A sign of things to come?
City Council meeting lacks usual bombast
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Nov 10, 2013 | 4401 views | 1 1 comments | 121 121 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HOBOKEN’S BRAVEST – Mayor Dawn Zimmer (center) honored members of the Hoboken Fire Department for their role during Hurricane Sandy on Wednesday night, including Battalion Chief Joseph Turner (left) and Chief Richard Blohm (right). Zimmer also honored the police department, the Office of Emergency Management, the construction office, the Hoboken Parking Utility, the Elks Lodge, St. Peter and Paul Church, St. Matthew Trinity Church, and students from Stevens Institute of Technology.
HOBOKEN’S BRAVEST – Mayor Dawn Zimmer (center) honored members of the Hoboken Fire Department for their role during Hurricane Sandy on Wednesday night, including Battalion Chief Joseph Turner (left) and Chief Richard Blohm (right). Zimmer also honored the police department, the Office of Emergency Management, the construction office, the Hoboken Parking Utility, the Elks Lodge, St. Peter and Paul Church, St. Matthew Trinity Church, and students from Stevens Institute of Technology.
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Post-election, Wednesday night’s meeting of the Hoboken City Council lacked the rhetoric-fueled attacks and drawn-out arguments that have become commonplace in City Hall the past year.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her allies won reelection Tuesday night, meaning her council allies will fill five seats on the nine-member council when Jim Doyle takes his new seat in January.

With the balance of power now tipped in the mayor’s favor, it’s possible that the council meetings will be more focused and less chaotic. Indeed, in just over two hours on Wednesday, the council introduced important storm resiliency ordinances that could help lower residents’ flood insurance rates, measures that were rejected two weeks ago.

The council also approved spending measures to resurface and remodel sections of two city parks, an agreement that might normally have taken them six rancorous hours or longer to reach.

The council members and residents in the audience also came together for moments of silence for Anna Roberts, the wife of former Mayor David Roberts, and Hoboken Police Officer Madhu Chohan, the first Indian-American to serve on the force, both of whom passed away last week.

Later, they stood and applauded a wide variety of Hobokenites who were honored by Zimmer on Hurricane Sandy’s anniversary for service in the storm’s aftermath.
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“We have to work together and it has to start now.” – Patricia Waiters
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Franz Paetzold, a regular at the council meetings who often doesn’t support one group over another, told Zimmer’s opponents they must rethink their strategy now that they are the clear minority on the council. By fighting the mayor on every issue, he said, they galvanize her supporters and hurt themselves in the public eye.

“You have to abandon this scorched earth policy,” he said. “When you fight her on a traffic light or the need for a budget surplus, people read about it and you turn her into an all-star when she’s really doing run of the mill stuff. You’re hurting yourselves while also hurting Hoboken.”

Patricia Waiters, a perennial candidate and outspoken member of the public who garnered 612 votes in the council election, struggled through a bout of laryngitis to express her intentions to work with Tuesday’s winners and losers to maintain progress.

“We have to work together and it has to start now,” she said, asking members of the public to remain involved despite the end of the election season.

A stand against flood insurance

Nothing at Wednesday night’s meeting was more indicative of the council’s new dynamic than its businesslike approach to passing several flood prevention ordinances and resolutions that only two weeks ago were unceremoniously voted down by Zimmer’s opponents. At the time, Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti, who lost to Zimmer on Tuesday, claimed the mayor was hastily trying to garner publicity before Election Day.

On Wednesday, Occhipinti, along with anti-Zimmer councilwomen Beth Mason and Theresa Castellano, raised few concerns over the measures before voting in their favor.

The ordinances, which were introduced and will receive a public hearing at the next meeting, will mandate stricter construction standards and serve as a first step toward lowering Hoboken’s astronomical flood insurance rates.

One ordinance would require any new construction or major renovations to existing structures to adhere to strict safety and flood resiliency standards set forth by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It does not apply to normal work on existing structures, though it could have an effect on residents still rebuilding or renovating after Hurricane Sandy last year.

The other ordinance would bar construction on piers and platforms along the riverfront. A presentation by a city-hired engineer described the effects that a Sandy-like storm would have on residents of prospective riverfront development.

“If you build on one of these piers and there’s intense flooding, the people living there will not be able to get to higher ground,” said the engineer, John Miller. “You’re creating an island.”

The ordinances will also help lower the flood insurance rates of Hoboken residents, which are currently some of the highest in the nation. By approving the new measures, the city can gain considerable points on a survey called the Community Rating System (CRS). The CRS, administered by the National Flood Insurance Program, allows municipalities to reduce their rates by taking action like passing a strict construction codes ordinance.

Zimmer honors Sandy heroes

Wednesday’s meeting was the first since the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Zimmer took the opportunity to honor several government agencies, local non-profits, and students from Stevens Institute of Technology for their service to the city in the storm’s aftermath.

Chief of Police Anthony Falco and Fire Chief Richard Blohm accepted awards on behalf of the police and fire departments. Another award was given to members of the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps. The mayor also recognized Leo Pellegrini, the director of health and human services, and James Davis, the supervisor of the city’s Department of Environmental Services, for their roles in clearing debris and cleaning the city in Sandy’s wake. Davis accepted the award on behalf of the entire Environmental Services staff as well as Freddie Moret, a city worker who passed away earlier this year. Also honored were the city’s Office of Emergency Management, led by Joel Mestre and Ken Ferrante, and the Community Emergency Response Team, led by Lou Casciano.

The Hoboken Parking Utility was honored for helping residents whose cars were destroyed by Sandy, as were members of the city’s construction office, who streamlined the process by which residents could receive permits to begin repairing their homes.

Members of the parishes of St. Peter and Paul Church and St. Matthew Trinity Church were also honored. Zimmer recalled asking both churches to allow the city to use their property to shelter evacuated residents. The Elks, who also allowed their lodge to be used for shelter and cooked food for residents in the weeks following the storm, were also honored.

Zimmer commended a team of Stevens students who were a few of the many that organized volunteers and donations in City Hall following the storm.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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CJd
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November 12, 2013
Is construction of an 'island' in a flood-prone area necessarily a bad thing? Aren't construction standards and emergency planning/procedures advanced beyond such arguments?