"I decided to run when I saw the slate of candidates running against Mayor Doria. I didn't think any of them can win," he said last week.
Conaghan said this election is about choosing the future direction for the city, and he is sharply critical of the city's direction under Mayor Joseph Doria - particularly in developing the former Military Ocean Terminal.
"Here we own one of the most valuable ports on the East Coast of the United States, and this administration wants to sell it off to developers," Conaghan said.
Conaghan says the former base can be a tool for retaining the historic character of Bayonne, which he believes will change if the land is sold for residential development.
Although Conaghan admits that he is late in addressing this issue, he said he first made a proposal for the base a decade ago when the military closed it.
"I represented a company that had an interest in using the base as a port," Conaghan said, adding that even now, a container port at that location is the best use of for the former base.
Conaghan and Bayonne
A practicing lawyer for more than 40 years, Conaghan served as municipal judge in Bayonne from 1996 until 2002. Earlier in his career he served as a judicial clerk with Superior Court Judge David A Nimmo in Hudson County and was designated a deputy public defender for Hudson County.
Opponents seeking to short-circuit Conaghan's campaign have questioned his legal residence, suggesting that Conaghan actually has lived mostly in Spring Lake, not Bayonne, despite listing the apartment above his Eighth Street office as his legal residence.
But Conaghan said he has a summer home in Spring Lake, to which he goes on weekends.
"I leave here on Friday and come back on Sunday night," he said. "I bought my first summer home at the Jersey Shore in Avalon in 1972. I sold it in 1985, and in 1986, built another summer home in Spring Lake."
From his office window, Conaghan pointed to the house where he grew up and said he was a substantial property owner in Bayonne and had a significant interest in the future of the city.
'Has always been a blue-collar town'
Conaghan hopes to give Bayonne residents a choice about how to use the base and run city government.
"After this election, there is no turning back," he said. "Once we sell off the base we can't get it back."
Conaghan said he does not want to "come off sounding a white knight," when all he truly wants is to keep Bayonne unique.
"I want kids growing up here to have the same good things I had growing up here," he said, claiming the city offered him and his family had great opportunities.
Although he grew up poor, his father working at the nearby nickel works, and he and his family worked hard and eventually found success in the community.
"This has always been a blue-collar town," he said. "But it is becoming more and more difficult for kids here to participate in the American Dream of owning a home. The development on the base won't make that better."
As mayor he would seek to stabilize taxes and develop programs to generate more business for the Broadway shopping district. He believes that using the base as a port would greatly help to accomplish both.
He said his knowledge of people, and educational, legal, and financial backgrounds qualify him for the job.
"I'm a hands-on person and I like the challenge," he said. "I have no self-interest. I have no puppet strings attached to me. I will do what is right for the city."
Conaghan has extensive community service through civic organizations. He served on the board of the Bayonne YMCA and as a member of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce. He is a past president of the Bayonne Kiwanis Club and served on the Advisory Board of Mount Carmel Guild. He was also on the Board of Directors for United Way of Hudson County, the Bayonne Police Athletic League, and the Bayonne Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Conaghan had much more to say about the future of the terminal.
"The entire Gulf War was supplied out of that base," he said. "The military knew what it was doing."
The base provides the closest port to the sea, and the easiest port to accommodate the most modern of container carrying ships. With hours saved in docking, shipping companies would line up to rent the property, and Conaghan has already heard offers that could generate as much as $30 million per year.
"This would be a lease," he said. "That means the city would still own the property."
Conaghan, formerly an attorney for a local labor union, estimated that a port facility could supply 3,000 jobs to local residents.
"These are jobs that can't be outsourced to other countries, but would stay right here in Bayonne," he said.
Although Conaghan just recently entered into the four-way race for mayor, many residents think he has enough credentials to unseat Doria. He also believes he has the credentials to serve as mayor.
"I know about payrolls and I know about budgets," he said. "I don't know Vinnie Militello well, but I think he's too young. Maybe in 10 years he'll be ready, but we need someone that can win right now. That's why I'm running."
Not only has he served on the Board of Directors for two banks, he once served as president of the Bayonne Board of Education, where he had to confront hard choices.
"We had to lay off 180 employees to close the budget," he said. "We managed to eliminate those posts without getting rid of anything essential, and without hurting any of the educational programs."
Although historically a strong supporter of unions, Conaghan said he was about to "go to war" with the unions when he was appointed to the municipal bench. He said that this ended not only his term on the Board of Education but also sidetracked his ambition to run for public office. He said he took his judgeship very seriously and abided by the rules to play no part in political campaigns.
"I didn't speak out or get involved on politics," he said.
A generator of jobs and revenue
Conaghan called the base one of the most valuable pieces of property on the East Coast. He said the city is currently sinking millions into preparing the base for developers, going deeper in debt to eventually sell the land to create what he calls "an upscale village" that will not be part of Bayonne.
"That is not a place where the children of Bayonne are going to be able to afford to live," he said.
City officials are quick to point out that the base, if kept according to Conaghan's wishes, would not generate the tax revenue that a mixed-use development would. But Conaghan said a city lease would generate a yearly flow of income to the city but not require the investment in rebuilding, and the city would not have to provide services such as police, fire, schools or street maintenance.
If elected, Conaghan would ask the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Agency to solicit proposals for operations at the base and then award the lease to the company that offered the best deal. He said this helps make up for the loss of blue-collar jobs that have fled the city over the last few decades.
Conaghan is particularly concerned about the growing debt, saying that it is poor business to borrow money to cover present day operating expenses.