This is not because Mayor Roberts has sparked the imagination of the voting public - even though he has mounted a fairly impressive resume of community initiatives - but rather because opponents have not yet made their case as to why the public should get rid of him in favor of someone else.
As Machiavelli pointed out in The Prince, a classic study of politics, incumbents are very difficult to remove without some symbolic issue on which to run, and in most cases, new candidates for office come out of the group to which this leader already belongs - a behind-the-scenes plot meant to unseat the man in power.
This as has been the M.O. of Union City for generations, where plots have been hatched continuously since the late 1970s.
In Secaucus, Dennis Elwell managed to finally become mayor in 2000, not from the opposition party on which he ran for most of the 1990s, but by joining the Democrats in unseating their own mayor in a primary fight.
Hoboken, which technically runs non-partisan elections, may face a similar situation, despite the great hopes of people opposed to the Roberts Administration.
While Councilwoman Carol Marsh is currently seen as the leading possible alternative candidate, she faces serious obstacles to beating Roberts.
Roberts, for his sometimes shrill or nervous responses to criticism, is a tough campaigner - a fact that even some of his critics begrudgingly admit. And while opponents refuse to give Roberts credit for any accomplishments as mayor, they sometimes also begrudgingly admit he served as a good councilman.
Marsh, while a generator for original concepts, often struggles in articulating them to the public in a politically palatable way. Unlike her close associate Councilman Tony Soares, who is always quick with a cynical soundbite, Marsh does not have a gift for the clever phrasing or quipping necessary to do battle in the public arena.
In Hoboken, critics also lambasted Mayor Anthony Russo for years but never put up a formidable opponent until former Russo ally Roberts stepped up to challenge him.
What is the symbolic issue?
Lacking the charisma of someone like Union City's Brian Stack, Marsh and company would need an overriding single issue on which to explain to the public why Roberts should be dumped in favor of a new regime.
This symbolic issue is different from the sometimes uncomfortably complex issues the Hoboken council has been debating. An opposition party can hardly generate great public passion for the ongoing infighting over police department spending. Whereas in Secaucus during the 1999 primary campaign, Dennis Elwell successfully convinced the public that Mayor Anthony Just had held up nearly $1 million in federal grant money that would hire cops. Elwell combined this with blaming Just for the alleged cover-up of a chemical contamination problem at an old factory in a residential area. Voters were shocked and dismayed, and feared for their safety, unlike in Hoboken, where the legal wrangling does not translate immediately to the safety of people on the street.
Opposition candidates are trying to generate interest in the Pay for Play campaign finance reform legislation that the council considered this week, but even this is hardly the stuff that makes people jump out of their armchairs and rush to the polls to vote.
Development is always a big issue in Hoboken, with some accusing Roberts of allowing large developments to pass local boards. As of late, Roberts has tried to come around to the "politically correct" side by opposing one tower on the west side. Overdevelopment could be a good issue provided the opposition can find a way to show a negative impact on the quality of life. Roberts, however, could easily say increased ratables will lower taxes for other taxpayers.
With few significant issues and an intelligent but uninspiring mayoral candidate, Hoboken's opposition has several other choices. They can seek to build a coalition candidate, someone with stronger public appeal or name recognition - such as young Councilman Michael Russo. While Russo has significant political power, he is unlikely to make a move on the mayoral slot until after his father's legal woes (namely, a corruption charge and upcoming trial) are vanquished. He also does not have a long record as an elected official.
The opposition can put up a candidate such as Beth Mason - a thoughtful but hardly a powerful candidate - with the hope of creating a ticket of council candidates who can take control of the council, thus making Roberts into something of a lame duck even if he wins a mandate in his own race next May.
A matter of money
With three at-large seats up in next May's election, this poses yet one more challenge for the opposition: money.
Although Hoboken's election is nonpartisan - meaning that people do not run as part of typical Republican or Democratic parties - it is clear that Roberts has the support of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (i.e. Rep. Bob Menendez and state Sen. Bernard Kenny). This means that Roberts has the benefit of deep financial pockets as well as an army of workers that can work for his reelection leading up to May and make certain Roberts voters get out on Election Day.
While Roberts opponents like Russo, Marsh, Soares, and others can generate campaign contributions, and they have a fiercely loyal following, they may lack what is needed to fight four citywide elections at one time, straining their talents, their work force and their pocket books.
Soares, who ran with the support of the Roberts political machine in 2001, will be running against it this time. Last year, Soares ran against Roberts candidates in the 4th Ward and was soundly beaten. The Roberts team had focused particular attention on beating him.
Although typical wisdom says that if you cannot win your home ward, you cannot take a citywide seat, Soares may be the exception. His following tends to be citywide, attracting young professional voters that give him an edge he didn't have in the 4th Ward race. He also said in last year's vote that his status as an at-large councilman may have hurt his chances at taking the ward seat.
"Many people liked 4th Ward Chris [Campos] and liked me, and believed they could have both Chris and me on the council," he said.
Other observers say Soares' strengths citywide will force the Roberts campaign to expend valuable resources trying to counter his diverse vote. Soares, Marsh and that faction of the anti-Roberts will likely hook up with the Russo faction to present a tough council challenge in every district. Whether they have the cash to beat a Roberts-supported team remains in question.
Ramos is the one?
Roberts' biggest fear of being unseated may come from his own group. While Roberts said developer Frank Raia and Councilman Ruben Ramos will be two of his at-large candidates, both have aspirations for becoming mayor, and Ramos could possibly pull off such a coup if he was so inclined.
Supporters of Roberts are enamored with Ramos, but not his two closest friends, Human Services Director Carmelo Garcia and Councilman Campos. They describe Ramos as the most level-headed of the three.