Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s message of smart development, more parks, and a comprehensive flood mitigation plan apparently resonated strongly with voters last week when they elected the city’s first female mayor to a second term with 47 percent of the vote.
The unofficial vote count by the Hudson County Clerk at the end of the week was 6,017 for Zimmer, 4,464 for state Assemblyman Ruben Ramos, and 2,257 for 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti.
Zimmer also carried to victory a slate of city council-at-large candidates – incumbents David Mello and Ravi Bhalla and newcomer Jim Doyle – who will fill three seats on the nine-member body, giving Zimmer a 5-4 majority starting in January.
A Zimmer-supported team of Board of Education candidates also emerged victorious, including incumbent Board President Leon Gold (see cover).
It’s likely that Zimmer also won on the only local referendum on the ballot this year, as she opposed a measure to change rent control laws. That contest was tight, but as of press time, the measure was failing by 99 votes (see page 3).
The next term
“It really was a clean sweep, and it feels great,” said Zimmer on Thursday. “I’m very excited. So many people have worked so hard for this and did whatever they could to help. It was an incredible team effort and I’m read to get Dave, Ravi, and Jim sworn in.”
Zimmer ran largely on a platform that emphasized her successes, including fighting corruption and handling Hurricane Sandy. Her opponents focused on areas where she has been seen as less effective, such as clearer parking rules and legal spending.
On Election Day, voters spoke in support of the mayor as they exited the polls.
“I think she’s very honest about the direction she’s heading in, and she’s seemed more prepared in the campaign,” said a young mother named Michelle.
An artist named Chris, who, like Michelle, didn’t want to give his last name, said he thought Zimmer has succeeded in “keeping old politics at bay.”
“It really was a clean sweep, and it feels great.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
Zimmer said that in her second term, her focus will be on the design and construction of the Southwest Park, a complete Washington Street redesign, purchasing redevelopment land in the northwest section of town, and further implementing her storm resiliency plan.
Still no majority
But what of the 53 percent majority who did not vote for her?
On Election Day, some voters criticized the mayor for what they said was inaction or ignorance on too many issues.
“There’s too many bars and too much litter, and we haven’t seen any change to that under Zimmer,” said Aaron Kokas, who voted in the 4th Ward. “She wants to build small parks on the only parking lots we’ve got, and then her plan improve parking is all about not having a car, and that’s not realistic.”
Uptown, one voter said that she thought Zimmer is only concerned with improving the quality of life for newer, wealthier residents, and not for the middle class.
“Her changes are for the upper class,” said Ireina Peralta. “I’m more middle class and I haven’t seen many improvements at all. She’s not about everyone.”
The vote tallies show that Hoboken is indeed divided, as residents and politicians have said all year.
Zimmer acknowledged the reality that she may not have as tight a mandate as her supporters think, and encouraged those who supported their opponents to get involved and bring their ideas to the table in her second term.
“I want to work with everyone in the community and really increase outreach to all residents,” she said. “The challenge is that it’s hard to reach everyone and make sure they understand the issues. But they should know that we’re a team, and no matter who they voted for, everyone should get involved and participate.”
Ramos and Occhipinti issued concession statements last week after taking 35 and 18 percent of the townwide vote, respectively.
“We all believe in a better vision for Hoboken and it was wonderful to see so many of our friends and neighbors put in so much time making phone calls, walking door to door, and spreading the word about our campaign,” said Ramos in a statement. “We tried our best, but in the end it wasn't meant to be.”
Occhipinti said that he thought his run had thrust important issues into the spotlight, such as parking. Zimmer’s administration has increased enforcement of parking laws, but a news report two years ago showed that the enforcement was subject to error and the signs weren’t clear.
“We ran on some important issues and now the Zimmer administration knows they’re issues and will begin to work on them,” Occhipinti said on Wednesday.
Wednesday morning quarterback?
Political observers said that Ramos was hurt by the entrance of Occhipinti into the campaign, as the pair divided the anti-Zimmer vote.
Ramos was gracious toward Zimmer, wishing her luck and pledging to remain in public service, but he railed against “political egos” when asked if he thought Occhipinti’s campaign hurt his chances of winning.
“When a slate enters the race on the day of the filing deadline, it’s clear that no one is going to take you seriously,” said Ramos. “I think it was obvious that egos got in the way of a better Hoboken and I think people see that.”
If Hoboken’s old law allowing runoff elections was still in place, this election would have been followed by another between only Ramos and Zimmer. But recently residents approved a referendum that changed the law.
“[The Occhipinti] slate was enough to sway the vote,” said Ramos.
On Friday, Occhipinti blasted Ramos’ comments, arguing that many of his supporters wouldn’t have voted for the assemblyman anyway.
“I know a lot of people that would have voted for Dawn or just stayed home, and more that wouldn’t have supported either candidate,” he said. “And we expanded the voter base by reaching out to young people, so to say that Ruben would have won if I hadn’t run is simply untrue.”
New council majority
Mello, Bhalla and Doyle’s victory over the Ramos-supported Vision for Hoboken slate and Occhipinti’s One Hoboken ticket largely mirrored the mayoral contest, with Zimmer’s team taking roughly 45 percent of the vote.
The councilmen-elect spoke this week about the whirlwind of emotions they experienced Tuesday night and what they will focus on in the coming years.
“I think our victory is an affirmation that voters are in favor of the quality of life issues that we’ve tackled, whether you’re single or in a family or elderly,” said Mello on Wednesday. “I think a combination of that with our ability to control the city’s finances really impressed voters.”
Doyle, who might have taken his seat on the council over a year ago had a judge not barred Zimmer from appointing him, said that his long journey to the dais had only prepared him more for the tasks ahead. (Zimmer’s opposition had raised a legal challenge to her attempts to appoint him last year.)
“Right now I’m a bit tired,” he said after Election Day. “So I’m looking forward to a little rest before taking my seat, but I’ve been waiting so I can wait a little longer. Then I’ll be ready to go.”
And Bhalla, who came under scrutiny during the campaign over the manner in which he secured a partnership at a politically active law firm, told supporters on Twitter that “this one was sweet.”
On Wednesday, he said his priorities this term would be to support the mayor on flooding and spending practices. He also said he hopes to reform the city’s rent control laws, which were also a topic of debate this election cycle.
“The referendum seems like it’s still in the air, but if there’s an opportunity to bring both parties to the table and enact some sensible reform, I’d like to use my experience in that area to help accomplish that,” he said.
Zimmer, Mello, Bhalla and Doyle will be sworn into office the first week of January.
As is typical in Hoboken, some of the voting fell along the “old” versus “new” divide that has galvanized local politics for the past decade.
Wealthier uptown neighborhoods like the 2nd and 6th Wards, which include the new Shipyard development and many million-dollar brownstones, voted heavily in favor of Zimmer. The mayor also carried the 1st and 5th Wards (downtown waterfront and northwest, respectively) by a wide margin.
But in Hoboken’s “old” neighborhoods, like the Third and Fourth Wards, which include the projects and bastions of old-time Italian and Irish votes, Zimmer won by only a hair. She defeated Ramos by one vote, 824 to 823, in the 4th Ward, where all three candidates live. She won the 3rd Ward by only 19 votes.
Ramos still works full-time as a teacher in the Paterson school district, even though he will be leaving the Assembly to make way for newly elected Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia. He said this week that he plans to remain involved in the Hoboken community.
Occhipinti said the same, but while he will retain his position on the council, he quit his financial services job in New York when he ran for office. As to his future career plan, Occhipinti is unsure, but not too worried.
“I guess it’s time to get the old resume dusted off,” he said.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kids First wins school board again
A Dawn Zimmer-supported Kids First ticket maintained its hold on the Hoboken Board of Education when Board President Leon Gold, incumbent Irene Sobolov, and newcomer Jennifer Evans won the three seats up for grabs Tuesday. Overall the slate won about 45 percent of the total vote of 21,488.
The Kids First victory was fueled by the candidates’ claims that improvements are slowly but steadily taking effect in the struggling Hoboken public school district through a combination of smart spending and revamped curricula.
On Wednesday, Gold said that he thought his victory was a vote of confidence from parents, with whom he wants to engage more.
“It’s nice to have the support of the community,” he said. “We definitely want to do more intensive outreach and increase transparency with parents.”
Perhaps alluding to the board’s clear Kids First majority, Gold also expressed a desire for healthy debate over school practices.
“We appreciate the trust that’s been given to us, and we hope that even if people are debating something with us, they understand why we’re doing it,” he said.
Evans, who is a mother of two but is new to politics, collected more votes than her running mates. She said she’s eager to get moving.
“It’s still sinking in a little bit, but I’m happy for me and I’m happy for the kids [in the district],” she said. “I’m excited for Leon and Irene, and I think we’re going to make a good team.”
Sobolov echoed Gold’s hopes to get more in touch with what parents want from the district.
“There is always room for improvement and positive solutions,” she said. “I have met so many wonderful people during the campaign and look forward to their input and ideas.” – Dean DeChiaro