You can expect the Bayonne municipal race to get even more heated now that it appears that Mayor Mark Smith and challenger James Davis face a June runoff.
While this election is very similar in total number of votes cast to the 2006 election between then-Mayor Joseph Doria and his challenger, Judge Patrick Conaghan, Smith is seen as much weaker than Doria was going into the runoffs.
This view is partly because of the overwhelming victory by Thomas Cotter (on Davis’ ticket) in the 1st Ward and the surprising close vote in the 2nd Ward where pro-Smith incumbent Joe Hurley was forced into a runoff against newcomer and Davis runningmate Salvatore Gullace.
Hurley, a former fire captain, is extremely popular, leaving political observers to suggest that votes cast against him were actually anti-Smith votes.
Smith candidate in the 3rd Ward, incumbent Councilman Ray Greaves, lost to former Councilman Gary LaPelusa by a significant enough margin that even if that race ends up in a runoff as well (which had not yet been determined by press time), Greaves will have a lot of ground to make up.
Of Smith’s ticket, Council President Terrence Ruane did the best, although he was unable to get the percent of the vote he needed in the at-large race. Ruane has a lot of friends and family in Bayonne, and as postmaster for a number of years, has almost as much name recognition as Mayor Smith. Ruane is likely to get reelected in the runoff, but his running mate, Debra Czerwienski, who finished a few hundred votes behind Ruane, may be at risk of losing to former Hudson County Sheriff Juan Perez, a Davis candidate.
But just like they tell you in those ads pitching investments, past performance does not guarantee future results. The Smith team, although still in the running, has to be disheartened. But the runoff will be about money, and if Smith can continue to raise and spend money, he may well be able to salvage control of the council, and win reelection. The Smith ticket outspent the Davis ticket 10 to 1 so far.
Davis people, however, say the dynamics have changed, and that he and his ticket will become even more viable in the runoff.
“This will bring in money to our campaign,” said one of his workers. “People who were reluctant before because they thought Smith would win now will see Jimmy as someone they can invest in for the future.”
Outside political observers, however, still see Smith as viable, but also say that he will need to inspire his workers and donors.
“He’s got to turn up the heat,” one observer from North Hudson said.
Although Smith has already lost the 1st Ward and is near to losing the 3rd Ward, his three remaining candidates led in the first round, forcing Davis to expend time and money on his candidates while at the same time trying to keep his own people inspired. Generally, fewer voters turn out for runoff elections than in the first round of elections, so a candidate has to make sure that his or her voters get to the polls.
But the first round of the election showed that Davis and Smith are evenly matched in GOTV (get out the vote) efforts, something that wasn’t always true in past elections. The Davis ticket was able to capitalize on a number of Smith campaign mistakes that subtracted votes Smith needed, especially in some of the senior citizen buildings where historically Smith was strong.
Expect both sides to come out swinging in the next round, although the Davis camp will continue to paint the election as “Davis vs. Goliath.”
Can other candidates beat the political machine?
The Davis turnout might give hope to underdogs elsewhere in Hudson County, where a number of political figures are running against powerful political machines.
Henry Marrero is running against Anthony Vainieri in North Bergen. Vainieri is backed by state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO). Freeholder Chairman Jose Munoz is running against the Sacco machine, which supports Caridad Rodriquez. She also has the support of Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, West New York Mayor Felix Roque, and Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff.
Munoz hopes to galvanize strong support in WNY in order to make up for the expected votes against him in other parts of the district that include Weehawken and Guttenberg.
Munoz, as freeholder, unsuccessfully tried to block the appointment of WNY Commissioner FiorD’Aliza Frias (one of his political enemies) as confidential aide to County Administrator Abe Antun. The appointment suggests that Munoz is also opposed behind the scenes by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez – since Antun is one of Menendez’s closest allies. Another Menendez close associate, Donald Scarinci, just took over as corporation counsel for the Roque Administration.
But the most powerful force against Munoz is Rep. Albio Sires – former mayor of West New York.
“Albio has the most to lose in this,” said one political observer. “If Munoz wins, then Albio may look weak and someone (most likely Fulop) will seek to unseat him as congressman.”
Freeholder Anthony Romano faces an uphill battle against his challenger, Phil Cohen. Not only is Cohen supported by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, but also Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. This freeholder district contains all of Hoboken and some of Jersey City.
“Nobody is going to openly go against Fulop on Stick’s [Romano’s] behalf,” a Hoboken observer said.
But Romano apparently has a significant war chest, a good campaign staff, and supporters who will work on his behalf.
Jose Falto, who tried unsuccessfully to put together a ticket to oppose Mayor Brian Stack in Union City, has decided to run for freeholder, believing that incumbent Tilo Rivas is more vulnerable. Although weakened over the last few years, the Stack political machine is still potent.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.