Although Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria was named to fill the seat by a vote of committee members in June, the general public will have the option to decide if Doria will keep the seat or give it to: Bayonne Assemblyman and Councilman Anthony Chiappone, Jersey City NAACP President Kabili Tayari, or mortuary service owner John Watson of Jersey City.
Doria, who is running with the blessing on the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), will have the advantage of being on the same line as Presidential hopeful John Kerry.
For this story, a list of questions was submitted to each of the four candidates. Doria, Chiappone and Tayari managed to answer the questions prior to press time. Watson, who could not be reached prior to publication, has been quoted from previous news accounts.
Doria: Experience to serve
Joseph Doria has been has been endorsed by labor, business, healthcare, educational, transportation, and fair housing groups.
Born in Bayonne in 1946, Doria has remained a resident of Bayonne all his life with the exception of one year when he went away to get an his master's degree at Boston College.
"My father and maternal grandparents were Italian immigrants," he said. "I was educated at Our Lady of the Assumption Grammar School and Marist High School in Bayonne, and St. Peter's College in Jersey City."
Along with his master's degree in American Studies at Boston College, Doria took graduate courses in education at New York University, and earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the Teachers College at Columbia University.
Doria has a career in education and government dating back to the 1970s, teaching high school and college, as well as serving as an administrator at St. Peter's College. He also served as president of the Bayonne Board of Education. He served as Assemblyman from 1980 to 2004, where he held the positions of Speaker and as Assembly Democratic Leader. Since June 2004, he has served as interim state senator. He has also served as Bayonne's mayor since 1998.
Doria said no one moment inspired him to seek public office, but rather his interest was inspired by his father about the need to help people improve their lives.
"My role models were my father and Father Victor Yanitelli, the late President of St. Peter's College," Doria said. "Both men believed in the need to engage in community activities to benefit the public, and both believed that good people must be involved in government."
Doria said he is running for the state Senate to continue making a positive difference in Trenton for the people of the 31st Legislative District.
"During 24 years in the New Jersey Legislature, I have been able to obtain millions of dollars in state aid for Jersey City and Bayonne," Doria said. "I have played a major role in drafting legislation on such issues as educational quality and better healthcare."
Doria said his long relationship with State Senate President Dick Codey - who will soon serve as acting governor - gives the 31st District a distinct advantage.
"I will be in contact with Acting Governor Codey on a regular basis to let him know about our needs here in the 31st District," Doria said, citing his 24 years experience in the Assembly as a key qualification for re-election to the state Senate. "In that period, more than 250 of the bills that I introduced have become law. I enjoy working with people to solve their problems, and look forward to helping more people in the years ahead."
Doria believes the most important issue of this campaign is which candidate has the best experience and the ability to perform successfully in the state senate. The most important issue as a newly elected state Senator will be how to ease the property tax burden while still providing people with a quality education and other governmental services.
Doria sees his core supporters as the middle class and working people of Bayonne and Jersey City who share his opinion that government needs to provide people with a chance for a quality education and the opportunity to improve their lot in life.
He said public concerns in both Bayonne and Jersey City are largely the same: safe streets, quality education, proper health care, and property taxes.
Chiappone poses a challenge
Born in Brooklyn, 46-year-old Anthony Chiappone has lived in Bayonne since he was 12. He graduated from Bailey Grammar School, Bayonne High School, and attended New York University and Jersey City State College, where he studied media arts.
He was employed for nine years at Best Foods in Bayonne while working as a freelance photographer and has owned and operated Kristen Studios Photography and Videography for 20 years.
Chiappone said he was inspired to run for public office while taping a council meeting for cable, during which the council seemed to ignore people protesting a hike in city salaries.
"It was then that I decided that I would run for the office, and did so at the next election for 1st Ward Councilman in 1998," he said.
While he said he has not modeled himself after any particular politician, Chiappone said some figures have exhibited qualities he strives to maintain, among whom are former Bayonne mayors Dennis Collins and Richard Rutkowski, and in particular his former runningmate, Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, on whose ticket Chiappone ran in the 2003 primary.
"I am running for this office to provide the residents of Bayonne and Jersey City with a choice," Chiappone said.
As with Tayari and Watson, Chiappone objected to Doria's appointment as interim Senator, claiming it was not the will of the people. Chiappone, while running with Cunningham, had won over Doria during the 2003 Democratic primary. Chiappone also believed voters were disenfranchised by Doria's lawsuit challenging the result of the primary election and questioning the validity of some voters.
Chiappone has not run a gentle campaign. He has focused most of his advertisements on Doria in an apparent attempt to win support of former Cunningham voters in Jersey City. His highly heated campaign has questioned many of Doria's past campaign practices, making the past as much of an issue with those as with the present. For the most part, Doria has remained staunchly silent under this barrage.
Chiappone, who is a Democrat, believes he had nothing to lose, claiming the Hudson County Democratic Organization intended to mount a primary challenge against him next spring, so he decided to take the fight to Doria now rather than wait for the Democrats to target him later.
Chiappone believes he has the ability to get things done as a "hands-on" full-time legislator, which will allow him to keep on top of the critical issues through meetings, forums and contact with people.
As with Doria, Chiappone lists property taxes as one of the key issues of this election, and feels he can do a better job at controlling them than Doria has, through legislation such as the Smart Bill recently introduced by Assemblyman Lou Manzo, and other bills he introduced that would share lottery revenues and use unclaimed prizes for property relief.
"I will continue to look for innovative ways to address school and municipal taxes," he said.
As with Doria, Chiappone believes Jersey City and Bayonne face many similar issues and concerns such as senior health care, affordable prescription drugs, and the ever-rising cost of auto insurance.
"Parents from both Bayonne and Jersey City all want the best education for their children, and light rail safety and rising crime is a mutual concern as well," he said, but he noted the need for Jersey City's need to maintain Section 8 housing while Bayonne seeks to find ways to redevelop.
Chiappone said that as councilman and assemblyman, he has developed relationships that will allow him to be effective as a state Senator. He urged voters not to vote the party line, but to vote for the candidate who they believe cares for their interests most.
Tayari: Spokesperson for the people
Kabili Tayari, now 54, was born and raised in North Carolina. He came to Jersey City in 1968 to attend what was then Jersey City State College.
In the early 1970s, he became a community activist, motivated by specific issues that included bus fare increases and bus route cutbacks. He participated in the Hudson County Bus Riders Association. Later, when local utilities sought to raise prices, he joined another prominent activist Ella Lawrence in forming an organization called Citizens Against Rate Increases. When Western Electric, a significant employer in Jersey City and Bayonne, threatened to lay off workers, Tayari worked with unions, legislators and others to fight the loss of jobs.
"Although the company eventually moved out, we delayed the move," Tayari said.
When he was president of the Jersey City Parents Council, Tayari worked around the city, county and state to stabilize and find increased funding for schools throughout the state, pushing for the Quality Education Act that dealt with those issues.
Tayari said his 12 years on the Jersey City Board of Education gave him additional experience in how to create policy and fiscal budgetary responsibility. He has also worked in key positions under Jersey City mayors Bret Schundler and Glenn Cunningham, serving currently as the city's assistant business administrator.
"This means I have developed budgets and worked with county and state elected officials in the budgeting process," he said.
His experience has not only given him detailed knowledge of state aid, but also in areas of economic development, job creation, and small business development.
"I have well-rounded experience and intend to represent the people as an advocate for the people," he said.
Tayari said he was inspired to run for the state Senate seat when six women from various churches approached him with concerns about the disfranchisement of voters during the 2003 primary.
In challenging the results of his loss, Joseph Doria had sued on various grounds, including questioning whether or not some voters had been allowed to vote when they did not qualify.
"These women felt we needed some fair representation," Tayari said.
He told the women he would think about it. A few days later, the women came back bearing a petition with 846 signatures, when all they had needed to get him on the ballot was 145.
"After that, I knew I could not sit on the sidelines, so I filed," he said.
For Tayari, this election is partly about protecting people's right to vote, and not just people in the African-American community. He said the suit filed by Doria but later dismissed had named well-respected white and Latino members of the community as well.
A second issue, Tayari said, involves the environment and the need to make certain that people in the district have a healthy pollution-free place to live and raise their children. He opposed any move to transport New York trash through his district and challenged his opponents to oppose the move, too.
A third issue concerns the need for the district to begin an intensive effort to build a base of small businesses that would generate jobs.
"My background in government has allowed me to work a lot in the area of Urban Enterprise zones and economic incentive programs," he said.
He said the district's existing UEZ programs should be hiring people that live within the zones, to help generate local job growth.
As with Chiappone, Tayari said health care and affordable prescription programs are a big issue, and one that should not be left to the federal government to resolve. He said the state and its legislators should be working out a way to provide for the residents of the state.
Like Doria and Chiappone, Tayari also believes there is a need to stabilize property taxes. When elected, he said, he would use his contacts throughout the state and various organizations to work towards that end.
As a senator, he would also seek to provide adequate resources to the fire, police and other emergency services, not only to respond to a terrorist attack, but also for the everyday emergencies.
Tayari also agreed that people's needs are not much different in Jersey City as they are in Bayonne. People need good homes, lower taxes and a healthy place to live, he said.
"One thing elected officials have to realize is that we are not leaders; we are spokespersons for the people, and act their representatives," Tayari said. "Elections are not popularity contests. We have a job to do."
A voice for the voicelessJohn Watson, 59, is the owner of the Watson Mortuary Service in Jersey City. As a funeral director, he has dealt with people at their most vulnerable - experiences he told the press earlier this year would be an asset as a state Senator.
By guiding people through the most traumatic moments of their lives, he said he has made a difference, and hoped that when elected he can make a difference on the state level as well.
Watson was born in Philadelphia. He served two tours of duty with the First Air Cavalry in Vietnam, where he was wounded in action and earned two Purple Hearts. He moved to Jersey City in the 1970s. Prior to opening his own funeral home in 1989, he was employed the Anatomy and Pathology Department of the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark.
Although initially running on a ticket headed by former Jersey City Police Chief Ronald Buonocore, Watson has billed himself as politically independent, someone who did not owe allegiance to any party or outside interests. Like many in the African-American community, Watson was angered when the Democratic Committee elected Doria to sit as interim state Senator after Senator Cunningham's death. Like Tayari, Watson sees himself as a candidate who will represent the people of the district, especially those people who are often least heard.
Watson has received support and encouragement from Rev. D. Keith Owens, pastor of Salem Church, and some others in the African-American community.
Al Sullivan can be contacted at email@example.com