Hoboken will wait a few more weeks to elect its next mayor, as the field was pared down Tuesday night to Councilman-at-Large Peter Cammarano and 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer.
Both candidates pulled far ahead of third-place finisher Beth Mason (see sidebar) and three independent candidates.
A runoff election is necessary if one candidate cannot garner more that 50 percent of the vote. Cammarano and Zimmer received 36 and 35 percent respectively, and Mason took 25 percent.
Voter turnout was roughly the same as the mayoral election in 2005, which many people considered low considering the huge tax increase that Hobokenites suffered this past year.
Approximately 10,500 votes were cast, roughly a quarter of the city’s population and a third of the registered voters.
Zimmer’s entire slate of council candidates – Carol Marsh, Ravi Bhalla, and Dave Mello – made a council runoff against three other candidates. The top three out of six on June 9 will take three at-large seats on the nine-member council.
Vinnie Addeo and Raul Morales II, two candidates from Mason’s slate, made the cut, as did Angel Alicea, the only candidate from Cammarano’s slate to finish in the top six.
The vote counts, including absentee ballots, were as follows: Cammarano, 3,755; Zimmer, 3,671; Mason, 2,541; Tom Vincent, 249; Ryn Melberg; 199, and Frank Orsini, also 199.
For council, votes were as follows: Marsh, 3,719; Bhalla, 3,698; Mello, 3,361; Addeo, 2,624; Morales II, 2,576; Alicea, 2,534; Michael Novak, 2,513; Anthony Pasquale, 2,418; Frances Rhodes-Kearns, 2,415; Christopher Carbine, 705; Timothy Occhipinti, 672; and Patricia Waiters, 569.
Vote counts for nearly 40 provisional ballots were turned in by the county on Friday, but the counts did not have any effect on which candidates made the runoff election.
Just a few months ago, political observers said that Cammarano was polling in the single-digits – less than 10 percent of registered voters – and the conventional wisdom was that Mason, with her huge campaign war chest and name recognition, would pull away from the pack.
But small events started to change the momentum, like a televised debate at Our Lady of Grace. Cammarano said he thought his performance in the debate swayed a portion of undecided voters. Many polls close to the election reported more than 30 percent of voters were still undecided.
“There were some definitive turning points in this campaign,” he said. “This one is going to be dissected for years to come.”
In the election, Zimmer and Mason were seen as the “reformer” candidates, although Mason picked a council slate of native Hobokenites in order to bridge the Old Hoboken/New Hoboken gap. Cammarano, although not a native Hobokenite, is a young lawyer who had been seen as more of an administration friendly politician until he broke with Mayor David Roberts two years ago. A main difference among the three candidates was that Cammarano voted to pass Roberts’ city budget at the end of last year, and Zimmer and Mason did not. Cammarano has since said that this made things worse in the long run because the state came in to run the city’s finances, forcing a large city tax increase.
All camps surprised
Cammarano was surprised at Tuesday’s outcome. He said he believed many undecided voters chose him at the polls, and that Zimmer benefitted from “the disintegrating of the Mason campaign.”
In fact, Mason’s campaign had gotten off to a good start based on Mason’s years of positive press for suing city government to make records accessible. But in Hoboken politics, a vocal outsider can not always convert that energy into positive campaigning or governing. In the last few months, Mason made several decisions that seemed contrary to her original goal and tended to alienate her supporters (see sidebar).
Some observers wondered about the interference of political machines in this year’s race, speculating that the Hudson County Democratic Organization was really behind Cammarano, and that the group was pushing Zimmer in order to take votes from Mason and help Cammarano win outright. If that was the plan, it failed, as Cammarano still ended up in a runoff.
Both Zimmer and Cammarano denied courting the HCDO for Tuesday’s race.
But this time, they may need the extra help.
Cammarano said last week that now, he will not count any supporters out. “I sure the operation is going to expand,” he said.
He also said he was sure that both his camp and Zimmer’s camp have been in touch with the HCDO – something Zimmer denied last week.
Cammarano also responded to rumors that he didn’t give enough support to his council slate.
“I’m definitely pushed the ticket as hard as I could,” he said. “What happened? Obviously, people approached the ballot a la carte. They looked at it like a menu of options that they could pick and chose from.”
Zimmer: ‘Ready for change’
It was a group of dedicated volunteers – rather than paid campaign workers – and a technologically-advanced (which is extremely cost effective) campaign that helped Zimmer stay competitive, she said last week.
“It was a grass-roots effort,” she said on Thursday. “And it shows that Hoboken is ready for change.”
She said the e-mail lists were a staple of hers since she was elected to the City Council.
“I believe in communication,” Zimmer said, “and I think it’s really important to communicate. I’ve continued to do that in the campaign.”
“I think the HCDO should stay out of Hoboken.” – Dawn Zimmer
Is Twitter an untapped resource? Just another resource, she said, like Facebook, e-mail, or her website, all of which are cheaper than mailing out glossy material and more personal than a television commercial. She didn’t air one commercial during the entire campaign.
Zimmer said she’s seeking more support for the runoff, but that she’s not willing to make deals to secure her future.
She denied Cammarano’s claim that she has sought help from the HCDO for the runoff.
“I think the HCDO should stay out of Hoboken,” she said. “I think we should work with them, and that’s great, but I don’t think they should be deciding who’s running Hoboken.”
She also criticized the scurrilous attack flyers that came out of the campaign.
‘Citizens for the Future’
Some of the worst attack ads came from a mysterious group calling itself Citizens for the Future. Not only did that group send out distorted mailers, but they also left two phone messages before Election Day criticizing Zimmer and including sound effects of cars crashing and bombs dropping.
Many people were left wondering which campaign had hired the group, but all three candidates denied it last week.
Zimmer said everything she sent out during the campaign had her “paid for by” line on it. Both Mason and Cammarano said the group was not hired by their campaigns, and said they were looking into the group and who was backing them.
Residents who want to vote in the runoff can register through this Tuesday, May 19.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at email@example.com. The Mason meltdown
A few months ago, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason seemed a clear-cut favorite to be the next mayor of Hoboken. Polling data from all of the camps said so. Her public relations staff was continually sending out press releases touting her achievements.
But on May 12, Mason’s well-funded crossover campaign came crumbling down.
Mason said last week that she isn’t sure if she’ll back either candidate in the runoff. She wasn’t even sure, when interviewed Friday, whether she would stay on the council. Mason had been criticized for joining forces with 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo for the election, especially since the year before, she had criticized Dawn Zimmer for taking help from a county political machine during Zimmer’s first council race. Now, Mason, facing her own tough race, was seen as taking help (even if not financial) from what many saw as the city’s most powerful political machine, the Russo family’s civic association.
Mason also had filled her council slate with candidates that were familiar to “old Hoboken” but foreign to her newcomer political base.
Several other decisions helped Mason fall out of favor with her taxpayer base. She voted in favor of the continuation of a tax abatement agreement with the Church Towers moderate housing building, even though a taxpayers’ group wanted to do more research first. She failed to support either of the two slates in April’s school board election. And she used several paid public relations professionals in her role of councilwoman, making one wonder how she would keep employee spending down as mayor.
What was Mason’s reaction to her loss?
“Obviously this isn’t the result we wanted,” she said on Friday.
Mason’s campaign manger, Jake Stuiver, said that they were surprised and stunned. On Tuesday night, Mason’s post-election speech to volunteers, supporters, and campaign workers was no more than 30 seconds, he said.
“It was a very difficult night for all of us,” Stuiver said. “We were certainly taken by surprise.”
Stuiver said the election math has been confusing to many people, especially because polling data from a week before had Mason approaching 40 percent of the vote. Yet, on Election Day, she took roughly 25 percent of the vote and missed the runoff by more than 1,000 votes.
Like many other people, Stuiver said he has to assume that some people who appeared to support the Mason ticket only supported her council candidates and not her. Others may have voted for Mason and then pulled the lever for Zimmer’s council people in the voting booth.
“Beth set out to build bridges between ‘old Hoboken’ and ‘new Hoboken,’ ” Stuiver said. “That didn’t sell well.”
So, it appears Mason couldn’t get “old Hoboken” to vote for her and couldn’t get “new
Hoboken” to vote for her council slate, even though she outspent both of her opponents by leaps and bounds, including more than $400,000 in personal contributions.
Stuvier did not criticize Mason’s controversial decisions – only people’s reactions to them. He said that Mason’s principles were still in play in making her decisions.
“Anybody who thinks that Beth Mason had changed,” he said. “Having sat by her side, I can tell you, she has not changed.”
But some said that Mason made too many mistakes and kept hoping the public wouldn’t notice.
“The difference between the campaigns,” said one Zimmer insider on Friday, “was that Dawn bet on the public being smart. Beth bet on the public being stupid.”
Stuiver credited the Russos, especially Michael and his mother Michele, for working hard to get the vote out in the 3rd Ward. However, Mason came in last among the top three candidates in the 3rd Ward, while her council candidate Addeo, who lives in the ward, made the runoff and took the ward with votes to spare.
Mason narrowly escaped defeat in the 2nd Ward, her own ward, edging out Zimmer by one vote.
Union City Mayor Brian Stack was endorsing Mason early on in the race, but stopped returning calls from the Reporter about her candidacy midway through the campaign.
Stuiver said he did not see any tangible connection to Stack during the campaign.
About the council slate, Stuiver said last week, “The Zimmer campaign also did an effective job of demonizing Beth’s slate.”
Anonymous fliers had linked Mason candidate Anthony Pasquale to the failed policies of the Hoboken Housing Authority, of which Pasquale was chairman for several years. However, Mason’s campaign paid for more public attack ads than Zimmer’s campaign did, if one judges by mailers and advertisements.
Both campaigns appeared to have supporters who posted nasty anonymous comments on various internet sites.
When asked whether she thought the election was “clean” – or free of shenanigans that have plagued past elections – Mason would not comment. “I don’t want to go there,” she said.
Is she headed back to the council to continue her service to the people of the city?
“I don’t really know right now,” she said. “I’m looking at a lot of things right now.”
She was, however, pleased that two members of her council slate were victorious.
“I’m lucky to have two council candidates that are still in the running,” she said, referring to Vinnie Addeo and Raul Morales II, who are in the June 9 runoff. Stuiver will continue to manage both candidates’ campaigns. He said there are no plans to try to form a three-person slate with Cammarano and his lone council candidate, Angel Alicea. – TJC