The year 2013 saw much change in Hudson County. Residents witnessed arrivals, but also goodbyes and sadness.
City officials and businesses have been joyously planning events in advance of the Feb. 2 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. The year saw local businesses thriving again after recovering from Hurricane Sandy. But there were tragic events too: building fires in several towns, and a death of a baby girl on the waterfront in West New York that brought tougher laws on private commuter buses.
When 2013 began, Hudson County was reeling from the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Tri-State area just a month earlier. Local governments and business owners found strategies for boosting the local economy and bolstering their defense against future storm surges. Almost every business that had been shut was able to reopen. Local governments passed stronger construction codes for post-Sandy building, and Hoboken and Jersey City worked on plans for new flood pumps.
For the last year, Hudson County has been gearing up for the biggest annual one-day event in sports – the Super Bowl – with municipalities vying to get their share of the anticipated millions of dollars the National Football League title game will bring.
Secaucus has scheduled a ball, fashion show, and hockey games as part of its Winter Blast celebration in the days leading up to the game. The intent is to bring business to the area and to celebrate the event.
Hoboken has announced its ‘Hoboken Huddle’ to celebrate the Super Bowl XLVIII. The Huddle events will take place at Pier A Park on the city waterfront the week of Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 leading up to the NFL championship.The centerpiece will be a 16-foot-tall illuminated sculpture of the Roman numerals “XLVIII” overlooking the Manhattan skyline. In addition, in partnership with the U.S. Curling Association, the Huddle will feature three lanes of curling, which will be free and open to the public. The lanes will remain at Pier A the month of February to coincide with the Winter Olympics.
Many of the Hudson towns had grand ideas for big game tie-ins but found the funding for events was not available, nor was the use of the “Super Bowl” name in conjunction with them.
Another sporting event, the Formula One Grand Prix, was scheduled to be held locally this summer. But now it looks like 2015 is the earliest it will be held in Hudson County. The race is planned for 3.2 miles of roads in Weehawken and West New York along the waterfront. Those roads will be closed to the public during the race.
On a sadder note, on July 30, 8-month-old Angelie Paredes of North Bergen died on Boulevard East after a commuter bus driver hit a pole and toppled it, sending it onto the young child in her carriage, killing her instantly. The driver was allegedly texting when the accident occurred.
The baby’s death sent shockwaves through Hudson and Bergen counties where the jitney and other commuter bus services pick up riders here and there for quick rides into the city.
The incident led to two major press conferences and calls from legislators at the local, state, and federal levels for more oversight of the commuter bus transportation industry.
In this small, but densely-populated municipality, Mayor Gerald Drasheff and incumbent council members Monica Fundora, John Habermann, and Efrain Velez, were returned to office despite a Democratic primary challenge. The slate ran in the general election unopposed.
Town resident Mario Cruz brought Hoboken’s Sinatra Idol contest trophy back to Hudson County with his win on June 14. Cruz was later selected for the annual Sinatra Bash at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank on Dec. 6, where he brought down the house with his rousing version of “That’s Life.”
Hoboken’s biggest news story was its mayoral election in November.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer, the city’s first female mayor, was elected to a second term. She bested state Assemblyman Ruben Ramos and 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti, who virtually ensured her win by splitting the opposition vote between them. The vote count at election week’s end showed Zimmer had amassed 47 percent of the vote, with a tally of: Zimmer, 6,017, Ramos 4,464, and Occhipinti 2,257.
The mayor’s slate of City Council-at-large candidates – incumbents David Mello and Ravi Bhalla and newcomer Jim Doyle – were also elected, giving Zimmer a 5-4 council majority going into 2014. A Zimmer-supported team of Board of Education candidates also emerged victorious.
Meanwhile, the head of the city’s subsidized housing, Carmelo Garcia, sparred with Zimmer and her allies about the direction of a new plan, “Vision 20/20,” to rehabilitate the city’s housing projects. The future of the projects will likely be a hotbutton issue in 2014.
Violence touched the city in September. Forty-six-year-old Ralph Eric Santiago, a homeless man, was walking along Adams Street in early evening when someone knocked him to the ground, and he died from his injuries. Three Jersey City teenagers turned themselves in. Prosecutors said they had been playing a game of “knockout,” which involves approaching a person and striking him or her on the head to render that individual unconscious.
The big news in Jersey City was the unseating of a longtime powerful leader. Two-term City Councilman Steven Fulop soundly defeated incumbent Jerramiah Healy to become mayor of the state’s second largest city in May. Fulop won with nearly 53 percent of the vote.
Within his first few months in office, Fulop overhauled the city’s tax abatement program, introduced the state’s first paid sick leave measure, and reorganized several city departments.
On Oct. 21, following a ruling by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson that cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to legally marry in the Garden State, Fulop was among the first mayors to marry gay couples, in a mass ceremony in City Hall.
Before the end of his first 100 days in office there was already talk among political insiders of a gubernatorial run for him.
In May, Jersey City Medical Center announced that it would become part of Barnabas Health, the largest nonprofit healthcare system in the state. The merger, which is expected to be approved by various state agencies early this year, continues the recent trend of hospital mergers in Hudson County.
The controversial Spectra gas line installation was completed in 2013 over the objections of former Mayor Jeramiah Healy and other local activists. While the line – which ran into Hudson County from Staten Island through Bayonne and Jersey City – was designed to serve the population of New York City, Spectra offered a number of incentives for local users as well as served as a source of revenue for municipal coffers. Towns such as Bayonne embraced the project, while Jersey City and Hoboken (where the line runs near the municipal boundary) did not.
On Nov. 5, North Bergen Mayor and 32nd District Democratic State Sen. Nicholas Sacco easily fended off a challenge to his senate seat. In heavily Democratic Hudson County, he beat Republican Paul Castelli of Kearny with 17,968 votes, or 70 percent, to Castelli’s 7,586 votes, or 30 percent. The 32nd District includes Guttenberg, North Bergen, Secaucus, and West New York.
In September, a five-alarm fire at 9201 Kennedy Blvd. displaced more than 100 people. No residents were injured. The township and community quickly rallied around those affected, setting up clothing and monetary drives, providing hotel stays, and working to secure long-term housing for the victims.
At the end of the year, two bodies were found in James J. Braddock Park only hours apart on Christmas Day. Law enforcement believes the two incidents are unrelated, and that the second body found may have been a suicide because of ligature marks on the body. Authorities were still investigating in late December.
In Secaucus, the mayor and his “Take Back Secaucus” council slate members were reelected on Nov. 5. Mayor Michael Gonnelli and council members William McKeever and Robert Costantino were returned to office. They were joined by political newcomer Mark Dehnert, who ran on the ticket in place of the retiring Deputy Mayor John Bueckner. The council has six members on it. The next three will be up for reelection this year.
In the 32nd District state contest, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto of Secaucus, a Democrat, topped the ballots, with 17,833 votes. On Nov. 7, Prieto was named Assembly Speaker for 2014. He will take over his new post on Jan. 14, during the reorganization meeting of that chamber.
Secaucus also received two visits from Gov. Chris Christie. The governor visited in July after Gonnelli and the Town Council endorsed him in his reelection bid. Even though Gonnelli is a Democrat, like other local mayors, he endorsed Republican Christie. Promising to return during the election season, Gov. Christie did just that, visiting again in September and campaigning for the Gonnelli ticket.
Earlier in the year, fires in the Harmon Meadow condominium/townhouse complex and on Fourth Street displaced dozens of residents. In October, Secaucus came together with the “After the Blaze” benefit at the town performing arts center, with entertainers, businesses, and others raising funds to assist the victims.
State Sen. Brian Stack, also the city’s mayor, won reelection to his seat in the 33rd District.
In addition, a school in the municipality was renamed after a national politician who got his start in Union City. U.S. Representative Albio Sires had a grammar school named after him in 2013.
In June, former Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the learning institution that had been named in his honor the year before.
Mergers and new leadership were announced at non-profits based here. Palisades Emergency Residence Corporation (PERC) merged with Garden State Episcopal Community Development Corporation of Jersey City, to create an even bigger public service entity. Prior to the announcement, Carol Mori had been appointed PERC executive director. GSECDC has been serving those most vulnerable in the area since 1986. PERC runs a homeless shelter, daily soup kitchen, and food pantry.
Earlier in the year, the North Hudson Community Action Corporation, which provides diverse health and medical services to county residents, named former State Assemblywoman Joan Quigley president.
The city’s Sixth Annual NoHu International Short Film Festival again drew applause with more than 200 entries. The five-day affair consisted of movie premieres, the showing of the top 22 films, and a red-carpet finale, where three winners and an honorable mention were announced.
The Weehawken High School Band was the feel-good news of the year, defending last year’s state title and garnering a national one for a scholastic musical group its size. The band finished first in every competition it entered this year, according to school officials.
Weehawken also made news in the art world, as an Edward Hopper painting of a house at the corner of 49th Street and Boulevard East was sold for $40 million-plus at a Manhattan auction house.
As the year came to a close, city officials announced that developers will build two connecting Marriott hotels there: a 226-room Renaissance by Marriott and an 154-room Residence Inn for extended stays.
West New York
The big news in West New York was the acquittal in October of local icon Mayor Felix Roque on federal charges related to hacking into the website run by Freeholder Jose Munoz, a political opponent. Roque’s son, on trial with the mayor, was convicted of a single misdemeanor charge in relation to the event and is slated to be sentenced this month.
In May, a scathing state report was released accusing the mayor of meddling in school personnel matters. The report came from the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC) and the FBI. The report alleged that Mayor Roque and his political organization controlled hirings, promotions, reassignments, firings, and demotions in the school district. The report alleged that Roque hired family and friends for school jobs, and placed them in prime positions. It also alleged that he retaliated against political enemies.
The other big news politically was residents’ approval in November of a measure to make the town school board an elected one. Many saw this change as hurtful to the power of the Roque, who had previously selected members.
Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez of West New York, a Democrat, was granted her ticket back to Trenton by defeating her two Republican opponents from town, Maria Malavasi-Quartello and Lee Marie Gomez. Jimenez garnered 17,230 votes. Gomez and Malavasi-Quartello received 7,034 and 6,974 votes, respectively.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.