On Nov. 7, voters will decide Hoboken’s future by electing new representatives for mayor, City Council, and school board. The Reporter has written several stories about differences among the six candidates. To read our early story about their positives and negatives, click here (http://tinyurl.com/hobokenmayoral).
Their recent political debate is on our website, hudsonreporter.com, as well. For other prior stories, go to hudsonreporter.com.
Last week, the Reporter published comprehensive profiles of three of the six mayoral candidates: Ravi Bhalla (a sitting councilman), Jennifer Giattino (the current council president), and local activist Ronald Bautista. This week, we profile the other three candidates: County Freeholder Anthony Romano, Councilman Michael DeFusco, and business owner Karen Nason.
First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco grew up in Marlboro, N.J. He moved to Hoboken the day after graduating from the George Washington University and started his career as a marketing professional in New York City.
“I have spent the majority of my life post-college here in Hoboken, and that’s typical of a lot of people here,” said DeFusco. “I’ve come to love it here. As a guy born and raised in New Jersey, I had always heard of Hoboken as a fantastic city, a place where residents and culture thrive. Everyone growing up wanted to move to Hoboken.”
Now he is a homeowner and full-time marketing executive for a fortune 500 media broadcast company in New York City, where he oversees a multimillion dollar budget, employees, and projects. He said he will leave the job if he becomes mayor.
“I am the only candidate running who works in a field unrelated to state or Hoboken politics,” he added.
DeFusco said he first got involved in politics by volunteering for the Obama campaign in 2007.
“When Obama decided to come to Hoboken, I went to his rally and I was moved by the positive changes he wanted to make,” said DeFusco who then worked on his primary campaign.
He then got a seat on the Zoning Board in 2011, where he served for five years, before he ran for City Council in 2015, beating mainstay Theresa Castellano.
“Despite everyone telling me I wasn’t going to win, sure enough I beat a longtime incumbent by 14 percent,” said DeFusco.
He said his biggest accomplishments are work he did on the Zoning Board and City Council. He cited approving the building where Trader Joe’s is located, working to include affordable housing in new buildings, and the fight to improve traffic in southwest Hoboken. He also mentioned obtaining a commitment from the train terminal operators for an outdoor French market.
DeFusco was the only political official to announce his candidacy for mayor against Mayor Dawn Zimmer earlier this year, before she announced in June that she was not going to seek another term. He also had stood up to her on certain matters, such as zoning, whereas his opponents – Jennifer Giattino and Ravi Bhalla – rarely if ever publicly opposed her until this campaign. Giattino and Bhalla have both been on the council for more than one term.
“After working with the mayor, after disagreeing with the mayor, after having successes with the mayor, and after being frustrated with the mayor, I had an opportunity to decide again if I wanted to run for office,” he said. “And I decided to run against Dawn because I feel I can do a better job.”
DeFusco said his main issue is transparency.
“I don’t think we have had an administration that’s been transparent,” said DeFusco, citing the 8.5 million debt with the city’s water provider, the city budget funded by “unbridled haphazard residential development,” and the acquisition of park land using eminent domain which took the city 10 years to build.
He said one of his biggest frustrations is that “we had a master plan reexam in 2010 and during that time no one codified the recommendations the plan made.”
He said the masterplan is the “roadmap” that will help guide development and redevelopment zones instead of “zoning by variance.”
He said if elected he will turn the recommendations into law and that he will work with the Planning Board and City Council to update the city’s outdated zoning.
As for development, he said he would like to see a mix of residential and commercial space including tech incubators, urban wineries, co-working spaces, and mom-and-pop shops.
He said eminent domain is a last resort used for a greater public good but only after honest upfront negotiations have taken place with property owners.
He said rent control not only helps senior citizens or those who have been in town for 30 years but journalists, artist, musicians, and teachers.
Some residents have criticized DeFusco for running a negative campaign. He has pointed out problems with almost every other candidate.
“If the facts sound or seem negative, perhaps it because they actually are negative,” He said “When ever we state a fact, it is sourced with where we found it including news sources or council documents.”
DeFusco is the most highly funded candidate, collecting more than $300,000 in donations this year. This has led some residents to wonder if he will be beholden to some of his contributors if elected mayor. Residents have also said that he may be supported by the Hudson County Democratic political machine. For instance, his hired campaign spokesman is also the spokesman for North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, a leader of the countywide party.
“Independence to me is the heart and soul of why I ran in the first place,” said DeFusco. “Nobody asked me to run in the 1st Ward. Nobody put me up to run against Mayor Zimmer for the mayor’s office. I did this because I independently knew that my vision, my heart, and my integrity were going to serve the city well.”
“I’m honored to have the support of many in the building trades,” he said, “however they aren’t developers, they aren’t land owners. There are actually benefits in the long run in terms of our ability to find support in Trenton to find support in finding money in Washington. Having the support of trade unions is a good thing for leadership because we can work together with them to make sure we can find additional funding for resiliency or our water main infrastructure or our failing sewerage line.”
He added, “So in regards to independence, it’s a common political tactic that my opponents have used successfully in other races, but it’s not holding. It’s not sticking against me because I think people are smart enough to know that.”
Business owner Karen Nason grew up in Portland, Maine with five older brothers and one sister.
She started her own singing telegram business at the age of 16 called Broadway Birthday Grams.
Then she started a rock and roll band and toured North America and acted in a theater troupe called the Portland Players.
She moved to New York City in her twenties and started as a bartender and cocktail waitress, had a son, and opened her own flower shop.
“I had famous clients from all over, including Johnny Depp and Peter Gabriel,’ said Nason. “I was called the ‘plant lady to the stars.’ ”
She opened a business within a business, which had both live jazz and flowers for sale.
She moved to Hoboken in 2010 and currently owns Hoboken Hot House on Second and Madison streets, which has pizza, flowers, and food.
In 2014 she won the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce’s best new business of the year.
She also has been vocal about how difficult the Zimmer administration has made it to open and maintain a business. Many have said that it is so costly to go before city boards that some small business owners can’t survive and end up heading elsewhere.
She said she decided to run for mayor because she knows her years of experience as a businesswoman can make a difference.
She said she feels like the public hasn’t had their opinions or voices heard by the current administration, which “went on their merry way and acted like the public didn’t exist,” when it comes to projects in town including the Washington Street redesign, and Observer Highway reconfiguration to include the protected bike lane. She would get rid of the lane.
“I think the administration went crazy doing everything it wanted without caring that the public didn’t want it,” she said.
She said her main focus when she becomes mayor will be helping small business and arts and culture thrive, as well as updating the city’s zoning.
She added that if she could change one thing about Hoboken it would be the bumpouts on Washington Street and unnecessary spending.
“I don’t think it was necessary,” said Nason. “A lot of people think it’s safer, but all the city had to do was put in ‘walk’ and ‘don’t walk’ signs. It would’ve helped so much more.”
“The pop-up park [in the northwest] is a joke,” said Nason. “You never see anyone there except for a few kids climbing the jungle gym next to a huge puddle of water.”
When it comes to development she said she would like to see more entertainment for both children and adults, including a bowling alley, bigger theater space, jazz bars, microbreweries, and even an amphitheater on the property currently owned by Union Dry Dock.
She said when it comes to rent control and affordable housing she would like to see more Community Land Trusts.
As for eminent domain, she said she stands against it “emphatically.”
“My stance is to never, I mean never, use eminent domain to purchase a property unless it’s for a hospital or a school or some type of other necessity to the city,” said Nason. “I am so against it.”
Unlike DeFusco and Romano, Nason is a registered Republican. She is the only mayoral candidate who says she’ll vote for Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in the upcoming gubernatorial race. (Jennifer Giattino is also a registered Republican but said she hasn’t decided yet; see briefs.)
Anthony Romano is a born and raised Hoboken resident who graduated from St. Peter’s University with a degree in education and a master’s degree from New Jersey City University in criminal justice.
Many people know him by his nickname, “Stick,” which he says he got as a child playing stickball by Wallace School.
“My cousin James gave me a look and he said I look like the stick ball bat,” said Romano. “I was 10 or 11 years old, and then everything went quiet until years later, when it reemerged during an interview on cable. It’s stuck ever since.”
He said he loves Hoboken because of its unique history.
“It’s a real ethnic enclave and it has such a deep, rich history, and that’s something to be treasured and appreciated and loved,” said Romano.
Romano was a teacher at Hoboken High School for roughly seven years. And a local police captain who rose to the rank of night commander before he retired.
He was also a professor at St. Peter University, teaching criminal justice, and has served as the Hudson County freeholder representing Hoboken and Jersey City Heights for the past eight years.
He said he got into politics after then-Mayor David Roberts and State Sen. Brian Stack urged him to run in 2008.
As he runs for mayor, he’s also running for re-election as freeholder. Since he can’t be both, he’d quit the freeholder spot if he won the mayoralty, he said.
He said he decided to run for mayor because “Hoboken is my heart and I see all the problems here and I think I can make a difference.”
Romano said his biggest accomplishment has been working with the mayor and other freeholders to help Hoboken by keeping county streets paved, roads plowed and salted, keeping Columbus Park clean and well maintained and upgraded, and working to get the 14th Street Viaduct redone. All of those matters are part of the part-time job of county freeholder.
He said his main issue will be combatting the divisiveness in the city between the so-called “old Hoboken” and “new Hoboken.” He said he would also like to fix the “nightmare traffic” on both ends of town as well as fix the “Washington street construction debacle.”
He said when it comes to development, he would like to see a mix of commercial and residential buildings but he wouldn’t like any major towers in Hoboken like they have in Journal Square.
As for rent control and affordable housing, he said it’s important to keep Hoboken’s working class in town and help families and single parent families who can’t afford high market rates remain here.
He said he would like the city to insist on more affordable housing units when negotiating with developers so that 20 percent of units in new buildings could be affordable instead of 10.
As for eminent domain, he said it’s only a necessity when used to purchase a blighted area such as has been done in the South Bronx.
Meet the council slates and two independent candidates
Councilman Michael DeFusco and Freeholder Anthony Romano both have three-person council slates running with them on Nov. 7.
Two independent candidates, Angelo Valente and Joshua Einstein, are also running.
Voters can pick any three of the 14 people running for three council-at-large seats. At-large councilmembers represent the entire city, while ward seats represent a part of town. The six ward seats are not up for another two years.
The Independent candidates are Joshua Einstein and Angelo Valente.
Einstein has been resident of Hoboken for the past 10 years. He was the first council candidate to announce his candidacy independent of a political faction. He currently works full-time as a dogwalker. Politically, he is the Republican state committeeman for Hudson County and in the Hudson County regional Jewish council. He is also one of Hudson County’s representatives to the New Jersey Republican State Committee. He said in a past interview that he, “1,000 percent support the Trump administration.”
Valente, a lifelong Hoboken resident, is the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, a non profit which spreads awareness to combat drug use.
Valente was elected to the Hoboken City Council in the 1980s, making him at the time the youngest councilman ever elected in the city.
He was the first president of the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce.
He is a Republican but has declined to comment about who he voted for in the last election or on his registration, when asked this year.
He received his bachelor’s degree from Montclair State University, a master’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in public administration, and a master’s degree in diplomacy and international relations from Seton Hall University.
Here is a brief rundown of the council candidates running with the mayoral candidates profiled on the cover. Profiles of the other council candidates ran last week.
Team DeFusco consists of Vanessa Falco, Michael Flett, and Andrew Impastato.
Falco is a mom and lifelong resident of Hoboken. She currently works at Stevens Institute of Technology in the Stevens Technical Enrichment Program. She founded local nonprofit Discovering Other Options to raise money to allow Hoboken students to attend summer programs at college campuses.
Flett is a father and resident of Hoboken for the the past 25 years. He worked for 15 years as a member of the New York Mercantile Exchange and owned a brokerage and trading firm specializing in Natural Gas Derivatives.
He founded Flett Exchange, a business headquarters in Hoboken, which brokers solar credits and helps finance solar installation throughout New Jersey. Flett was actively involved in the hugely successful 2012 “Solar Act” which amended legislation to ensure that investments in solar in New Jersey were kept whole and continued. He worked government officials and and stakeholders to help craft a bill that was accepted by the New Jersey Division of the Rate Council and signed into law.
Flett is also a member of the steering committee for the Hudson Street Alliance which formed as a neighborhood coalition to address overdevelopment and parking concerns.
Although he is running with DeFusco, who is a Democrat, Flett donated money to the campaign of Donald Trump last year.
Impastato is a resident of 10 years of Hoboken, a father, and a local businessman.
He worked on Wall Street as a commodities futures and options salesman before he left to start coaching basketball. He currently coaches at Hudson Catholic High School and is the founder of Next Basket Wins, which offers recreational programs for adults and youth.
He also created The Parking Dude LLC, an app that informs users of parking regulations to help avoid tickets.
Team Romano consists of Laini Hammond, Charles “Buddy” Mathews, and incumbent Councilman David Mello.
Hammond has lived in Hoboken for 10 years. She is a sales leader with Shire, a biotechnology company, where she focuses on lifesaving therapies for patients with hemophilia. She serves as a volunteer with the Hemophilia Association of New Jersey (HANJ) and is a “strong advocate for women in leadership.”
She is a member of Shire’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, and the Emerging Leadership Development Program. These programs support young, talented and outstanding women for leadership positions.
Mathews is a lifelong Hoboken resident and the retired teacher, school disciplinarian, and head baseball and basketball coach at Hoboken High School.
Mello has served on the Hoboken City Council for the past eight years and is currently a public school teacher at a high school in Jersey City, where he teaches social studies.
While on the council, Mello has fought for increased open space and balanced development including the new park in southwest Hoboken. He was often allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer, but also had an independent streak.
Mello holds a BA in business administration from the University of Delaware, an MA in secondary education from Mercy College, and a JD from the Rutgers School of Law, Newark, which he earned in October of 2007 from Rutgers’ evening program.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.