Councilman-elect Tim Occhipinti walked with the press, his attorney, his parents, and a few supporters by his side along Paterson Avenue late on Election Day, Nov. 2.
He beamed with excitement, having just defeated incumbent Michael Lenz in a special 4th Ward election. His campaign attorney Michael Goldberg hung a few steps back and told the press, while Occhipinti forged ahead, “I don’t want to take any attention away from the candidate.” Just a few seconds later, Goldberg’s point was understood. The cheers that erupted from the café West End Station could be heard over a block away as the man of the hour entered his victory party.
A few blocks away, a more somber mood prevailed at 60 Madison St., the campaign headquarters of Michael Lenz, whose loss in the 4th Ward Election will end the reform majority once in place for Mayor Dawn Zimmer. The election is scheduled to be certified this week.
“What started as a dream you have made a reality for me. I can never thank you enough from the bottom of my heart.” – Councilman Tim Occhipinti
The fact that Occhipinti defeated Lenz on the voting machines alone came as somewhat of a surprise to both sides. It was assumed an intense vote-by-mail campaign, which has been called into question by the Lenz campaign, would carry Occhipinti to victory.
“He won on the machines!” yelled a supporter of Occhipinti at the party on the corner of Monroe and Observer Highway, clearly stunned by the result.
Lenz smiled as he greeted his volunteers on his return back to his headquarters. He thanked supporters individually for their work. He knew he had lost the election, but if it bothered him at first, he didn’t let it show. Lenz and the supporters knew they were in a tough political battle, but came up short by 50 votes on the machines.
Throughout the day, green-shirted supporters of Lenz stood on street corners adjacent to white-shirted Occhipinti supporters, some vocal and others not, who reminded passerby’s to vote because “it’s going to be a tight one.”
Mayor Zimmer even walked with some commuters in an attempt to convince them to vote for Lenz, her candidate and swing vote on the council.
The result was not what she had hoped.
“We lost the election, and that hurts,” Lenz said to a crowd at near capacity in his narrow headquarters. “But certainly it was not through anything we did. We fought a good fight, we raised the right issues.”
Around the same time as Lenz’s speech inside a mostly quiet basement office, a block and a half away came cheers and screams as Assemblyman Ruben Ramos introduced the newly-elected Councilman Tim Occhipinti to take the stage.
“Victorious!” Occhipinti declared to the cheers of the packed headquarters. He named many of his campaign supporters for minutes to constant applause, and thanked them for their support.
“What started as a dream you have made a reality for me. I can never thank you enough from the bottom of my heart,” Occhipinti said. “I’m just so excited to represent the fantastic 4th Ward and all of you.”
Occhipinti knows the toughest days are ahead of him if he plans on delivering on many campaign promises, including continued relief from flooding and the development of a park.
“We have a lot of work to do in this ward,” he said. “We now have a mountain that we need to climb.”
But in Hoboken, where it is always election season, Occhipinti knows that a new campaign is creeping up in just a few short months.
“You know we’re going to be running for re-election in six months,” Occhipinti said.
Friday, Lenz said he neither ruled himself in or out of a possible attempt to reclaim his seat in May.
“If Tim Occhipinti is good to his word and works with the mayor when she’s right, which is most of the time, I could support him,” he said. “My concern is getting a good council person to represent all of the 4th Ward.”
What led to victory?
Occhipinti’s campaign manager Jamie Cryan said the Lenz campaign hurt themselves with the style of their campaign.
“We didn’t run against anybody but Mike,” Cryan said, in reference to the Lenz’s supporters’ attempts to tie Occhipinti to Cammarano. “I’m very proud of the campaign we ran. We did a lot of issue-oriented things and we did our best to stay positive.”
The last mailer from the Occhipinti campaign, which has been referenced by Zimmer, Lenz, and other supporters of the mayor, indicated that Occhipinti would be willing to work with the mayor. Members of the current council said on Wednesday night that they hope he follows through on that promise.
Even though Occhipinti has promised to work with both sides, Zimmer was clearly upset with the result of the election.
“This is disappointing for everyone,” Zimmer said. “This is certainly a setback but this is not at all the end of moving our city forward. We will take a little bit of time, but we’ve got to get started again looking at May.”
Zimmer is hopeful that the city will move forward in the future.
“We are on the cusp of such change,” she said on Tuesday night.
All signs point to May when the reform candidates will be at it again, fighting as six seats expire on the council.
Lenz, in typical Lenz fashion, used a famous quote to finish his speech to his supporters.
“A labor leader 100 years ago named Joe Hill was put to death, framed actually, and his last words before he went to gallows were very simple, ‘don’t mourn, organize.’ Let’s keep going.”
Are the issues over?
Elected officials and aides took to the Internet and made short claims through Twitter last week.
Zimmer wrote on her Twitter account: “fyi Board of elec made criminal referrals – more to come” on Thursday morning.
Hudson County Board of Elections Clerk Michael Harper said on Thursday that the election has been impounded for seven days as per a state law.
“It has been stated to both campaigns that just based on what we’re seeing right now, we are going to move some stuff onto the prosecutor’s office, but I’m not sure how many [ballots],” Harper said.
Harper said his four member board split between Democrats and Republicans, cannot make criminal charges, but can refer some ballots to the prosecutor’s office.
On Election Day, 20 ballots were disqualified based on signature irregularities for the most part. Another 76 were rejected later for similar issues, which brought the total to 96 ballots rejected.
“Nothing on our end would delay the election,” Harper said. “From here, next Wednesday or even Thursday my board will meet again and we’ll look at the rejected ballots and we’ll decide what we want to send onto the prosecutor’s office.”
Harper did not confirm the ‘tweet’ from Zimmer, but said the possibility of sending ballots to the prosecutor’s office is likely.
Occhipinti’s counsel Michael Goldberg said on Tuesday that he welcomes any challenges.
Before the politicos in town can focus on May, there seems to be some unfinished business here in November. Though one thing seems to be for certain, Occhipinti will be seated at the next council meeting on Nov. 15, representing the 4th Ward.
Ray Smith can be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com.