Was Dawn Zimmer really planted in the Hoboken mayoral election by a political organization to siphon votes from candidate Beth Mason? Since Mason has simultaneously used three paid public relations people and a paid aide just in her job as a part-time city councilwoman, would she really be able to cut employee spending if she ascended to the mayoralty? Is Councilman Peter Cammarano secretly allied with Mayor David Roberts?
These rumors and criticisms have been swirling around the three front-running Hoboken mayoral candidates for the last few months, and last week, the Reporter asked the questions directly.
Of course, there are bigger issues – taxes, education, government transparency – and the candidates talked about those issues in their mayoral profiles (see other story).
The election for a four-year term as Hoboken’s mayor will be held Tuesday, May 12. Six people are running for the seat. Cammarano, Mason, and Zimmer are the three frontrunners, and are also sitting councilpeople.
The three independents, Ryn Melberg, Frank Orsini, and Tom Vincent, were profiled on the cover of last weekend’s edition.
Questions about Mason
Mason has been on the receiving end of various critical questions both on the internet and in letters in this newspaper for the last six months.
Some residents have charged that Mason is hypocritical for becoming allied with a local political organization in her run for mayor, since she complained last spring that Dawn Zimmer, during a run for council, had accepted funding from the county’s longtime political organization, the Hudson County Democratic Organization. At the time, Mason complained that taking help from a machine could make you beholden to that machine. However, since announcing her run for mayor, Mason has received the support of a powerful countywide politician – Union City Mayor and State Sen. Brian Stack – and members of the powerful Anthony Russo Civic Association in Hoboken, founded by former Mayor Anthony Russo.
Support from the Russo group is often quite helpful when one needs votes in the 3rd Ward on the west side of town.
In response to these questions, Mason said last week that she is glad that fellow Councilman Michael Russo, the son of the former mayor and a member of the organization, is in her corner. She also said she doesn’t connect the dots from Michael to his father, who spent time in prison for accepting bribes during his time in office. And she said Anthony Russo’s connection to the organization isn’t a problem. “When people serve their time and are moving forward, we should support that,” she said.
Many people think that Michael Russo also played a major part in Mason’s selection of her City Council running mates, who are long-time Hobokenites rather than the newcomer base from whom “reform” candidates typically draw. Michael Russo said many times last year that he might run for mayor, but instead dropped out of the race and is now supporting Mason, as is Russo’s cousin, Councilwoman Theresa Castellano.
Mason has said in the past that she had made no deals with Michael Russo, and last week, she said Michael Russo had “no impact whatsoever” on the selection of her council ticket.
She said she has known the three candidates for years, with the exception of Vincent Addeo, whom she just met in the past year. The other two on her slate are finance expert Anthony Pasquale, a former Housing Authority chairman who was appointed to that board by Anthony Russo, and Raul Morales II, a young attorney.
Some observers say that with her choices, she has alienated her base, but Mason said this is a way to allow other factions of Hoboken to have a say.
“When you make decisions – these are tough decisions that the next mayor will have to make,” Mason said. “It means people sometimes don’t agree with you.”
Mason was asked about the fact that last year, she was very critical of politicians holding two or more taxpayer jobs, but now she is working with Stack, who is Union City mayor and a state Senator.
Mason said, “He is one of the few people who is able to do both jobs very well.” But she added that it didn’t excuse the dual position holding. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t stop her from accepting the support of Stack, she said.
In her two years on the council, Mason has operated with several paid consultants – PR, political, legal, and otherwise – as well as a paid staffer. Unlike in Jersey City, Hoboken council people don’t get money to hire aides, so she has used her own money.
Mason said that her use of aides isn’t an indication that she needs a lot of people around to get things done. She said if she’s elected mayor, city positions will be evaluated to find out whether each job is needed.
Recently, Mason was criticized for not getting her campaign funding forms in to the state on time. Her camp promised this newspaper that it would produce receipts to prove that campaign funding forms were sent to the state on time. But after several requests to the campaign and Mason over the past week, they failed to produce any evidence that the state deadline was met.
One more criticism has to do with Mason’s vote to continue a tax abatement for the Church Towers moderate income housing building. Mason held a meeting for residents a few weeks before the vote, even though the complex is in Russo’s ward and not hers. Taxpayers who had been researching the abatement and its ramifications have complained that the meeting was not public and they were kept out, despite Mason’s previous record of fighting for open government.
Questions about Zimmer
Zimmer has come under criticism for making promises to her 4th Ward constituents that she didn’t keep, particularly vowing in the Reporter last year that she wouldn’t run for mayor because she had too many issues to tackle as the new 4th Ward councilwoman. But her vow changed in the last few months of last year.
Zimmer said last week that her vow to not run for mayor was superseded by her frustration at not being able to make progress from her council seat.
“I realized that I cannot get done what I need to get done for the 4th Ward unless I am mayor,” she said.
She cited the big problem with flooding in her ward. She claimed she was making inroads with the problem before being blocked on some counts by Roberts and the North Hudson Sewerage Authority.
She also had promised not to take money from the political machine during her 2007 4th Ward campaign. But eventually, she took at least $4,000 from members of the HCDO.
Zimmer said that once the campaign dragged into a runoff and beyond, she was put in a situation where she needed funding. “I don’t think it was a breach of trust,” Zimmer said. “I never expected to need that money, and I’m not independently wealthy.”
She said only a “very miniscule amount” was from the HCDO.
She said this time around, she can’t rule out accepting funding from the group, but can’t yet foresee the need.
There is a question about whom the HCDO is supporting this year. Some believe that the group may be supporting Cammarano, but also that the group stealthily pushed for Zimmer to enter the race in order to take votes away from Mason, who appeals to a similar demographic.
Both Zimmer and Cammarano have denied courting or getting HCDO financial help this year. Zimmer also denied any HCDO plot.
But Zimmer has strong connections to the organization since her runningmate, former councilwoman Carol Marsh, was a vice chairman of the organization until she decided to run for council. Also, major Zimmer supporter Michael Lenz received a county job two years ago that some claim was given to him because of his work with the HCDO.
Zimmer said last week that Lenz is just another volunteer, not a person who is shaping her message or making political decisions. Lenz is a very vocal former city CFO who also served on the Hoboken Board of Education with a reform group in the 1990s.
Zimmer said she’s not promising positions to anyone – Lenz included – but rather promising a fair and open process to fill positions if she gets the top job.
Beside the political machine and Lenz, some have wondered whether the person really running the show is Zimmer’s husband, Stan Grossbard. The rumor is that Grossbard is too outspoken, so Zimmer was run for council as a compromise.
Zimmer said she takes offense at the claim, although she said Grossbard is her closest confidant and helping her out on every front.
“It’s not like Stan is telling me what to say,” she said.
Zimmer also has been criticized because her election team gave out lottery tickets with campaign literature during her ward election (as mentioned in a Reporter investigative piece last December). Zimmer claims that correspondence from the Attorney General’s office disputes the illegality of the tickets, but that no matter what, she won’t be handing them out this time around.
And then there’s Cammarano
Cammarano may be enjoying the vicious volleys that have gone on between Zimmer and Mason’s supporters of late, since both candidates have had less time to attack him. Still, Cammarano has been the target of some ads, mailers, and internet comments.
Wednesday, Hoboken voters received a glossy mailer from Mason claiming Cammarano was connected to Mayor Roberts.
While Cammarano did get elected on a slate with Roberts four years ago, he broke with Roberts very publicly two years later. He has voted with the administration’s allies on the council many times, and against a faction including Zimmer, Mason, Russo, Castellano, and Peter Cunningham.
Cammarano said last week that he hasn’t discounted help from the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), but “it’s not on the table.” He wouldn’t accept their backing, he said, if it came with any strings attached.
Some critics place Cammarano in the pocket of the police and fire employees. But as chairman of the council’s Public Safety Subcommittee, Cammarano came out strongly against the SWAT Team scandal two years ago. He said last week that he would have held the commanding officers – former Chief Carmen LaBruno and Lt. Angelo Andriani – accountable, with minimal discipline handed out to the “rank and file.”
“Discipline should be from the top down,” he said.
But does Cammarano’s top-down theory of responsibility lose steam when applied to the city budget? He voted against a resolution that would have slightly cut Roberts’ salary following the city budget crisis last year.
“It wasn’t meaningful savings,” Cammarano said. He said more effective cuts can be made at the bargaining table and that symbolic cuts weren’t worthwhile.
The opposition is portraying Cammarano as another Roberts, since he ran on the mayor’s ticket in 2005. His voting record, Cammarano said, proves differently. He cites votes against an eminent domain land grab at 11th and Willow streets and the sale of the municipal garage as times when he broke off from Roberts.
Cammarano has been seen as someone who gets a lot of support from outside of the county. Cammarano responded that although he has support from outside Hoboken, he won’t owe any favors when the campaign ends. Most of his non-Hoboken supporters, Cammarano said, are personal friends or allies from past statewide elections he was involved in.
But since they don’t live here and wouldn’t reap any benefits from his getting elected, are they just giving him time and money from the goodness of their hearts?
“Yes,” Cammarano said. “When you’re in the trenches [during an election], you develop these relationships with people.”
His law firm is supportive of political endeavors, Cammarano said, but he will be leaving his position there if elected. He said if that happens, the city will have no interaction with the firm. Some people have questioned why a law firm would support an individual’s personal political endeavor – especially when it wouldn’t bring them any more business – but Cammarano said they just do. Is it a good business model? “I can’t say if it is or it isn’t,” he remarked.
Meanwhile, there’s another issue that the young lawyer has to contend with – vicious internet rumors claiming he ran over a dog.
Cammarano said last week that this is a lie. Shortly after he moved to town, he was the target of a scam, he said. A note left on his car windshield said his vehicle was involved in a canine hit-and-run, but he later found out that the supposed dog-owner told police it was a brunette driving the car. Cammarano said the perpetrator of the scam asked him for a cash pay-out to make it all go away, but instead Cammarano provided a litany of evidence to a judge proving that he was on his college campus during the time when the accident occurred. The case was dismissed, he said.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.