As Election Day draws closer, more and more campaign literature is popping up around Hoboken, and at the top of every poster and mailer is a mayoral candidate. That’s the name that stands out—Zimmer, Ramos, Occhipinti—the name you remember as you move on with your daily routine. Below those names are usually a few more: those residents running for city council.
On Nov. 5, in addition to choosing the city’s next top executive, Hoboken voters will also select three new (or incumbent) city council members. Of the nine-member council, six are devoted to specific wards throughout the city, but three seats are reserved for at-Large council members, tasked with not only catering to the needs of one neighborhood, but the city as a whole.
This election cycle, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, state Assemblyman Ruben Ramos, and Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti have each endorsed a slate of council candidates with whom they are running, while a perennial candidate is running outside the realm of organized politics on a platform of her own design.
All three mayoral candidates have fielded slates to fill three open at-Large city council seats, while one candidate is running independently.
It’s rare in Hoboken that a mayor/council-at-large election occurs without one slate sweeping, but there is no law that bars citizens from breaking rank and voting for whomever they like. On Election Day, Hoboken residents will have their pick of the litter.
Ramos’ Vision for Hoboken slate
The first of the three council slates to announce its candidacy, the Vision for Hoboken Team supporting Ramos, is made up of Eduardo Gonzalez, Joe Mindak and Laura Miani.
Gonzalez, a commodities portfolio manager for a large bank, has made advocating for smarter budget practices the main focus of his campaign. Last week he cited his professional experience of “managing money, allocating resources accordingly, and problem solving” as being useful when it comes to decisions about the city’s fiscal practices.
In public and in interviews, Gonzalez has criticized the Zimmer administration’s budget practices, especially what he said were undue salary raises for administrative officials while reducing the budget for things like parks and cultural affairs.
“Taxpayers are not getting any value for what we are paying for. If we have a true and transparent budget, it will give us the flexibility to reinvest back into the community,” he said.
He claimed that by reinvesting certain funds, the city could better alleviate parking and flooding issues, while still allowing the flexibility to address issues like infrastructure, affordable housing, and transportation.
Mindak, a local entrepreneur and philanthropist, started the design firm Tisha Creative when he moved to Hoboken 18 years ago and began publishing a local arts-and-culture magazine in 2009. An advertising expert, he named bringing visitors to Hoboken as his priority.
“Hoboken isn’t looked at as a place to visit, move to, or live for in the long haul anymore,” he said. “Visitors aren’t coming to town because the parking situation is out of hand. The things that made Hoboken a charming community are all gone, and people are moving to trendier places like Brooklyn and Jersey City.”
Mindak’s firm was contracted by the city to build a tourism website, but the work was halted when he announced his candidacy, and the city expressed concerns over possible pay-to-play violations. In his spare time, he does magic tricks for his kids, and he and his daughter have also co-published a children’s book.
Miani, a Wall Street professional and mother of two, named flood control, parking, and fiscal reform as her main concerns, noting that if elected, she would head an effort to build a parking garage on the outskirts of town with shuttle buses to bring people to and from the city’s center.
All three of the Vision for Hoboken candidates said they were frustrated by what they said was City Hall’s lack of communication and focus on “politics” rather than effective governance.
Two of the council candidates on Zimmer’s team, David Mello and Ravi Bhalla, are incumbents, having served on the council since 2009. The third, Jim Doyle, is a longtime Hoboken resident and open-space activist.
Mello, who moved to Hoboken in 1997, is a public-school teacher in the South Bronx and serves as a union representative for the United Federation of Teachers. He is married with two children, and said that they were the reason he originally became involved in local politics. He cited the city’s recent acquisition of a piece of property in his own southwestern neighborhood of Hoboken, which will soon be a city park, as the hallmark of his first term.
“This acquisition has paved the way for building the cornerstone of a larger park that I have long fought for and which is much needed in this underserved neighborhood,” he said last week.
Mello also cited his role in making the city more fiscally responsible. Countering Gonzalez’s claims about financial mismanagement, he noted that The Star-Ledger recently highlighted Hoboken as delivering some of the state’s highest tax relief.
Doyle, who was to fill the empty seat left by former Councilwoman Carol Marsh but was prevented from doing so when a judge ruled it illegal in July, works as an environmental lawyer and has lived in Hoboken for 26 years. In the 1990s, he was a member of the Coalition for a Better Waterfront, which advocated transforming the city’s coastline into public land. He is an avid cyclist, runner, and motorcyclist.
Doyle said that if elected, his main issue would be maintaining Hoboken’s high quality of life, which he said “can broadly be translated into what is built, how it is built, and how much is built.”
He proposed conducting a study of the city’s current infrastructure called a “build-out analysis,” which lays out Hoboken’s future given current planning and zoning codes, providing insight into how best to plan with respect to issues such as anticipated population, traffic, emergency services, and the growth of residential and commercial real estate.
“A build-out analysis will help to better inform our decisions on the nature and extent of future development,” he said. “This can all be done with an eye toward helping the city’s overall resiliency, as part of an overall strategy to protect us from future storm events.”
Asked how, if elected, he planned to serve successfully as the ninth member on a council that fought over his appointment for almost a year, he noted that it had nothing to do with him but rather with his perceived support of Zimmer.
“I am neither angry nor bitter, but I must say that I have not witnessed much willingness from those who oppose the mayor to cross the aisle and work together,” he said. “I recognize that life is full of little compromises, and I am certainly willing to work with all council members in an attempt to get things done.”
Bhalla, who was a nationally-ranked tennis player in high school, pointed toward his role as council president when the city avoided a default on a $52 million hospital bond by selling it to CarePoint Health and is role in redevelopment projects on the north and south ends of town as pillars of his first term.
As to what differentiates him from his opponents, Bhalla noted that unlike many Hoboken politicos, he has a reputation for keeping his cool.
“I am proud of my reputation as a voice of calm and reason in the face of a sometimes challenging environment,” he said. “My opponents have not shown to have a record that is comparable.”
Occhipinti’s One Hoboken candidates
Of the three slates in the race, each boasts a mix of relatively old and relatively new Hoboken residents, but it's the Occhipinti team of Frank Raia, Peter Biancamano, and Britney Montgomery-Cook that covers the spread best. Raia is a developer and chairman of the North Hudson Sewerage Authority who has lived in town for 62 years, while Montgomery-Cook moved to Hoboken only eight years ago. Biancamano, a school-board member, is a lifelong resident.
Raia, like Gonzalez, alleges mismanagement of the city’s budget and said he could do a better job by absorbing revenue from the Hoboken Parking Utility into the city budget to invest in flood pumps and create more parking. He also advocated for more transparency, arguing that all budgets should be posted online. He noted his experience with million-dollar budgets as evidence of his preparedness to deal with city fiscal matters.
Biancamano, whose family owns the Washington Street deli that bears his name, was the first person in his family to go to college and now works as a producer at MSNBC. He railed against current parking laws, which he said had a bad effect on local business, and the effect of overdevelopment on a lack of parking in general.
“[Our parking laws] are causing historic Hoboken businesses like Maxwell’s to leave Hoboken,” he said. “Parking laws are supposed to help residents and businesses, not hurt them.”
Montgomery-Cook, a special-education teacher in Manhattan, grew up in New Jersey but has traveled around the world, and is one continent away (South America) from a perfect record. She said that as a councilwoman, flooding would be at the top of her agenda.
Patricia Waiters, the independent
The 2013 city council election is not Patricia Waiters’ first foray into Hoboken politics. She is also running for the school board this year and has run for mayor in the past. A former corrections officer, Waiters is running for council independently of a slate, and regularly makes it known when she speaks at council meetings that her loyalties lie solely with the residents of Hoboken.
“I’m running as an independent candidate because I owe my loyalty to the voters and to my community,” she said. “I don’t answer to any political boss, political machine, or developer to whom I owe any paybacks for supporting my campaign. I will continue to be a voice of strength for the people.”
Asked what issues she cared most about, Waiters responded that uniting Hoboken was a prerequisite to progress, and that the important problems couldn’t be solved without bringing everyone on board.
“The majority versus the minority has to end,” she said. “We have to work as a team and respect each other’s opinions whether we like it or not. We have to put our residents first and stop segregating the city.”
She pointed to her consistent attendance of council, housing authority, planning and zoning board and board of education meetings as an indicator of her loyalty to public service and the people of Hoboken.
“I have educated myself to learn the true meaning of politics, both bad and good,” she said. “I see so much corruption in Hudson County politics that it makes me sick to my stomach. It motivates me to run for office so I can bring back integrity and good government.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org