Incumbent 5th Fifth Ward Councilman Michael Cricco, 47, was first elected in May of 1995 and won re-election in 1999. Now he is seeking a third term on Mayor David Roberts' Hoboken United ticket. For both of his successful campaigns, he was a member of former Mayor Anthony Russo's ticket. The born and raised Hobokenite describes himself as a "full-time independent councilperson" who has been able to successfully navigate the political waters in two different administrations.
Last week, Cricco said he is proud to run on his eight-year record. "I'm proud of the fact that I have never voted for a tax increase," he said. In fact, he said, he has voted for a tax decrease seven different times, and while he was chairman of the council's Revenue and Finance Committee in 1997, he sponsored a budget that reduced the municipal tax rate by 19 percent.
On the topic of development, an especially important topic in the 5th Ward where the Northwest Redevelopment plan is currently being implemented, Cricco said that he has an eight-year record of supporting "smart development."
Proposed for the northwest area are a Shop-Rite supermarket, proposed schools, market-rate apartments, parks, and 90 units of affordable housing.
Cricco has sponsored a resolution requiring that each individual condominium owner to be notified of any proposed application for development within 200 feet of their property. He has sponsored a resolution against the Millennium Towers proposed project, two 43-story towers in Jersey City near Hoboken's border. He said it would have destroyed views of the Hudson River. He was actually one of the first people in town to speak out against a proposed high rise at 1600 Park Ave. Soon after, other politicians followed.
He said during his interview that his biggest motivation for running for re-election is to see the Northwest Redevelopment Plan completed. The plan is the framework for development in the formerly blighted industrial area in the northwest section of the city.
"Our vision for the Northwest Redevelopment is finally coming to fruition," he said. "We're going to be able to keep what we love about our neighborhood, plus we're going to be able to add much need elements, like a Shop-Rite Supermarket, a large quantity of new open space, and a state-of-the-art middle/high school campus."
Cricco added that there is a large amount of open space planned for the Northwest Redevelopment. He supports the Board of Education's plan to use two and half blocks for a new baseball field at the Cognis Chemical property. "This project is going to bring our residents and children two and a half blocks of brand new ballfields," he said. "It's something that the city desperately needed."
Cricco has been a long-time advocate for Title IX compliance, the federal law that mandates that cities and educational intuitions provide equal facilities for boys and girls. "These new fields will go a long way to make sure that Hoboken complies with Title IX," said Cricco, who has served as volunteer soccer coach, baseball coach, girls' softball coach, and who organized a girls' softball clinic.
On the quality-of-life issues, Cricco has worked with the Environmental Committee in planting more than 200 trees throughout Hoboken and sponsored the resolution that created the farmers market. He also was a vocal proponent of the city's noise ordinance, which he sponsored. It cracked down on car horns, jackhammers, and boom boxes. He also sponsored a resolution providing noise meters for the police department.
When it comes to transportation issues, Cricco rewrote and sponsored Hoboken's taxi ordinance for better treatment of citizens by cab drivers.
He was also an early advocate for the western alignment of the light rail system, even when his allies were against it and wanted it on the east side.
He is a member of the Holy Name Society, Sts. Peter and Paul, the Hoboken B.P.O. Elks, and an original member of the Hoboken Quality of Life Committee.
In her 23 years in Hoboken, Ines Garcia-Keim of the Hoboken Alliance ticket has been an advocate for educational options, the waterfront, the arts, and the Latino and Puerto Rican culture.
Originally, Garcia-Keim, who was born in Puerto Rico, came to New York City to attend Barnard College at Columbia, from where she holds a degree. She was the first woman in her family to earn a college degree. She now works for a major airline and is married with two children.
Soon after school, she moved to Hoboken and quickly became involved as a respected activist. After the birth of her first child in 1993, she became a familiar figure at Board of Education meetings, and ran unsuccessfully for board election in 1995 and 1996. "A quality education is the most powerful tool you can use to improve people's lives," she has said in an interview.
It was around this time she became involved in parents' and educators' dream of bringing a Charter School to Hoboken. Garcia-Keim was selected as one of he founding trustees for the Hoboken Charter School, and to this day is one of the city's most vocal supporters of charter schools.
She is also involved in supporting and enriching the city's arts and cultural identity. She co-founded the Puerto Rican Cultural Committee Scholarship Fund in 1996 and served as its chair. So far, the fund has helped 22 students meet their first-year college expenses. Garcia-Keim, who is bilingual, has taught English as a Second Language, currently translates the Hoboken Historical Museum's informational flyers into Spanish, and often volunteers her time at museum events. Working with the city, she brought the Pregones Theater Summer Stage to Hoboken in 2002.
She also volunteers with Woman Rising by assisting victims of domestic violence. She is a member of Hoboken's Rent Leveling Board.
Garcia-Keim said during her interview that by far the most important issue facing the 5th Ward is the development in the Northwest Development Zone. The City Council created the "Northwest Redevelopment Area" in the 1990s and accordingly adopted a Redevelopment Plan for the area to stimulate growth in the blighted region. She said that the city has an "historic opportunity" to mold a new neighborhood in the city.
"What concerns me," she said, "is that the neighborhood being built doesn't look anything like the 5th Ward and doesn't look anything like Hoboken."
She said that the monotony of five-story buildings, made up overwhelmingly of one- and two-bedroom apartments over one story of parking, is not consistent with the what Hoboken as a whole looks like.
She also said she does not support the Board of Education's plan to create a single citywide middle/high school campus in the Northwest Redevelopment Zone.
"I support small, neighborhood schools," she said. "Small schools are proven to work especially in urban districts. The plan that they have presented is really a step backwards."
Garcia-Keim said that the city needs to stop parceling out the land in that zone, lot by lot, to developers of luxury residential projects.
She believes the plan needs to be reopened, investigated, and new ideas for that area of town should be brought to the table. She said that with little retail or commercial options in that area, many of the residents who have already moved into new developments feel isolated. She said that street life is important in creating a sense of identity for a neighborhood.
"That's why I support bringing back the corner store," she said. She said that more retail options, professional offices for doctors, attorneys, and back offices for financial firms, would be appropriate.
Garcia-Keim said that the biggest issue facing the city is its structural deficit, which occurs when the city's annual revenue is less that its annual appropriations, forcing it to rely on new non-recurring revenue sources each year to close the gap.
The 2003 budget relied on $13.4 million in one-shot non-recurring revenues. "Year after year, Hoboken has relied on one-shot revenues," she said. "There is only so much money we can take from the Parking Authority [now the Parking Utility], and there is only so much property that the city can sell."
In the 2003 fiscal budget, the city took $8 million from the Parking Utility's reserves to help plug the structural deficit. To save money, she suggested that the city be much more aggressive when negotiating professional service contracts and benefit contracts, such as health insurance.
Hoboken Alliance also supports a citywide hiring freeze except for real emergencies, or for positions that pay for themselves.
Jane Richards-Mercado, 49, is a third generation Hoboken resident who is running as an independent in the 5th Ward. She worked in the city's Purchasing Department for over 26 years and now works as a property manager for a prestigious New Jersey management company.
With that company, she has a portfolio of over 1,300 units, specializing in affordable housing and 55-and-over communities. She is a graduate of Hoboken High School and holds a degree in Administration/Management and an M.S. in Health Science Administration. Her civic activities include being a member on the city's Emergency Management Council, and being the former secretary of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the former secretary of the Hoboken Police Athletic League. She is also involved in the Waterfront Arts Festival and the Ragamuffin Parade. She has two children, two step-children, and is a proud grandmother.
"What disturbs me the most is that there are the same issues year after year that don't get resolved," said Richards-Mercado.
One example she used was the parking situation. "They have never really had a plan of action to deal with parking," she said.
She said that, if elected, the first thing she would do is research options to make parking affordable. She said there are many private lots in the city, but they are out of reach for a large portion of the community. She added that finding ways to lower costs in municipal garages will encourage people into the facilities and open up on-street spaces.
Richards-Mercado is also in favor of a stabilized reduced budget. "[Hoboken's] budget just keeps going up and up," she said. "That kind of fiscal irresponsibility wouldn't fly in the private sector. We need to look upon the city as if it were a business and run it that way."
On the issue of affordable housing, she said that the city needs to expand its present allotment of senior housing. "There are seniors that have spent their entire lives in Hoboken that are being forced out of the city because they can't afford to stay here," she said. "These seniors are really the backbone of the city and we need to do everything in our power to keep them here."
She said that the city should be more aggressive in applying for federal and state grants that fund senior housing. She also would negotiate with developers of local residential projects to include affordable housing geared for seniors in their developments.
Also regarding development, Richards-Mercado said she is supporter of responsible development based on a viable master plan.
On the subject of open space, she said that the 5th Ward does not have nearly enough parks and athletic fields. She said that the last real area that has space for fields is in the northwest section of the city.
She would also like to work on creating new facilities for the police and fire departments. "These buildings are becoming antiquated, and several of them need to be replaced," she said. Her husband is a retired Hoboken police officer.
She concluded her interview by saying that one of the most important duties of a City Council member is that they must be accessible to the constituents. "Communication is extremely important in municipal government," she said. "That's why I will dedicate one evening a week to meet with residents of the 5th Ward, and I will be willing to meet the senior citizens once a month."