Wednesday's vote was significant in that it gave Zimmer's allies on the housing board a strong majority going into the mandated board reorganization meeting tonight (Thursday). This means that Zimmer's allies can appoint a new chairman of the board to replace Rob Davis III. It also means they may try at some point to remove the agency's paid director, Carmelo Garcia.
A struggle for control of the board between Zimmer's allies and opponents has been ongoing for some time. In Hoboken, the Housing Authority projects have long been the site of power struggles, as they have been viewed as a source of votes and lucrative contracts. Whoever is in charge has the opportunity to provide a better way of life for the city's poorest residents -- or, if an appointee's motives are less pure, the appointment can just be a way to gain power.
The vote on Dening spurred heated debate at an otherwise average City Council meeting. Multiple residents of the city's public housing, as well as several council members and local politicians, spoke out in support of Commissioner Gonzalez's reappointment instead of Denning, saying that they felt he was fair, qualified, and had the residents' best interests at heart.
Conversely, residents stated that they did not know Dening and asked the council not to support his appointment only because they felt that Gonzalez's experience would be to their benefit.
In fact, when 1st Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano asked Dening to answer some questions about why he was pursuing the commissioner job, he initially declined to speak.
Castellano, visibly surprised at Dening's decision not to speak, questioned him anyway.
"I'm going to ask the question even though I know I'm not going to get an answer," she said. "What do you think your job will be as a commissioner? It's going to be to say 'yes.' Whenever Dawn Zimmer puts something on the table, you say yes."
After a considerable amount of chastising from Castellano and 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti, Dening did approach the dais and discussed his desire to make the HHA more efficient, accountable, and modern.
"I stand for openness and transparency," he said. "I'm a technology guy; I'd like to make improvements."
When pressed on specific issues currently facing the housing board, including the controversial Vision 20/20 redevelopment plan, which would replace some of the current housing, Dening was less specific.
"There are things I like about 20/20 and things about 20/20 I don't like," he said.
None of the commissioners who voted to appoint Dening -- Mello, Council President Jennifer Giattino, Council Vice-President Ravi Bhalla, Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle, or Sixth Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham -- gave specific reasons why they were supporting Dening's candidacy. And a few actually said they were impressed with Gonzalez's work during his five-year term.
The debate over whether to appoint Dening or Gonzalez inspired race-related discussion when 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo said an "underlying racism" has guided the board appointments made by Zimmer's council majority.
"There is 100 percent an underlying racism in these appointments," Russo said, to the immediate protest of the council majority.
In a Hoboken Reporter story last week, it was noted that the city's most powerful boards lack a representative from a Latin American country, despite the town's Latino population. The story also noted that the school board recently became 100 percent Caucasian, despite the district's more than 70 percent minority population. The Hoboken school board is elected, but in the past, candidates generally tried to have at least one member of a minority group on their ticket.
Occhipinti and Russo both stated that they were disturbed by the statistics published in that story last weekend. -- Dean DeChiaro