Not everyone is happy with the City Council’s recent decision to move mayor and council elections from May to November. Opponents of the change are circulating petitions to place the issue on the ballot in this November’s election.
The petitions were delivered to the City Clerk’s office on Friday morning. The clerk will review the petitions, and if there are 2,189 valid signatures, the public may vote on whether they want council and mayoral elections to be moved from May to November.
If the petitions are not valid, the committee of petitioners will have 10 days to provide extra signatures to cure any deficiencies. The council can also vote to repeal the legislation.
‘Governing means making big decisions and hard choices.’ – Council President Ravinder Bhalla
The city has held municipal elections in May since 1911, but recent statewide legislation allows municipalities to move elections to November as a cost-saving measure and as a way to possibly increase voter turnout.
The council voted on July 20 by a 5-4 margin to move the municipal council and mayoral elections. The intention, according to Council President Ravinder Bhalla, the sponsor of the legislation, was to increase turnout because many residents in Hoboken’s transient population may not be aware of May elections.
The transient, newcomer population may also favor Zimmer and her allies, while the older Hoboken population may favor her opponents.
Municipal elections in Hoboken are non-partisan by law, meaning candidates do not represent political parties. But there are still staunch allegiances. The council is currently split between five members who generally favor Zimmer’s policies, and four who generally oppose them.
Before the July 20 vote, Councilman Michael Russo proposed an amended resolution that would put the issue up for a referendum. His measure was voted down 5-4.
Bhalla said he takes no issue with residents collecting petitions to place the issue on the ballot, saying it’s part of the democratic process.
“I was elected to govern,” Bhalla said. “Governing means making big decisions and hard choices. We’re doing our jobs as legislators.”
Jamie Cryan, the head of the Hoboken Democratic Committee, is part of the committee of petitioners.
“There are a large amount of people who are upset because the mayor and council were voted in for four years, and now they’re extending their terms six months,” said Cryan, who said as many as 3,000 signatures have been collected.
As part of the legislation, the council members and the mayor will now be up for election in November 2013 instead of May 2013. The term extension is allowed by law, but it’s not sitting well with some.
The extension will also allow the current council to once again make appointments to important municipal boards like the Zoning Board or Planning Board in May 2013.
The reason elections were changed to May in 1911 was to remove larger party influences from the local election.
“If you move it to November, there’s the potential of Hoboken issues getting lost,” Cryan said. “You’re going to be dealing with a gubernatorial race, so people are going to be more focused on that.”
Opponents of the legislation also believe November elections would allow municipal candidates to ride the coattails of higher-level officials.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer said on Thursday she supports having the elections in November because there will be greater voter participation. Recent special elections in Hoboken dating back to 2007 show that there has been as much as a 45 percent increase in turnout.
“As far as the change being too confusing for the voter, we have very smart people in Hoboken,” Zimmer said. “It’s an insult to the people of Hoboken to take that perspective.”
Zimmer also said if the law permitted she would prefer to move the election to November 2012 instead of extending her term to November 2013, but the state law doesn’t allow the officials to shorten their terms.
Other petitioners speak out
Former 2nd Ward council candidate Franz Paetzold is also on the committee of petitioners. Paetzold said he became involved partly because he was concerned with the way the change was done.
“There is a pretty clear conflict of interest when you have council members voting to extend their own employment contracts,” Paetzold said. City Council members earn approximately $24,000 per year.
Jennifer Holdsworth-Kleinmann is the chair of the committee of petitioners, and said she believes “an issue of this magnitude should be left up to the voters.”
In Hoboken elections, if a candidate doesn’t receive more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters enter a runoff election, which takes place at least four weeks after the original election. The runoff from a November election would happen near the December holidays in the winter, something that also has caused concern for some members of the committee.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com