Hoboken residents will elect a mayor and three at- large council members this coming November. Elections in the mile-square city typically do not fall along Democrat/Republican lines, but among supporters of the incumbent, and the loyal opposition.
And they generally get pretty heated.
This year’s election gossip is off to an early start as rumors have swirled about who will oppose Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who has held the office of mayor since 2009. Zimmer said in March of 2016 that she will run for mayor again.
The deadline to file with the city clerk to run for a mayor or council position is Sept. 5. Candidates must have lived in town at least a year to run.
The City Council has nine seats, six of which represent specific wards, and three of which represent the whole town. It’s the latter that are up this year; the six ward seats are up for election in 2019.
The mayor currently earns $116,950 with benefits. Most council members earn $24,130 and the council president earns $26,541.
As of Thursday, no one had taken out petitions to run, but several are expected to do so. Candidates must gather a minimum of 360 signatures of registered voters to run.
Besides Zimmer, local businesswoman Karen Nason has announced her intent to run and has already held a fundraiser. Rumors have said that First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco and County Freeholder Anthony Romano are also considering runs.
Nason owns Hoboken Hothouse, a cafe and flower shop at Second and Monroe streets. She was featured in a Reporter cover story on June 5, 2016, complaining about the difficulties of running a business in town.
She is among several business people in town who have made such a complaint, and it’s among the issues Nason wants to tackle.
“Hoboken is awesome already but it could be so much better,” she said.
She said she wants to address the city’s “overbonding” and use of PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) programs for developers, and zoning issues.
“There are 48 vacant stores on Washington Street,” said Nason. “The lights are on but nobody is home.”
She noted that one of her initiatives will be to work with the Zoning Board, Planning Board, and council to “rewrite the whole thing [zoning code].”
“All it does is scare potential businesses from coming in here and sharing the taxpayers’ burden.” --Karen Nason
DeFusco and Romano
Rumors have swirled that 1st Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco, who was allied with Zimmer when he ran for council last year, may chose to take the mayor on in November, although he did not respond to several questions about this last week.
DeFusco has complained about a number of issues in town, including – like Nason – the difficulties of opening and running a small business in the city. Most recently, DeFusco disagreed with the decision of the Zoning Board (of which he used to be a member) to deny an application 5-2 for a development that could have included a Shake Shack, something Zoning Board member Phil Cohen also said he wished his board had approved.
Some have also speculated that County Freeholder Anthony Romano also may oppose Zimmer.
Romano, when reached last week, said, “I’m focused on my reelection for county freeholder” this year. However, Romano’s campaign manager, Pablo Fonseca, said “ The only thing we are working on is, we are focused on the election for freeholder and after that election, on June 6, we will sit down as an organization and weigh our options.”
Does any opposition have a shot?
It is difficult for an independent candidate to run these days, thanks to a change in the voting rules.
In 2012, allies of Mayor Zimmer petitioned for a referendum to change the method in which municipal positions are chosen. Before, if one candidate failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters would face off in a runoff. This ensured that in a crowded field in which – for instance -- four candidates each received 23 to 27 percent -- the top two candidates could face off again, ensuring the winner had a majority vote.
However, the second election cost money and had the potential for people to run just as “spoilers” to force candidates into a runoff.
The new method is easier, but has its own drawback in that it favors incumbents with machines, who could pull just a little more than others in a crowded field and be elected without a majority of votes.
Second full term
Zimmer first ran for mayor during her first term on the City Council. She lost to Peter Cammarano, who was then arrested three weeks into his mayoral term that summer.
Zimmer, who was then City Council president, became interim mayor. Then she ran in a special election and won.
She was re-elected in 2013.
When asked last week, Zimmer said she is not focused on reelection and is focused on her current term.
She has already raised $ 28,964, according to her April 6 filing with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. She is listed under the office type “mayor” for the 2017 general election.
"The election is seven months away and my focus right now, as it has been for the last eight years, is on getting things done for the people of Hoboken,” said Zimmer last week. “We are in the process of working hard to make sure that $535 million of critical infrastructure projects, funded at no cost to the Hoboken taxpayer, get completed to protect the residents and businesses of Hoboken from flooding and power outages. The city is also investing over $12 million in water main projects this year and is also working on completing three new resiliency parks in western Hoboken, adding eight new acres of parkland for our residents."
Zimmer was endorsed by Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack in an official press release in March.
“Mayor Zimmer has been a strong and effective advocate for Hoboken and a great partner, working with me to support our region and our state,” said Stack in the release.
“I thank Senator Stack for his important endorsement,” Zimmer said in the March release. “We are honored to have him represent our city in the state Senate and I look forward to continuing our work together, as we make Hoboken an even better place to live.”
The mutual endorsement may seem curious, as Stack has taken measures against Zimmer’s allies in the past. For instance, in 2013, Stack chose to run Carmelo Garcia for Assembly on his slate, instead of close Zimmer ally Ravi Bhalla.
Zimmer was asked about this last week and said “I am proud to have received the endorsements of Ambassador Phil Murphy who I believe will be a great governor of the State of New Jersey and our State Senator Brian Stack. I look forward to working with both of them to move our city, our district, and our state forward.”
When asked about her rumored opposition, she replied, “I don't respond to rumors about candidacies, and since Ms. Nason is the only announced candidate, I can say that I look forward to a spirited substantive debate on the issues with her and any other candidate who steps forward and declares their candidacy.”
DeFusco has $88,000
According to other ELEC reports, which candidates must file quarterly, DeFusco has raised roughly $88,676 so far. According to the listing, the money is for the 2019 general election, which is still two years away. It would be unusual for him to be raising so much money so early, election watchers have said.
Some rumors have said former councilman Tony Soares may be on DeFusco’s slate.
When reached last week, Soares said, “right now everything is just a rumor” and “it’s always a compliment when someone asks me if I’m running.”
Sources have said they expect Bhalla to be on Zimmer’s slate, something Bhalla confirmed last week. He said he has raised more than $100,000.
Interestingly, DeFusco and Bhalla held fundraisers on the same night. This drew some ire toward DeFusco among Zimmer friends.
But it hasn’t stopped either of them from gathering support.
“As of the March 31, I had raised about $121,000,” Bhalla said, “and I currently have $94,122 in cash on hand.”
He said his first fundraiser was “highly successful and well-attended.”
Bhalla said he is proud of his work on the council, particularly as president when he helped save Hoboken University Medical Center.
“I am most proud of the active leadership role I played as council president in saving our hospital from closing by finding a qualified private buyer,” said Bhalla. “We prevented a crippling default that would have left Hoboken's taxpayers holding the bag for an ill-advised $52 million bond guarantee.”
Bhalla said if reelected in November he would work with the council to preserve Hoboken against out-of-scale development.
He said, “We must make smart development decisions, bringing more amenities that our residents want such as shops, restaurants, and parks to our city, while curbing more residential development—the kind of development that research and experience show raises our property taxes and harms our quality of life.”
Sources also expect incumbent Councilman Jim Doyle to run on Zimmer’s slate as well. That leaves a third slot open. Councilman David Mello is said to be a wildcard and could end up on another slate. Mello and Doyle did not return several messages last week.
Nason noted that she endorsed Zimmer for her most recent term, and that her own candidacy is “nothing personal.”
Nason has raised $7,000 through her first fundraiser on April 19. Her event came after the reporting deadline and will appear in a future ELEC report.
“It went incredible,” Nason said of the event. “We had a great turnout.” She noted that there was a crowded City Council meeting the same night and a fundraiser for a local charity that night.
She said she hopes to throw another event in May.
As for Romano and DeFusco, Nason said she isn’t threatened by either of them and believes she can work with them in the future.
How to run
Candidates for mayor or council don’t need to run on a slate.
After the recent presidential election, cities such as Philadelphia have hosted forums to get new people involved in running for office. Nothing similar has been held so far in Hoboken, but that doesn’t mean someone with fresh ideas can’t run.
According to the City Clerk Jim Farina, candidates can pick up a petition at the clerk’s office at 94 Washington St, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and return the completed packet by 4 p.m. on Sept. 5. Typically, opposing campaigns try to discredit signatures, trying to prove that they don’t belong to registered voters, so those who run usually try to get extra signatures.
For more information, call the clerk’s office at (201) 420-2073.
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