Before the recent City Council at-large election, Ward E Councilman Steven Fulop, a political opponent of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, refrained from making endorsements. But even without Fulop’s involvement in the race, Healy’s candidates for the two open at-large seats lost their elections on Tuesday.
Healy’s candidates lost despite support from the Jersey City Democratic Committee and organizational help from the Hudson County Democratic Committee. Thus, some are wondering if the mayor’s influence is waning.
The two Healy-backed incumbents in the race, Kalimah Ahmad and Radames “Ray” Velazquez, finished fourth and fifth in the election. Not only were they defeated, but they were topped by Rolando Lavarro, who some considered a long shot for an at-large seat, and Viola Richardson, the Ward F councilwoman who defied many Democratic Party leaders by throwing her hat into the ring for the citywide post.
SCRUTINY – Council members interested in re-election in 2013 have to be giving the election results a long look.
“I just didn’t want Healy’s people to win,” said downtown resident Linda Stam, who supported Mack and candidate Dan Levin. “I think this sends a message that the rubber stamping of the administration’s agenda can’t continue…I think some loyalties will shift.”
Mayor Healy was not on the ballot, but many see the at-large race as a referendum on his administration and the City Council majority that is allied with him. Velazquez and Ahmad were appointed to the council by Healy to temporarily replace two council members who resigned, and they received the mayor’s backing.
“I can’t worry about that,” the mayor said Tuesday night after the election results came in. “My opponents have been beating that drum a long time. Those who have been singing that song will be trumpeting these results as ‘the change that we needed...’ But that isn’t my concern.”
The mayor attributes the loss to the broad field of 17 candidates who ran in the at-large race, not to any political weakness on his part or on the part of his administration.
Still, any City Council member interested in re-election in 2013 has to be giving Tuesday’s results a long look. The mayor’s candidates lost even though Fulop, a declared 2013 mayoral candidate, stayed on the sidelines and never officially endorsed anyone, although he gave limited support to Lavarro, Levin, Mack, Richard Boggiano, and Imtiaz Sayed.
Where the lines are drawn
“I think some of the council people who have been allied with Healy will start to move away from him now,” said one of the at-large candidates, who asked not to be identified.
This candidate speculated that any City Council member who doesn’t move away from Healy could be forced to either retire from elected office in 2013, or will have an uphill battle to retain their seat.
Council President Peter Brennan and City Councilmen Michael Sottolano (Ward A) and William Gaughan (Ward D) – who vote most consistently with the administration – are particularly vulnerable.
Councilwomen Richardson and Nidia Lopez (Ward C), whose council votes periodically split from the administration already, may now be emboldened to vote independently more often. There is speculation that Richardson, Lopez, and Lavarro might form a voting bloc of “government reformers” allied with Fulop.
Ward B City Councilman David Donnelly is the wild card. A loyal supporter of the Healy administration and its policies in the past, Donnelly recently attended a Fulop fundraiser and has publicly struggled with some of his votes in recent months. For now it’s unclear whether he will continue to vote with Brennan, Sottolano, and Gaughan, or move into the reformers’ camp.
One early test for the new council, according to Dan Levin, will be the possible “elimination of the Incinerator Authority, which could be merged into the Department of Public Works.”
The Ward F wildcard
Another wild card is the soon-to-be-vacant Ward F seat.
Once Hudson County Clerk Barbara Netchert certifies the election results, Lavarro and Richardson will be sworn in to their new at-large positions. This will create a vacancy in the Ward F seat that Richardson has held for the past decade.
Just as Healy appointed Velazquez and Ahmad to temporarily fill the seats vacated by Mariano Vega and Willie Flood, he will again appoint someone to temporarily fill Richardson’s seat. By law, the person who Healy appoints must be a resident of Ward F, according to City Clerk Robert Byrne.
The council will have 30 days to approve the mayor’s choice. If the council is divided 4-4, then by law Healy can cast the tie-breaking vote.
Whoever is selected will then have to run in a special election to be held November 2012, then again in 2013 for a full four-year term.
Who ultimately gets selected for this seat – and whether or not the person gets support from the council majority – will also play a role in the new council dynamics.
Democratic Party activist Bob Knapp has suggested that Healy appoint Ahmad to fill Richardson’s seat. Ahmad, however, said she is not interested in being re-appointed to the council.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.