When Mark Albiez and Joe Muniz met at the Coach House 10 days before the June 4 Democratic primary, it was primarily to craft a response to claims that state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack was backing Francisco Torres, who was running in the 32nd District challenging state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco for the Democratic nomination.
Albiez, along with Libero Marotta, is part of Stack’s political inner circle. Muniz, along with Anthony Vainieri, serves a similar role for Sacco.
Muniz, a street-smart political worker who Sacco apparently sends to broker deals with political enemies, until recently was believed to have lost favor inside the Sacco administration, while Vainieri is said to have Sacco’s ear and is rumored to be a possible replacement for Frank Gargiulo if and when Gargiulo leaves as a commissioner in North Bergen.
But the meeting between Albiez and Muniz may also have concerned support for Assemblyman Ruben Ramos’ bid to unseat Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer in November.
Albiez reportedly convinced Stack to ally himself with two important Ramos allies, Raj Mukherji and Carmelo Garcia, as assembly running mates in their November bid in the 33rd District, and arranged meetings in Hoboken with Garcia, Ramos, and Stack.
Muniz, meanwhile, arranged at least two meetings between Sacco and Ramos, hoping to get Sacco’s support for Ramos as well. That’s a hard sell, considering the long and bitter rivalry between Sacco and Stack, although it’ll be necessary if Ramos expects to get the cash needed to help pull off a mayoral upset in Hoboken.
At stake, Zimmer supporters claim, is a stalled Housing Authority project called Vision 20/20 which would increase the size of Hoboken’s low income federally-funded housing, which Garcia as executive director oversees.
Rumors say that the project, proposed at the end of the administration of Mayor Dave Roberts, was slated to take off with the election of Peter Cammarano in 2009, but it was put aside after Cammarano was forced to step down as a result of his arrest and later conviction in the federal Big Rig II scandal, followed by Zimmer’s election as mayor.
Consolidating anti-Zimmer support
By increasing the city’s federal housing, Hoboken would benefit in several ways. It would allow scattered Section 8 residents to relocate, thus freeing up their current apartments to become market rate. The Housing Authority would also possibly see tens of millions of dollars in development fees as a result of construction contracts.
But politically, it would create an even more powerful block of votes for anti-Zimmer candidates such as Councilman Michael Russo, and for state level political candidates like Stack, who may see this as a way to get a stronger foothold in lucrative Hoboken after losing his hold recently on West New York. This block of votes would explain why Russo supports Ramos’ candidacy.
Although some claim Sacco will back Ramos, the two meetings so far have apparently not produced an endorsement, since Sacco has little or nothing to gain by it, and it may indeed increase Stack’s strength, something Sacco may fear to do in case the current truce with Stack breaks down.
Some appear to be trying to seduce Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner and Rep. Albio Sires into backing Ramos as well, but this is not likely, since there are some lingering bad feelings between Sires and Ramos, and Turner tends to stay out of Hoboken politics wherever possible. Sires also has developed a good relationship with Zimmer.
While newly-elected Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop is allegedly leaning towards Zimmer, some believe he may either back Ramos or stay out of the race.
Romano in the wings?
In the middle of all this are attempts to derail a possible third candidacy backed allegedly by former school trustee Frank Raia and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason. Some Zimmer supporters are being lured into a scheme to recall Mason in a November election, feeding the Zimmer camp’s anti-Mason frenzy, while behind the scenes the recall could actually help Ramos’s bid against Zimmer by keeping Mason’s money busy so she can’t spend it supporting the third ticket.
Fulop people are angry at Mason for backing outgoing Mayor Jerramiah Healy in the Jersey City municipal election which Fulop won decisively. Their backing of a Mason recall would serve as revenge. Russo attended Fulop’s victory celebration, and Russo’s support for the Mason recall could help get Ramos elected, thus enabling Vision 20/20 to go forward, which would add more dependable votes to Russo’s ward. But any move to unseat Mason will need registered voters in the 2nd Ward on the recall committee, and thus Zimmer supporters will have to be fully engaged in recruiting them.
Freeholder Anthony Romano, whom Raia is seeking to run as his candidate for mayor, is under fire from Ramos supporters who say he is betraying his base in traditional Hoboken by not backing Ramos. A third slate most assuredly would mean a Ramos defeat in an election where there is no longer any run off.
Raia and Mason have a number of reasons for opposing a Stack takeover of Hoboken, partly because both seemed to have been offered Assembly slots that ultimately went to Garcia and Mukherji.
If Ramos stands a chance of beating Zimmer, he must have the full support of those who in the past have opposed Zimmer as well as the cash to pay for a professionally run campaign.
Mason wants Senate seat?
In a late-breaking addition, toward the end of the week, the Star-Ledger quoted anonymous sources as saying that Mason is eyeing Frank Lautenberg’s open U.S. Senate seat. The paper described her as “one of the state’s most prolific donors.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.