Wednesday night, Hoboken voters got the opportunity to meet local candidates at an event at Hoboken's United Synagogue, which was sponsored by the city's chapter of the League of Women Voters.
For more than an hour, the three candidates for Hudson County executive answered questions from the crowd about taxes, development, and other issues. The race for the county executive, as well as the election of the nine seats on the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, has a novel intrigue rising out of the rash indictments for extortion and corruption handed down over the past 12 months.
Because of the resignation of former County Executive Robert Janiszewski in 2001, this year sees a rare election that has the county executive position being voted on at the same time as all nine freeholders. The county executive will serve only one year to complete Janiszewski's unexpired term. The election for a full four years will be held in Nov. 2003.
Three candidates are vying for county executive. They are Democrat Tom DeGise, Republican Ira Jersey and Green Party candidate Claudette Meliere.
At Wednesday's event, DeGise, a lifelong educator and Jersey City Council president under former Republican Mayor Bret Schundler, said that re-establishing trust in county government is one of his larger goals. "We need to restore confidence, integrity and trust in county government," he said. He suggested that the county establish a six-person board of ethics and hire a firm to make high-level officials fully aware of any ethically challenging situations. "But more than anything we need to bring integrity back to the top," he said. "At no point in my professional, personal or political life has there ever even been a hint of scandal."
Ira Jersey, who has held numerous posts in the Hudson County Young Republican Party and chaired the Jersey City Republican Party, said that a dirt-free government and clean budget are his goals. "I would like to clean up county government," said Jersey. He said that one thing he would like to do, if elected, is hold open-door hours where the public would be able to talk directly to the county executive. He said that such one-on-one interactions will put a face on local government as well as helping make the political process transparent.
He added that part of cleaning up government includes a fine-tooth examination of the county's $346 million budget. "They say that we have a balanced budget, but right now I'm not convinced that we do have a balanced budget anymore," he said.
Meliere said that the Green Party is an "alternative" to the other parties. She said her biggest issues are campaign finance reform, election reform and controlling development.
Another area of discussion was the county taxes. Without giving many specifics, Jersey said that it would be his goal to stop patronage and wasteful spending. "The only way to lower taxes is to lower expenses," said Jersey.
DeGise said maintaining a solid ratable base is the way to level taxes. That means encouraging more development of tax-paying properties.
Meliere disagreed with DeGise and said that more development is not the answer to lower taxes. She said that in her estimation, every new project that comes on-line uses more in services than what it produces in taxes.
Also on hand for Wednesday's event were three of the candidates for Hudson County freeholder. The nine-member Board of Chosen Freeholders is the legislative body offering advice and consent to the actions of the county executive. The candidates are seeking three-year terms.
Hoboken and part of Jersey City Heights make up the Fifth Freeholder District. Incumbent Maurice Fitzgibbons is being challenged by Republican Jerry Forman, Green Party Candidate Daniel Tumpson, and Independent Alternative Candidate Walter Zapoluch. Fitzgibbons, Forman and Tumpson live in Hoboken.
On the national level Last June, most voters believed they would have a choice between incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli and Independent Republican Douglas Forrester for senate. But an unexpected Torricelli resignation consigned former U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg to the Democratic line.
Voters will also have a choice of minor party candidates such as Conservative Norman E. Wahner, Green Party candidate John "Ted" Glick, Independent Libertarian Elizabeth Macron, and Socialist candidate Gregory Pason.
Congressional districts present no surprises from those candidates picked in the June primary. In the 9th Congressional district - which includes Secaucus and parts of Jersey City and North Bergen - Incumbent Democratic Congressman Steve Rothman will defend his seat against challenger Joseph Glass. Rothman is running for his fourth term.
In the 10th district, which includes part of Jersey City, Incumbent Democrat Rep. Donald Payne is challenged by Republican Andrew Wirtz. Payne, a native of Newark, is running for his eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was first elected in 1988.
In the 13th congressional district that includes all of North Hudson, Hoboken and part of Jersey City, Democrat incumbent Rep. Robert Menendez faces five challengers.
These challengers include Republican James Geron, who previously ran for the state legislature in 2001. The Green Party candidate is Pat Henry Faulkner, a long time activist in Hudson County. Independent candidate Dick Hester previously ran for Congress in 1996 on a pro-life platform. Challenger Herbert H. Shaw of North Bergen is running on a party called Politicians are Crooks.Independent Esmat Zaklama of Jersey City is running on an anti-corruption platform.
The polls in Hoboken will open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.