Like the Sword of Damocles, redistricting of freeholder districts has been hanging over the head of Freeholder Anthony “Stick” Romano since he learned that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer planned to support Phil Cohen for the seat and that the Democratic leadership intended to give her candidate the line.
“Giving the line” means Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, supported by committee people throughout the county, chooses where on the ballot a candidate’s name will appear. Usually, mayors of towns within a freeholder district are given the right to name their own candidate. By placing the name on the ballot line headed by prominent Democrats, this usually assures a victory for that candidate.
Cohen is expected to be on the line headed by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Albio Sires on the June Democratic primary ballot.
This would normally be the kiss of death to any other candidate running off line. But this is not an ordinary year and Romano could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat if a number of factors fall into place.
Redistricting was one of the key elements. Every ten years, districts have to be rearranged to better reflect the population as indicated by the latest U.S. Census. Increased population in Hoboken meant that Romano’s district would shift the most. Where these lines shifted to means a lot to Romano’s cause.
For the last several decades, the Hoboken district included all of Hoboken, a huge swath of Jersey City Heights and a portion of Ward C in Jersey City (near Journal Square). In the past, a freeholder candidate could lose the vote in Hoboken and still win the seat on the Jersey City Heights vote. Maurice Fitzgibbons once managed this despite opposition of the Hoboken mayor.
Early revisions in the district proposed stripping away Jersey City Heights – where Romano is very strong – and moving the districts into downtown Jersey City area. This would have been a nightmare for Romano, who would have only a few months to court local community groups in the new area.
But that nightmare didn’t happen. While some of the district did shift, the loss was in Ward C, not in the Heights, and the area picked up in Ward E has a strong Italian ethnic make up – a strong suit for Romano.
While Romano is caught in a three-way race, he has support of unions, and of a significant portion of what is called old Hoboken, and he still retains the Heights.
The political circus is in town
Romano isn’t the only freeholder candidate bucking the system to run off line.
Police Sgt. Henry Marrero has thrown his hat in the ring seeking the freeholder seat being vacated by retiring Freeholder Thomas Liggio.
Marrero will be opposing Anthony Vainieri, who is the candidate with the blessing of the North Bergen Democratic organization – in other words, State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco gave Vainieri approval. Why Marrero, who is seen as a very faithful soldier in the Sacco army, is opposing the wishes of the organization is a question that will be answered in the future. Marrero becomes one more uncertain element in a process that in past years was very predictable.
Freeholder Chairman Jose Munoz is facing the same dilemma. He is opposed by WNY Commissioner Caridad Rodriquez. Jersey City Freeholder Jeff Dublin also faces as similar uphill battle now that Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has selected Gerard Balmir Jr. to run against him.
Bayonne Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico, who may well face opposition, stands an even better chance of being reelected than Romano, because she still retains the support of Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith.
And yet, for political observers, she is part of the three-ring election circus people in Hudson County will have to endure over the next few months.
Does Davis ticket benefit from Zanowic meltdown?
James Davis, candidate for mayor in the Bayonne race in May, announced his ticket this week. He is seeking to unseat Smith in a three way race just as the ticket of Anthony Zanowic – the other Smith challenger – fell apart.
Zanowic was forced to fire his top aide who allegedly sent racially-tinged emails deflecting an individual seeking to work on the Zanowic campaign. This was followed by the resignation from his ticket by several candidates, who had decided to run on their own.
The collapse of the Zanowic ticket should be good news for the Davis camp, except for the fact that organization and money win elections, and the Smith ticket has plenty of both.
Davis has had some internal conflicts over whether to run a long or short campaign. Some believe he should have announced sooner to gain name recognition, while he seemed dedicated to running a 12-week campaign that would keep him from peaking too soon.
The Davis ticket hopes to generate support from teachers who are angry at the Smith-appointed school board for a lack of contract, and from supporters of rent control angry over the Smith Administration voting to do away with traditional rent control in order to attract new development to the city. The Davis ticket is trying to convince people that things would be better under a new administration.
The Smith ticket is running on public faith for a revival in Bayonne’s economy, and they paint the bleak economic past six years as tough times for everyone. Their campaign points out that Smith took office a month after the Great Recession struck and has managed to keep the city from collapse. This ticket claims the city is poised for a revival thanks to foundations established during the tough years.
The group that sells its point of view best over the next 12 weeks will get a chance to prove itself in office, although most people believe that the Smith ticket – even if it is victorious – will not sweep as it has in the past, and that there is more than a good chance of several run offs.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.