After receiving the latest census data, the Hudson County Board of Elections redrew the borders of Jersey City's wards. This process ensures that the populations in each ward remain relatively equal.
During this procedure, Donnelly's residence was put in a different ward than the one she represents. A resident of Ward B since 1976, Donnelly was suddenly shifted to Ward F.
According to Donnelly, this was not an accident. "I know definitely it was political retribution," Donnelly said of her circumstance. "I had a difference of opinion with Beth Janiszewski as far as the [Democratic] committee people were concerned. There were some committee people that she wanted to change, and I didn't agree."
Mrs. Janiszewski, whose husband Robert was once the county executive before FBI investigations forced him to resign in September, was a commissioner on the Board of Elections.
At the time, Mr. Janiszewski was the chairman of the Democratic Party in Hudson County, and Mrs. Janiszewski oversaw the committee's members and key power positions. Donnelly is also a player in that committee, and sometimes disagreed with the people Mrs. Janiszewski ousted from the committee's top positions. Mrs. Janiszewski has departed from the Hudson County political scene with her husband.
"I have no problem with any part of my ward reaching out into another neighborhood or another area," Donnelly said. "But I would like to live in the ward I represent."
If Donnelly does not get included into her old ward, then she will not be eligible to run for re-election in Ward B. But Donnelly may get a second chance. Hearing complaints from various parties on how the Board of Elections meeting was conducted, Jersey City lawyer and activist Howard Moskowitz launched a campaign to repeal the new ward map. After doing some research, Moskowitz learned that the board failed to comply with state open-meeting laws requiring it to notify newspapers about the meeting in advance.
He also discovered that the new wards were out of step with state regulations that require the difference in population between the largest ward and the smallest ward fall within a certain range. According to Moskowitz's calculations, the new map of the wards surpassed the limit.
He said Donnelly's circumstance was not the reason behind his litigation. "You could turn the [wards] inside out as far as I'm concerned," said Moskowitz, a resident of Ward B. "I would rather see 'x' than 'y,' but that has nothing to do with the litigation whatsoever."
David Donnelly, the councilwoman's son and aide, said that he had contact with Mr. Moskowitz before the lawsuit was filed, but that it did not play a key factor in why it was filed.
Either way, the city's corporate counsel agreed that a Sunshine law had been broken, adding that the process would have to be revisited.
Since the original map was repealed, residents have been confused as to who their councilperson is. Donnelly said. Making an agreement with Councilwoman Viola Richardson, Ward F, Donnelly said that both of them have been answering calls for her constituents according to the old map and the new.
City Clerk maps out city
Donnelly was not the only one who was jilted by the decision of the Board of Elections. City Clerk Robert Byrne had requested that the county postpone the July 11 meeting, albeit for different reasons.
According to Byrne, county officials informed each municipal city clerk in April 2001 to come up with a plan for restructuring the district lines. Days before the commissioners meeting on July 11, Byrne received a memo about it. Due to the short notice, Byrne's schedule did not allow him to attend the meeting, and he quickly fired off a memo asking for a postponement. The memo was ignored, and his suggestions were never heard.
Now, Byrne said, he has a chance to use his 13 years of experience as the city clerk to present a new map that fairly adjusts districts for populations shifts, recognizes geographical boundaries, and acknowledges traditional city lines. In general, he said, the new map should be designed so as not to "pack" neighborhoods with one ethnic group, or "crack" neighborhoods by splicing up established neighborhoods that have developed political equity through their ethnic concentration. "The least change is the best change," Byrne said. He added that Donnelly's situation will be taken into consideration, but is not the basis on how the new wards are drawn.
Mayor Glenn Cunningham, who will offer some insight into the new map, agreed with Byrne. "By law you can't let the residency of candidates be a determining factor," Cunningham said. "I'm in favor of them reviewing the whole ward mapping." He said the original process was "rushed."
Byrne will meet with the he board of commissioners, which is now down to three members since Mrs. Janiszewski's departure, to discuss preliminary plans for redrawing the district lines on Wednesday. He said a new map should be approved by the end of February.