One of the unresolved questions in the aftermath of the Nov. 5 elections is whether newly elected-state Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia will be allowed to remain in his full-time paid position in the Hoboken Housing Authority once he is sworn in come January.
Legal challenges filed prior to last June’s Democratic primary said that he was entitled to run for office, but some believe that he is restricted under even the modified federal Hatch Act from retaining a state elected office while still receiving a salary as a federal employee.
Some of Garcia’s salary as HHA director – although a small portion apparently – comes from federal sources.
Congress modified federal regulations to allow employees with a small percentage of their salary supplied by federal funds to do more than one political job. The state regulation, which mirrors the original more restrictive federal Hatch Act, does not.
The case was heard in court prior to the June primary and the ruling allowed Garcia to run (and eventually win) the Democratic nod. In November, riding the coattails of very powerful State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, Garcia won the general election.
But some believe that because of the nature of the position Garcia holds in Hoboken, he will be required to step down from his HHA position.
You can expect the matter to go to court again as Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who was elected to her second term, seeks to consolidate power – especially in the HHA, which is seen as a hotbed of opposition to her.
While it is likely that she will be able to add more HHA board members whose political views are more aligned with hers, the real jewel would be Garcia’s directorship.
The directorship is very powerful for or against an administration because it is seen as a source of housing for loyal supporters, although officials are not supposed to meddle in wait lists and the like. The perception is still very powerful. It has been long thought that loyal supporters could be bumped up on waiting lists, and officials could suppress opposition by artificially warehousing available apartments.
Traditionally, public housing has been seen as a farm for anti-Zimmer votes, and this issue could come into play in the midterm elections in two years when all six ward council seats are up for grabs – a concern for both Councilman Michael Russo and his possible challenger in the 4th Ward, defeated council candidate Frank Raia.
Raia and Russo would both seek to farm votes out of public housing, and for Zimmer, this might be a way to once more divide the vote and steal yet another seat if she could manage to deny Raia and Russo access by appointing a director of her own choosing.
If Garcia retains his position, he would be poised to become king-maker, deciding who to support among the anti-Zimmer candidates.
Also at stake is the Vision 20/20 project and its lucrative development fees – millions of dollars that will not come to the HHA if the project does not get off the ground.
The project would redevelop some of the existing public housing in a more modern concept of less dense housing. The question as to whether this would require more land to provide the same amount of existing housing has yet to be answered, although there is some speculation that the project may be tied into other market-rate projects and possible exchanges with the developers of luxury housing that abut the proposed new project development.
The political implications are immense. If Zimmer chooses a director, Vision 20/20 will most likely be abandoned as it is currently configured. What would replace it, if anything?
Long term, Zimmer’s control of public housing has the potential to erode a huge portion of the future voter base for the anti-Zimmer forces, partly because a huge portion of the traditional base elsewhere in the city is either aging out or moving out as market rate development brings in new residents who might be more sympathetic to Zimmer’s philosophies.
Many expect Councilman Ravi Bhalla to file a legal challenge over Garcia’s HHA seat before Christmas, thus determining who will get coal in their stockings on Christmas Eve.
Munoz corrects the record
Freeholder Jose Munoz, who has emerged as the leading opponent of West New York Mayor Felix Roque, took some issues with last week’s column over where he stands in regards to the upcoming Board of Education elections in West New York.
This column claimed – based on statements issued from the Roque administration – that the existing appointed WNY Board of Education would be moving ahead with the elections in April as required by the terms of the recently passed public referendum. Munoz said this column misrepresented his position on whether or not the current board should hold two elections, rather than one to eventually pick five of the newly expanded nine-member board.
Munoz said he also opposes two elections, citing the increased cost, but raised questions about the current board dragging its feet in setting up the election process – a matter that apparently took a special meeting for the board to eventually rectify.
Munoz rightly pointed out that this column misidentified the sister of a current board member as being a daughter. The BOE, he believes, wrongfully expanded her position from part-time to full-time without going through the proper posting that would have provided others opportunity to apply for the position.
Another reader questioned the title of senator when referring to Joe McCarthy in his role of pursuing Communists in schools and government in the 1940s and 1950s. McCarthy started out as a member of the House of Representatives in the 1940s but eventually brokered his anti-Communist crusade into a senatorial seat in the 1950s. He did not invent the anti-Communist movement, but followed on the traditions of the Red Scare of the 1920s, and took full advantage of a New York State initiative to fire anyone in the state colleges who had Communist associations.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.