Even as the hoopla over the start of the new year died down, the big cannons of political season have begun to roar in Jersey City as finally – after years of waiting for the head-to-head conflict between Councilman Steve Fulop and Mayor Jerramiah Healy – the election moves into its last phase.
With Fulop expected to open his election headquarters at 2175 Kennedy Blvd. on Jan. 12 and introduce his full slate – something Healy people predicted would not happen – negotiations are ongoing in an attempt to lure Councilwoman Nidia Lopez to the ticket, which would minimize the perception that Fulop is running a no-name ticket.
With Councilman Rolando Lavarro running at large along with Daniel Rivera and Rev. Joyce Watterman, and Frank Gajewski (in Ward A), Khemraj Ramchal (Ward B), Lopez (Ward C), Assemblyman Sean Connors (Ward D), Candice Osborne (Ward E) and Diane Coleman (Ward F), the Fulop ticket may overcome the lack of name recognition among the public, although getting the word out may still substantially drain Fulop’s war chest. Healy’s more familiar candidates may generate votes without as hefty an advertising tab.
More importantly, Fulop appears to have some political heavyweights behind him that include Freeholder Bill O’Dea, Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari and (possibly) state Assemblyman and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco. Also coming out for Fulop is Ed Florio of Florio, Kenny – former state Sen. Bernard Kenny. Also possibly supporting Fulop may be U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, which would drag in support of Rep. Albio Sires, a strong Menendez ally.
Healy: the comeback kid
Healy, however, has come back a long way since two years ago when many people believed he was down for the count. While he still is behind in political donations, many believe he won’t have to raise as much because many of his candidates have name recognition and can draw their own voter base to the polls in May.
Healy may also get support from state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, who was rumored as a mayoral candidate, but most likely will endorse Healy in exchange for naming his Ward F candidate.
His ticket also includes Councilman Peter Brennan, former mayor candidate Dan Levin, Omar Perez, former schools Superintendent Charles Epps and possibly at-large Councilwoman Viola Richardson. Ward C candidate Janet Chevres, a business analyst, could help draw some of the young professional votes that Fulop is thought to have a monopoly on.
With five-term Councilman Bill Gaughan announcing he will not seek reelection, the Healy ticket is scrambling to find a candidate to go against Connors.
Newsstand owner Michael Yun, head of the Central Avenue Special Improvement District, had reportedly considered running against Gaughan.
Healy’s ticket is bolstered by a number political forces as well. Although the Hudson County Democratic Organization finds itself split between Fulop and Healy, its chairman, Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, is likely to join Cunningham in supporting Healy – partly because of the strong union support for Healy which helped him raise about $300,000 campaign donations in a very short period. This is fueled by the perception, whether accurate or not, that Fulop may be anti-union. Changes proposed by Fulop’s pay-to-play resolution, which Healy vetoed, may have put him at odds with other powerful political figures, such as state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who is supposedly leaning towards Healy, a move that seemed inconceivable only last summer.
Whether or not Rich Boggiano, who made a strong showing in a special election for an at-large council seat last year, runs for anything this time around is anybody’s guess.
In this mix emerges Jerry Walker, a possible mayoral candidate, who claims to have the support of Union County state Senator Ray Lesniak. Many suspect Walker will hurt Fulop more than Healy because it will siphon off some of the anti-establishment vote that most expect would otherwise go to the councilman.
Stack takes on the world
There’s a running joke among political people regarding the charge that Stack allegedly assaulted Ray Mitchell outside Scheutzen Park in North Bergen on Dec. 14. The joke goes: “It can’t be real. The police report didn’t have Stack saying enough curse words.” Another variation on this claims Stack doesn’t try to choke people; he threatens to punch them out.
This last refers to a claim by Freeholder Jose Munoz that Stack once allegedly threatened him because Munoz chose to march near him at the Cuban Parade in West New York – one of the many contributing factors to the deteriorating relationship between Stack and Munoz. (The matter was not heard in court.)
While these new charges against Stack still have to be heard in court and there is no way to know the merit of them, allegations of threats are not uncommon in Hudson County political circles. Munoz, prior to his days as a freeholder, when running for mayor of West New York, once alleged that then-Mayor Albio Sires pushed him down a flight of stairs. In one Jersey City election, council candidate Steve Lipski was accused of allegedly trying to hire someone to beat up candidate Louis Manzo. Bar fights among supporters of various factions have been reported over the last decade throughout the county.
Old timers talk of even more cantankerous political disputes in the glory days before political campaigns stopped resembling Gangs of New York.
But while blood might have flowed in the street from such disputes, campaigns (and the alleged campaign kickbacks some claim are required to foot the high cost of modern elections) were a lot cheaper in the good old days, and perhaps campaign reform should include the purchase of a boxing gloves for every candidate and regular bouts on one of the Greenville gyms. Politicians wouldn’t need to force followers to buy tickets to these events. Even the unaffiliated public would pay the price for admission.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.