"The situation is fluid," said one source. "This is only a small group of people who have made this deal. There are still other people who need to be heard such as state Ray Lesniak, U.S. Senator Jon Corzine and others."
The agreement came after nearly 24 hours of positioning and an apparently strong push by Councilman Bill Gaughan, who had strong support among some of the council, though was unable to come up with the five votes necessary to get named interim mayor.
Mayor Cunningham, who died late on May 25, held two held two key positions: Mayor of Jersey City and state senator for the 31st District. Cunningham was also the central force holding together an alternative political faction in the Democratic Party. Within a half hour of his death, the Washburn Avenue headquarters of the Hudson County Democratic Party was lit up and filled with hurried meetings discussing as to whom would do what or fill what position.
Five council votes needed to become mayor
According to City Clerk Robert Byrne, City Council President L. Harvey Smith has been named as the interim mayor. The city council, under law, is required to vote for a new mayor within 30 days. This requires five votes, regardless of how many of the nine council members who are present at the meeting.
"If five show up, the person would still need five votes," Byrne said.
The person picked by the council would fill the seat until a November general election. The November election for the balance of Cunningham's term - which ends on June 30, 2005. A May 2005 election for mayor and possible runoff election would determine who would win the seat for the four year term after that. Nominating petitions for those seeking to participate in the November 2004 election is the day after Labor Day, or Sept. 7, 2004.
A committee vote of the 324 members in the 31st District will decide who will replace Cunningham in the state senate. This would be for Cunningham's unexpired senate seat, which runs until Dec. 31, 2006.
A new power struggle?
According to former Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann - one of the architect's of Cunningham's successful 2003 run for state Senate - a new political order may emerge out of the ashes of Cunningham's empire.
"This is really a great opportunity for DeGise to consolidate power in Jersey City and become independent of Menendez," McCann said. "The question is: what is he going to do with the opportunity?"
Under this theory, Menendez would want to give the senate seat to Doria in order to keep it out of Jersey City and give the mayor's seat to someone with strong loyalty to Menendez, like Jr. Maldonado.
"It makes sense for Menendez to want to control both seats. But Menendez isn't going to want anyone there that will be an independent thinker like Melissa Holloway or Jerry Healy."
DeGise, McCann advised, should avoid letting Menendez diminish Jersey City's power. He suggested Mariano Vega as interim mayor and L. Harvey Smith as state senator. Vega, under this theory would bring to the ticket white and Latino votes, while Smith would continue the tradition of having an African American in the senate seat.
But the choices of candidates are very limited with Smith, Sandra Cunningham, Lou Manzo, Bill Gaughan and even DeGise as the front runners in any possible race for mayor. But each has draw backs. While Manzo could pick up the endorsement of the remnants of the Cunningham machine, he might face a three way race if Cunningham's widow, Sandra decides to run, and both could lose to a candidate backed by the Hudson County Democratic Organization. This would leave Manzo at risk next Spring when he faces the HCDO in a primary battle when he will lack the Cunningham boost he had in last year's primary. DeGise could find himself in a nasty political battle he doesn't need or want. Gaughan's friendship with former Union City Mayor Rudy Garcia - an enemy of Menendez - may not get Menendez support. Sandra Cunningham may not get enough votes in the African-American community to win. And L. Harvey Smith, unfairly smeared by pro-Cunningham people, might find even fewer votes in the African American Community. But by all accounts, if Smith gets the nod for the interim mayoral position, it will take hell and high water to keep him from running again in November, and later in the May 2005 election.
Cunningham's last interview
In perhaps the last interview he gave to the press before his untimely death on May 25, state Senator and Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham was upbeat, and saw a bright future for Jersey City. The first African American mayor in Jersey City history, Cunningham believed he had overcome the worst hurdles the political civil war plaguing Hudson County Democrats. He believed his administration was on its way to making a positive mark in a variety of areas, but especially making life better for residents of the city. He said he looked forward towards the primary, laying out a bit of a strategy he hoped would help him win reelection as mayor in May 2005 and give him control of the city council.
Cunningham was particularly pleased about being named a delegate in the effort to elect John Kerry as President of the United States later this year and had already laid out an agenda for after the primary.
"I'm working in the primary for column B and John Kerry," Cunningham said. "But the big fight for Kerry won't be until the fall. I'm going to be out front on this. I was on his team before anybody, and this battle is for the hearts of the people."
Cunningham said he had overcome many of the obstructions placed in his way by the city council, pushing through all the initiatives he believed were needed to make life better in Jersey City such as filling potholes and fixing up the parks.
"While some on the council might criticize me for abatements, they were abatements they voted to approve," Cunningham said. "I have supported those developments I believed would move our city forward."
He cited the restoration of Apple Tree House and the construction of affordable housing as part of these successes.
"We have seen the construction of more than 500 new houses in Jersey City in the last year," he said. "As a state senator, I was able to get more funds for the city, more money for our parks. We have two new swimming pools and we're about to start on new schools. And I did this, dragging the dead weight of the city council behind me."