There are many politicians in Hoboken who consider themselves reformers, but recently, a group of politicians in town who usually carry the mantle has become divided, with one side blaming the other for the recent loss of the "Kids First" school board ticket in Hoboken.
Last week, 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham sent out an e-mail to his supporters, partially blaming 2nd Ward Councilman Beth Mason for the school board loss on April 15.
In the letter, Cunningham wrote that he trusted those who put together the "Kids First" school board slate, but 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, a fellow reformer, apparently did not trust the choices. In fact, Mason only publicly endorsed one of the three "Kids First" candidates, and also endorsed two independents.
Last week, Mason responded, "I chose the people I believed were best to represent the school district and our children. Some of the stuff in the e-mail is factually wrong."
Cunningham's e-mail also said that the main problem with the election wasn't with Mason; it was with the strength of the groups in town who got together to support the city administration and stop Kids First, and because the reformers were divided, they could not counter the attack.
What started the rift?
There actually were a few developments over the past year that hinted at a growing rift among the town's "reform" groups.
For instance, just after 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer was elected, Beth Mason publicly asked her to sign a letter in a council meeting to continue investigating the charges of fraud made during her election. Some Zimmer allies did not agree with the tactic.
In another case, Mason voted for Councilman Michael Russo to get a seat on the Hoboken Housing Authority, rather than supporting Dawn Zimmer.
"I think it's a marketing label."
- Beth Mason
In the e-mail, he charged that many attempts were made by then-school board President Theresa Minutillo and candidate Tricia Snyder to reach Mason before the school board election. Cunningham claimed that Mason refused to meet with them, although Mason refuted the claim last week.
Cunningham wrote, "Calls went unanswered, and then Beth refused to meet with the proposed candidates. When the ticket was set, it was believed that Beth (and her people) was very upset. It seemed in hindsight that either she or her back office people felt snubbed."
Mason complained last week that Cunningham didn't reach out to her about the e-mail before he sent it.
Cunningham said he failed to reach out to her because the e-mail was directed to the people of the 5th Ward as an explanation of the school board election.
"There is a need for a wakeup call," Cunningham said, "not only among reform-minded politicos, but among the public as well."
Cunningham said last week that it seems that possibly Mason is revving up to run for mayor and leaving the reform movement behind.
But Mason said that "reform" is just a marketing label, and she will do what she thinks is right.
HCDO really reformers?
Mason said that if there is a rift, it's between people who are willing to accept help from the Hudson County Democratic Organization, which is the county's long-time machine, and those who refuse the help.
"I think the issue is between those who want to accept support and help from the HCDO, and those who don't," she said.
Zimmer's campaign for council last year was criticized for accepting $4,000 from the HCDO. Zimmer had at first said she would not accept any money from them, but when forced into an expensive battle with incumbent Christopher Campos, she took the donations.
When asked if Mason might support a candidate who had accepted HCDO support in the past, and refused to do so later, she said it depends on the circumstance.
"The issue is where their money comes from, and what are the goals and objectives," she said. "If you're giving out no-bid contracts all over town ... look, money comes from a lot of different places. It's about how much, and [if you accept it] to the point of being in a position that you have to be so extensively beholden to them that you can't make independent judgments."
Vying for power?
Inherent in this squabble may be a power struggle over who wants to be mayor of Hoboken next year. In fact, the results of the school board election may have re-energized Mayor David Roberts to run (see sidebar below).
Mason would not say last week whether she would run.
Cunningham said that the rift was really caused by Mason's allies.
"It began to develop well over a year ago," he said, "with the creation of 'Vote Hoboken.' "
Vote Hoboken was a political committee started by Mason and others with the purpose of finding independent - some say "reform" - candidates for public office in Hoboken.
According to Cunningham, the committee "turned against several of us." He added, "They're not transparent and they're not inclusive."
Mason said that Cunningham and about 100 other people were included in the group. She also said that she removed herself from the committee once she decided to run for City Council.
Cunningham's ally on the council, Zimmer, agreed last week that there's a rift.
"There is a small group of people, led by Councilwoman Mason, who identify themselves as reformers but who have chosen to follow an independent path," she said. "For their own reasons, this group failed to support me or Councilman Cunningham in our election campaigns, failed to actively support [a parks] referendum, and failed to support the Kids First ticket. The fact that reform nevertheless triumphed in three of these four efforts shows the reform movement is alive and well."
Cunningham wrote in his e-mail, "Yes, we cannot deny that there is a divide within the reform movement, but it's not necessarily between me and Beth or Beth and Dawn. It's primarily between those that work with Beth that will not work and refuse to work with those that have supported me, Dawn, and Theresa Minutillo. This division developed well over a year ago, and unfortunately continues today. It's a terrible shame and I am saddened by this ongoing division."
But does it matter if the reformers agree on every single issue, as long as they all want openness in government?
If it leads to election losses, it just might, some say.
Freeholder Candidate Ines Garcia-Keim said last week that Cunningham's letter was a poor tactic.
"By Councilman Cunningham sending an e-mail like that a week after the election, when the dust had settled and the wounds should heal, that's counterproductive," she said.
But Cunningham said he had a reason for doing so.
"Bringing the problem to light will help to unite the reformers," he said.
The letter publicly called for unity.
"Next year will be a big year with the mayoral elections and school boards again," Cunningham wrote. "This election was a major wakeup call, and we'll have to come together and do a better job."
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In his letter explaining his allies' loss in the school board election, Councilman Peter Cunningham pointed out a divide among reformers in Hoboken and brought up the effect it may have on politics in Hoboken in the future. He said that it may boost Mayor David Roberts' chances for re-election, for instance.
Roberts had said in the past that he wouldn't run for re-election, but he has recently considered running again.
"We have not made any final decisions yet," he said last week. "I'm preparing myself."
Roberts said he has done some polling and is satisfied with the latest round. He said the polling showed strong support for him in the community.
Who else is running?
Other rumored candidates were asked if they plan to run for the office.
In response to rumors, Councilman-at-Large Peter Cammarano said last week, "I haven't made any determination one way or another."
Cammarano is a former Roberts ally who went on to become a Roberts critic. He supported the recent failed re-election bid of Councilman Chris Campos, who ran against Dawn Zimmer for 4th Ward.
"I don't like to think of myself as belonging to any one camp or faction," Cammarano added. He said that this sometimes leaves him without a certain political base to depend on. "I'm sure I've made decisions at times that could hurt me politically," he said. "I call them as I see them."
Second Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason said, "There's a lot of time between now and then. It's something that I haven't been focusing on."
She said that she is focused on dealing with the issues that come before the council.
Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo said, "I am open to the idea of running. If the residents of the city of Hoboken want me to run for that office, then that is what I'll do."
He said that he owns a small button that reminds him of his civic duty. It carries the slogan, "If the people lead, the leaders will follow."
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer said, "I have no aspiration to run for mayor at this time. Serving on the City Council is a huge responsibility, and I owe it to the residents of the 4th Ward to focus on the job that they elected me to do."
She added, "I would far prefer to work with a mayor who shares my vision for Hoboken, than have the job myself. Hopefully, a candidate will emerge with whom I can make common cause to lead Hoboken in the right direction." - TJC
Reformers generally champion open government, accountability, fiscal responsibility, and representing the public interests above the interests of the politicians.
But some people feel the title is just a label used by independent candidates or by those who are not currently holding a seat in politics.
"I think what the public should do is value the actions of people, rather than their titles," said Mayor David Roberts, who ran as a reformer candidate.
"I think being a reformer is more about policy and initiatives than it is about politics and people," said former school board member Tricia Snyder, who was on the "Kids First" ticket. "It's more of a grass roots thing; it's not the political machine."
Former Councilman Tony Soares said, "Reformers and progressive politicians are people who don't report to a political boss." - TJC