Rumblings of a new race in Hoboken have emerged in the aftermath of Ruben Ramos Jr.’s loss to Dawn Zimmer for mayor on Nov. 5.
Ramos, already seen as the leading candidate to run against Zimmer in 2017, may need to find a political position to keep his hopes alive. Originally, some believed he would launch a recall election against 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti – or wait until the 2015 ward elections to run against him. Now reports suggest that Ramos might seek to unseat Freeholder Anthony Romano next year instead.
Romano is in a political no man’s land. Originally, he was approached by Frank Raia to head the third ticket against Zimmer rather than Occhipinti. But Romano apparently didn’t like the odds, especially in light of the early poll numbers that showed Zimmer far in front of Ramos even without a third ticket.
Romano’s decision put him in political limbo because some see him as too close to Zimmer, losing much of his political base in a shift to Ramos. On the other hand, former Councilman Tony Soares has indicated he might like to run for freeholder as well, and would likely get Zimmer’s endorsement if he does.
With the help of state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who represents a large portion of Jersey City Heights, Ramos might be able to cobble together enough votes to beat both Romano and Soares, even though Romano would likely get support from state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
Victory over Romano would be something of a reversal of Ramos’s loss to Zimmer in the mayoral, and Zimmer isn’t seen as overly strong. The recent election was proof that she’d need a divided ticket to win the majority of votes citywide. Zimmer was vulnerable in a citywide election – part of the reason why she pushed to get elections moved to November rather than May and to do away with runoff elections.
Zimmer has historically struggled to get the 50 percent needed to win a citywide election. This was true in the last race, as 53 percent of the vote went to the other candidates. But without a runoff and with split opposition, she won reelection, carrying her full slate of council candidates with her.
This has some Ramos people blaming Frank Raia, Jamie Cryan, and Tim Occhipinti for entering the race. Ramos supporters believe that this was a spoiler ticket and that Raia will get some reward from Zimmer down the road.
However, some Raia supporters say the ticket was split because Ramos would not allow Raia and Peter Biancamano onto the Ramos ticket in the first place. This started a political feud among the anti-Zimmer forces that allowed Zimmer to win reelection with less than 50 percent of the vote.
WNY approved elected school board – so what?
Just when you thought West New York Mayor Felix Roque had become the all-powerful Wizard of Oz and had become unbeatable again, voters approved changing to an elected school board.
Some presumed Roque had regained his old strength after beating the feds in his trial over alleged conspiracy to hack into his opponents’ website. But the referendum election on Nov. 5 drew a five to one vote in favor of an elected school board, taking the power to appoint the board away from the mayor. This shows Roque is still vulnerable.
The passage has renewed hope by Roque’s political enemies that they can still unseat him – if not in a recall election, then in the regular election slated for May, 2015.
While the Roque camp plays down the victory, saying that the mayor did not really oppose an elected board, his opposition said there was an active campaign to stop the referendum. A report released by the state Department of Education earlier this year alleged gross political interference with the school district by the mayor’s inner circle.
But even without any alleged wrong doing, the change to an elected board has the potential to do significant political damage to the mayor. The schools offered significant patronage to Roque supporters, either providing jobs or pay raises.
Typically, the mayor’s power in most towns comes from his ability to promote in the police and fire departments and the schools, and provide access to housing. Roque has not had control of public housing since taking office in 2011. The Fire Department is part of Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, leaving him almost no patronage there. While he may still control the Police Department, the schools are far more lucrative. The loss of power to appoint the school board hurts his ability to reward supporters and to raise campaign contributions.
The election also expands the school board from seven to nine members. The school board election will be held in April, 2014, with a filing deadline for candidates in February. Five seats will be up, and, theoretically, a sweep by Roque’s opposition could take away control of the board. Three of the existing seats will be up for reelection, although some incumbents may not seek to run. This would give his opposition an even better shot at winning.
Meanwhile Commissioner Fior D’Aliza Frias, a Roque loyalist, appears to be planning to run for freeholder against Roque’s arch enemy Jose Munoz, who is seen as vulnerable. If this is the case, then Roque will need to find another commissioner to run on his ticket in 2015.
O’Dea’s move on the County Executive
Freeholder Bill O’Dea seems hell bent on running for the office of County Executive even though its current occupant, Tom DeGise, said he doesn’t intend to leave and will seek reelection in 2015.
This may be a proxy political war which will pit two great political power brokers in Hudson County against each other.
It appears from various fundraisers held over the last month that DeGise will likely get the backing of State Sen. Sacco, as well as a host of other political heavyweights, while O’Dea will likely seek support from state Sen. Stack.
O’Dea’s fundraiser at the Liberty House on Oct. 29 brought out Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and most of the Jersey City council members who were swept into office last May. Curiously, this event also brought out Bayonne Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico, further suggesting a break between her and Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, who is rumored to have a freeholder candidate lined up to replace her.
Also at the fundraiser were former state Sen. Bernard Kenny and Elnardo Webster – close ally to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.
While O’Dea did not announce his run for county executive, in his speech he did say he was looking to go to another level of politics, but would concentrate for the moment on getting reelected as freeholder in 2014. Fulop in turn promised to support O’Dea in any of his endeavors.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.