Allies of various candidates running for a 4th Ward council seat came up to the microphone at Wednesday's City Council meeting to slam one of their toughest opponents, sitting 4th Ward Councilman Chris Campos, who is running for re-election.
There are three candidates running for Campos' seat. The election will be held Nov. 6.
A total of three speakers criticized Campos for the behavior he had exhibited during the previous week's meeting at the Hoboken Housing Authority. At that meeting, Campos vocally led residents in opposition to the proposed contract extension for the HHA's executive director, Troy Washington. Some said that Campos went too far in riling up the audience at the meeting, and accused him of doing it for political purposes. Campos and his allies have countered that he became emotional at the meeting because the issues were important.
At that housing meeting, tenants of the federally-subsidized Hoboken Housing Authority projects feared that the HHA Board of Commissioners would extend the contract of unpopular Housing Authority Executive Director Troy Washington. The HHA board of commissioners said that they would let the public speak before they took action. But first they wanted to get through routine business, including budget discussions. Campos felt that the contract discussion should take precedence and shouted for the commissioners to let the people speak about it rather than conducting regular business.
When it became clear that the meeting could not be conducted over the noise from Campos and others, the commissioners retreated to a separate room to discuss the contract in private session. Campos tried to stop the session and got into a scuffle with an HHA security guard. The police were called.
In the end, the commissioners tabled the contract discussion until the next meeting. Washington may end up leaving the agency in any case, as he has been tabbed to possibly lead the Asbury Park Housing Authority.
At Wednesday's City Council meeting, three politicos who support other candidates in the upcoming November election decided it would be a good time to publicly lambaste Campos for his actions.
Walker drops out and speaks up
The first critic was Lynda Walker, a longtime resident of the HHA projects and a tenant activist. Walker was, until recently, running for the 4th Ward position but dropped out, citing health reasons. Walker was in the hospital and missed the last HHA meeting. She is an ally of another candidate, Michael Lenz, who has been an extremely vocal critic of Campos.
Walker said that she had not been to the HHA meeting, but that she heard about it from several people.
"As a city councilman, you need to be held accountable for you actions," said Walker, pointing at Campos. "How can the City Council allow you to continue to sit after you incited such a vile and vicious scene?"
Campos shot back, "You said something about accountability. You're a commissioner and you weren't at the meeting. Who's keeping the commissioners down there accountable?"
Campos added, "The people want to be heard. Unfortunately you weren't there to see the tears flowing for Ms. Forbes' [a resident's] face, so you don't know the whole story."
Walker returned, "The tears were flowing while you were away in law school."
Campos has been criticized for not having been involved in HHA issues for more than four years, as he was away in school. Campos became involved when picked for the position for the Roberts administration this spring. Campos is now a non-practicing attorney.
When Walker criticized Campos for being away, Campos changed his tactic and instead of defending himself, resisted.
But a second reference by Walker to his time in law school proved too much. "Are you criticizing me for pulling myself up by my bootstraps?" Campos asked.
After more than five minutes of back-and-forth arguing, City Council President Tony Soares banged the gavel to end the discussion. But Soares, an ally of Campos, could not resist a jab at Walker.
"Thank you, Ms. Walker," Soares said. "I do hope you decide to attend future HHA meetings."
After the meeting, Walker, who was in the hospital during the last meeting, took offense to Soares' statement.
"My feelings are really hurt," Walker said.
Since being made a commissioner three months ago, Walker has not been to any of the scheduled meetings. Before Sept. 26, the board had not met since March because there has not been a quorum of at least four commissioners.
Walker said, "Members of this administration told me to skip meetings on purpose and that's what I did, and I don't care who knows anymore. It horrible that now they turn around and chastise me because I missed those meetings."
Walker has claimed that she and other commissioners were told to miss HHA meetings so that they could prevent any chance of Washington's contract being extended by a board majority.
Washington has been criticized for, among other things, letting coveted apartments remain vacant and letting grounds become unsightly at the HHA
Council President Soares denied last week that anyone in the administration would instruct a commissioner not to attend meetings.
"I didn't give her any such order, and I very seriously doubt that anyone in the administration would do such a thing," he said. "It seems highly unlikely a woman who is as independent as Lynda is would do anything we told her anyway."
Two more critics
After Walker at the microphone was former Councilman James Fitzsimmons, who was also not at the HHA meeting but who also criticized Councilman Campos. Fitzsimmons is assisting 4th Ward candidate and former Councilwoman Nellie Moyeno in her bid for the council seat.
"Tonight I waited 40 minutes for my turn at the microphone," Fitzsimmons said. "Now I'm not going to start shouting, and I'm not inciting any public unruliness so that the public can speak out of turn. I'm going to follow the rules and the protocol of the council just like you should have followed those rules at the Housing Authority."
A former aide to Mayor Anthony Russo, Robert Crespo, who the nephew of candidate Moyeno and is working on her campaign, also spoke. He told Campos that he should tone down his behavior.
Crespo also said that it wasn't fair for Campos to play the race card during his argument with Walker. Campos had charged, during his fight with Walker earlier in the meeting, that she had only spoken of near-riot conditions at the HHA meeting because riots are unfairly associated with people of color.
After the meeting, Campos said that the attacks on him were political. He said that the attackers were losing sight of the controversy over the real issues at the Housing Authority.
"These [Housing Authority] residents have been ignored and abused for too long," Campos said. "These people are angry and frustrated and I truly hope that people start listening to their problems, and not all of this political talk."
Ready to step out of the scuffling?
As 4th Ward politics heat up, Housing Authority Director Troy Washington may take a job in Asbury Park
Washington oversees the 1,353 federally subsidized low-income housing units in the southwest portion of Hoboken. Many tenants of the projects believe that Washington has not been doing a good job in management, while others feel that the criticism of Washington is political.
Washington is still without a long-term contract after the board of commissioners decided to table the issue of extending or renewing Washington's contract at its highly contentious Sept. 26 meeting.
Therefore, Washington is continuing to serve on a month-to-month basis until the board of commissioners meets again or until Washington decides to leave.
In a new twist to the story, the Asbury Park Press reported Tuesday that the Asbury Park Housing Authority's commissioners voted 5 to 1 Monday to ask their labor council to offer the position of executive director to Washington. The salary for the new job is undisclosed.
Washington has not publicly announced yet whether or not he will take the job. "It's on the record that job has been offered to me, but I really can't comment any further right now," said Washington from his office Thursday. "Negotiations are going on and the offer is still pending, but I want the residents to know that for now I am highly committed to Hoboken and have very much enjoyed my tenure here thus far."
Interim 4th Ward candidate Chris Campos, one of Washington's biggest critics, said that Washington's leaving would beneficial no mater the method of his departure.
"I think it's a good thing if he takes that job," said Campos. "He does have good credentials, and if he learns to be more responsive to the residents he could be an effective director. I think a change of scenery might be the best thing for everyone."
Campos' political ally and fellow councilman Ruben Ramos agreed that the move might be the best for the residents and Washington.
"I hope does he does make the move," said Ramos Thursday. "It would make a bad situation better for everyone and will allow him and us to move forward."
In the Asbury Park Press article, Council President Tony Soares criticized Washington for the conditions at the Hoboken Housing Authority.
The article also cited Asbury Park housing commissioners as saying that they were aware of the political turmoil that surrounds the HHA in Hoboken.