One stereotype about young people living in Hoboken is that they move here for a few years until they can afford Manhattan, or until they start families and leave for the suburbs. Another stereotype is that they’re not very interested politically.
Recent interviews with more than 20 Hoboken residents between the ages of 25 and 45, conducted at bars, parks, and bus stops, showed that the first stereotype is not nearly as true as it used to be, but the second still is.
Most interviewees asked not to be named and approximately half only gave a first name, due to their apprehensions over the political questions.
Overwhelmingly, the people interviewed said they moved to Hoboken for the same reason: it’s cheaper than New York City.
Everyone knew Dawn Zimmer is the mayor (she is up for re-election in November). Their answers to the other questions differed by age.
None of the interviewees under 30 could name their council representative. When asked which political issues they cared about, the younger ones cited parking and the recent discontinuation of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In recent years, the parade had led to an all-day party atmosphere in town, and the city clashed with the private parade committee on whether to move it from Saturday to a Wednesday night. In the last two years, the parade has been canceled.
The other group of people interviewed, aged 30 to 40, were different. Many have put their partying behind them and are in committed relationships or have recently started a family. Their hotbutton issues have nothing to do with St. Patty’s Day. They want more stop signs and parks.
Out of 15 people between 30 and 40 who were interviewed, one named 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason as her elected representative. The rest had no idea who was representing them on the nine-member council. While the city’s most ardent political observers tend to believe that most residents understand all of the political nuances in town, clearly this is not the case.
When asked how often they spend an evening in Hoboken rather than Manhattan, a surprising number of people said they stay on Jersey-side more often. To live and to play, more young people are staying in Hoboken.
‘It’s so cute’
There are many reasons to move to Hoboken when you’re young: The bars. The commute. Lower rents than those in Manhattan.
Those were the reasons nearly every post-grad gave for moving here. That, and they got sick of Brooklyn.
“I lived in a pretty sketchy area, and it’s just so much nicer here, not to mention a bit cheaper,” said Ally, a 23-year-old Canadian working her way through law school. “It’s cute. I like the vibe.”
Ally only moved here recently, and she hit the town with her girlfriends for the first time on a recent Saturday. They got dinner, and went for drinks, and had the interesting experience of wanting to be a bit older than they were.
“It was great, and then it got really fratty,” she said. “It was like, everyone was young, which is cool, and then everyone’s too young.”
Some other young ladies we interviewed expressed a similar opinion, suggesting that young men in Hoboken are lacking in either maturity or sensitivity.
Asked about talking to members of the opposite sex, a 25-year-old named Chelsea used the word “combative.”
“Not combative toward girls,” she clarified. “But the guys here travel in packs, and then they all talk to the same girls. And all of a sudden they’re arguing with each other while still trying to be gentlemen.”
Hoboken’s bar scene is flourishing. One young man, a 26-year-old named Greg, who appeared to have had several drinks but was not traveling in a pack, summed it up.
“Everyone’s looking for love,” he said. “But everyone just ends up eating pizza at the end of the night and going home. But that’s what being young is, right? We find love later.”
Those who have found love, the ones ranging in age from about 30 to 40, are doing just fine in Hoboken, they say. They also used the word “cute” a lot to describe the mile-square city, but perhaps they meant the babies.
“This place is like stroller heaven,” said Jeff, 42. “There are parks. There’s not enough parks, but they’re here, and it seems a bit safer of a place to raise kids.”
While many of the younger people demanded the return of the St. Patrick’s parade, Jeff said he’d like to see more restaurants developed on the waterfront.
Mike, a 31-year-old from Philadelphia who works in finance, said that parking is the issue he’s most concerned about.
Ashlee Parkhurst, who, in addition to being nine months pregnant, also had the distinction as the only person interviewed for this story who agreed to give a last name, moved here with her husband and older child from Brooklyn due to a recommendation from friends.
She said that while they have no plans to leave Hoboken any time soon, they don’t intend to live in such a busy place in the long-term.
“I guess we’re going to see how it goes,” she said, motioning to her belly. “I will say that it’s incredibly nice to come home to a place that has some semblance of peace and quiet.”
‘I’m not registered, but...’
If Hoboken’s reputation is as a haven for young people, it’s also got a reputation as a haven for heated Jersey-style politics. With millions of dollars in contracts and development at stake in one square mile, tensions tend to run high.
Zimmer’s platform is consistently advertised as reform-minded, but her opponents say that her administration is just more of the status quo. (She faces two challengers in November). With the next generation of Hoboken residents, it's difficult to know if they’ll ever get involved.
“I don’t pay as much attention as I should,” said Dino, a 30-year-old. “But I’m a renter, so it probably doesn’t matter for me as much as it does for landlords.”
When Dino was told that a major referendum about rent control will be on the ballot in November (see last week’s cover story), he still seemed relatively uninterested.
An astonishing number of people said the parking crunch was their number one political issue, and plenty of them commented on the absurdity of it.
“Parking is obviously something that needs to be dealt with, but people talk about it here like they talk about abortion and gay marriage elsewhere; it’s such a hot thing to talk about,” said Greg.
Many parents said that they were concerned about the schools, but not a single one knew that there will be an election for three of the nine school board seats this November (watch the Reporter in future weeks for more stories on that issue).
Many of the older interviewees were registered to vote, which apparently is something you do when you turn 30, because almost none of the people under that age were registered.
Emily, a dancer who moved here just after Hurricane Sandy, said that she registered because her landlord’s son, Peter Biancamano, is running for City Council. (He is one of three council-at-large candidates running with 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti against Zimmer and her incumbent council slate).
But what about the city’s politics?
“I know it’s pretty messy,” said Mike from Philly, who cited the heated comments on one of the local news websites. “It seems like there’s a lot of back and forth. I guess I wouldn’t get involved because it seems like no one’s got any hope that anything can be resolved.”
Jeff used several buzzwords unique to Hoboken’s political scene – the type used in letters to the Reporter, in political columns, and on local blogs – when he was asked specifically what he’d heard.
“I think there are a New Guard and an Old Guard,” he said. “I think the New Guard’s really 21st century, family-friendly, and the Old Guard is just trying to maintain its influence at any cost.”
The “Old Guard” might feel differently about those characterizations, he admitted. But asked if he could name anyone on either side, he couldn’t.
Ally, the 23-year-old law student, who got a pass on the voting question due to being Canadian, posed an interesting point when asked if she knew about Hoboken’s political reputation.
“I should know more. I’m interested to, you know,” she said. “I actually just took a class on local government, but it focused on New York City politics.”
For those planning to vote in the governor’s race on Nov. 4, they also have the opportunity to weigh in on a Hoboken mayoral candidate, three councilpeople-at-large, three school board members, and a measure to lift rent control in certain types of housing.
To learn more, keep reading the Reporter (hudsonreporter.com) and send letters to editorial@Hudsonreporter.com.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org