Council President Dawn Zimmer came within 161 votes of becoming Hoboken’s chief executive in June, but was narrowly beaten out by Councilman Peter Cammarano’s absentee ballots.
Little did she know that before August, she would become the 38th mayor of Hoboken and the mile-square city’s first female mayor.
After her tough election loss, Councilwoman Zimmer was elected council president on July 1 by her allies. Then, three weeks later, new Mayor Peter Cammarano was arrested by the FBI. Eight days after that, under public pressure, Cammarano resigned.
As council president, Zimmer was first in line to succeed him. At noon this past Friday, she was sworn in as acting mayor.
City Clerk James Farina said that a special “winner-take-all” mayoral election will be scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 3 at the same time as the gubernatorial election. There will be no runoff in a special mayoral election.
Zimmer also gets to keep her seat on the council while performing the duties of acting mayor, and presumably running a campaign for the November election. She can still vote on council measures just like any other councilperson, said a city spokesman.
The council can either call a vote to name an interim mayor, or just allow Zimmer to continue as acting mayor. According to sources, the council will not call the matter to a vote.
However, if the council did decide to vote on the matter, and they chose Zimmer as interim mayor instead of acting mayor, her 4th Ward seat on the council would also go before the voters in that ward during the November election. Her mayoral seat would also be up.
Zimmer’s allies make up the majority of the council right now, so it is unlikely that they will take the chance on Zimmer losing both seats.
If Zimmer is elected mayor in November, the 4th Ward seat can be filled temporarily by a vote of the then-eight-member City Council. And an election would be held in the 4th Ward this coming February, city officials said.
Zimmer was sworn on Friday before a crowd of reporters in the City Council chambers. She commended Cammarano for resigning.
She called the whole experience “traumatic” for the people of Hoboken.
“I am committed to open, honest, and accountable government,” she said. “The eyes of the nation have been drawn to our town, to our story, and I want the world outside Hoboken to know that we have a wonderful town…the greatest mile-square city.”
She was met by rousing applause and said she would take questions from the press. “Then,” she said, “I’m getting to work.”
Before Cammarano’s recent troubles, he had been locking horns with Zimmer and the council majority about their plan to give the power to appoint Zoning Board members back to the City Council. In the 1990s, Mayor Anthony Russo wrested away that power, allowing the mayor sole authority to appoint Zoning Board members.
“The eyes of the nation have been drawn to our town.” – Dawn Zimmer
Zimmer said on Friday that she would still push for the council to take back those appointment powers from the mayor.
Corzine calls Zimmer
On Friday, Zimmer was sitting in the corner office in City Hall, fielding a call from Gov. Jon Corzine.
Zimmer said she was excited about being the first woman to hold the office, although she wished it had happened under different circumstances.
She said in a press release: “Now, it is time to move forward and do the hard work of restoring confidence in city government and tackling the difficult problems that face Hoboken. Together, with my City Council colleagues, that is just what I intend to do.”
What about Cammarano’s directors?
Zimmer’s council majority had also clashed with Cammarano about his hirings for the six city directorships. His six choices are already working in City Hall and getting paid for running departments such as public safety and human services. However, the council wanted more time to review the choices and decide if they are right, so they failed to vote to officially approve them at the most recent council meeting.
For now, the directors are still at work. The city’s state-appointed financial monitor, Judy Tripodi, also has some say. Tripodi came into the city last year after a clashing council failed to approve then-Mayor David Roberts’ budget. One of the big issues Zimmer and Tripodi will have to tackle this year is the city’s budget problems.
Who is Dawn Zimmer?
When Zimmer ran for mayor, the most common complaint by critics was that she didn’t have the experience to run a city. She had just started her political career by being elected to the council two years earlier. A year later, she told the Reporter that she would not run for mayor, saying she was too busy dealing with the problems of the 4th Ward. Her ward is constantly dealing with flooding, and also has most of the city’s poorest residents.
But along the way, the city’s “reform” movement split, and each side wanted to field a candidate. Allies of Councilwoman Beth Mason got behind Mason for mayor, while Zimmer’s allies pushed for Zimmer to run. Petty attacks from both sides of the reformer faction continued into the mayoral campaign, taking some of the focus off Cammarano.
Cammarano and Zimmer came in first and second in the initial election in May, then faced each other in a runoff in June.
Zimmer, 41, is a photographer who has done emergency planning for a private business. She moved to Hoboken seven years ago from Vermont. She and her husband, Stan Grossbard, have two children.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.