what is called Ground Zero – the footprint of the Twin Towers which were brought down by terrorists on Sept. 11. 2001.
If this was a political move, Stack mishandled his moment to shine, missing his opportunity to step before the bank of cameras.
After years of watching the building in Union City deteriorate – racking up more than 200 health and fire code violations, Stack made his move during the national controversy, forcing the developer to clean up an eyesore that has existed from before Stack took over as mayor.
In a surreal moment typical of Hudson County politics, Stack walked passed the cameras, looking not at them or the reporters, but to the parking lot where he had parked his car.