This Tuesday: ‘An extremely important election’
Results could realign power on nine-member council
by Ray Smith
Reporter staff writer
May 08, 2011 | 3480 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
VOTING TIME – Hoboken voters will go to the polls on May 10 to choose six council members.
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There’s an adage in politics that says there are two ways to run a campaign: scared or unopposed.

No one in Hoboken is running for office unopposed in the upcoming City Council elections this week, but no one will admit that they’re scared, either.

Seemingly all of the candidates are confident they will win on Tuesday. But half of them will be wrong.

On May 10, six out of the nine City Council seats will be up for election.

By law, the election is non-partisan. The City Council is primarily divided between two factions – four people who are currently aligned with Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who refer to themselves as “reformers,” and another group that often opposes Zimmer’s initiatives.

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On May 10, all six city council ward seats will be up for election.

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Even if there is a shift in power after the election, the winners will not be sworn into their positions until July 1.

To view debates between the council candidates, go to www.hudsonreporter.com and click on the City Council debate link on the right side of the page.

Implications of council election

Zimmer acknowledges that this election is crucial for her future as mayor. She herself is up for re-election in 2013.

She has been actively campaigning with the candidates she supports.

The council majority flipped in November after a special election, when Councilman Tim Occhipinti was elected to a seat formerly held by Zimmer ally Mike Lenz. Zimmer would like her majority back.

“It’s an extremely important election,” Zimmer said. “People that support what I’m doing should know I need a council I can work with.”

The six seats up for election are the ward seats, each of which represents a certain part of town. The three “at large” council members are currently aligned with the mayor, and are not up for re-election until 2013.

Zimmer’s ward council candidates need to win two out of the six races for her to regain council majority support.

The downtown wards

The southern area of the city is made up of the 1st and 4th wards.

The 1st Ward borders the waterfront and stretches to Grand Street, and the 4th Ward encompasses the area from Grand Street toward the city’s southern and western borders.

In the 1st Ward, longtime Councilwoman Theresa Castellano will face off against Eric Kurta. Castellano has served for 16 years, and Kurta is Zimmer’s choice.

Last week, representatives from both campaigns expressed their belief that they’ll win on Wednesday. A representative from Kurta’s campaign said the race is “expected to be a tight one.”

In the southwestern 4th Ward, Councilman Tim Occhipinti will defend his seat six months after being elected in a November special election. Rami Pinchevsky, the Zimmer backed candidate, is the challenger. The two candidates are some of the younger politicos on the scene. Pinchevsky is 30, and Occhipinti is 33.

Midtown

Midtown Hoboken is made up of the 3rd and 6th wards. The 6th Ward stretches from the waterfront as far west as Clinton Street, and the 3rd Ward borders Jersey City.

Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo is up against Greg Lincoln.

Russo is a long time councilman and is the son of former Mayor Anthony Russo. Russo took criticism from opponents during the campaign after he appeared on a leaked FBI surveillance tape discussing taking a $5,000 campaign payment from an FBI informant engaged in a sting operation. The informant was asking for special treatment regarding his development deals. However, Russo never came back for the money and never was charged with any wrongdoing.

Russo has said he wants to give the municipal budget surplus back to the taxpayers.

Lincoln, a relative newcomer, has campaigned with Zimmer. His supporters believe it will be an uphill climb against Russo, who has lived his entire life in the ward. Lincoln works for a local university and said he “stands for accountability and fiscal responsibility.”

In the 6th Ward, Councilman Nino Giacchi will defend his seat against a Zimmer-backed candidate, Jen Giattino. Giacchi has served since 2001, and is an attorney. Giattino works in real-estate and is a former stock broker.

The northern wards

The uptown areas of the city are made up of the 2nd and 5th wards. The 2nd Ward borders the waterfront, while the 5th Ward is the largest ward in the city, bordering Union City and Weehawken.

In the 2nd Ward, Council President Beth Mason is challenged by Tom Greaney, Franz Paetzold, and Patricia Waiters. Zimmer has endorsed Greaney.

Many Zimmer supporters see Mason as the leader of the movement against the mayor. Mason was formerly aligned with Zimmer, but they split in 2009.

Mason has advocated returning the budget surplus to the taxpayers. Many of Zimmer’s supporters would like to leave a 5 to 10 percent budget surplus, saying it improves the city’s bond rating and decreases taxes in the long run. However, at the May 4 council meeting, Councilman Peter Cunningham said Mason submitted a budget proposal that would not include keeping any surplus at all.

The mudslinging has been less than what some politicos expected in this ward, but some new information has come out in the past weeks.

One local news website that often opposes Zimmer revealed that 15 years ago, Greaney filed for bankruptcy after running up $43,000 in credit card debt. When asked about the report last week, Greaney told The Reporter it taught him an important lesson about finances, and said he has been able to keep good finances since that time. He also called the attack “vicious.”

Greaney also acknowledged that he lived in Hoboken from 2003 to 2006 and moved back only last year, even though his literature states Greaney has "a decade of community involvement."

Paetzold believes that since he is an independent candidate – not involved in the city’s constant tug-of-war for power between the “reformers” and “born and raised” – that he is the best choice.

Patricia Waiters, despite rumors that she has dropped out of the race, is still running to be the 2nd Ward councilperson. Waiters also ran in the Board of Education election, but lost. She did not show up for the Reporter’s council debates.

Fifth Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham, the only Zimmer supporter on the council up for reelection, will face off against three challengers – business owner Scott Delea, city historian Lenny Luizzi, and long time politico Perry Belfiore.

Cunningham defeated Delea and Belfiore the last time he was up for election in 2007.

Last week, Delea charged that all of Zimmer’s candidates were in violation of Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) laws, saying they took part in the management of a political action committee called Move Hoboken Ahead.

Five candidates all donated to the PAC, and appeared to pool the money together for a joint effort. In turn, the PAC supported those candidates that donated. A state ELEC representative said on Wednesday that donating does not constitute management, but said it is illegal for candidates to be involved “directly or indirectly” in the management of the PAC. The office would not provide more specific comment because a complaint had been filed.

Because there are more than two candidates in the 2nd and 5th ward races, they may move into a runoff election.

In order for a candidate to win outright, he or she must receive more than 50 percent of the total vote. If one candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the first and second place vote getters will take place in June.

The importance of voting

Zimmer said she was disappointed in the turnout in the Board of Education election, which was held on April 27.

Only approximately 3,400 voters came out in the Board of Education election, according to campaign officials, which is about 10 percent of the over 36,000 registered voters.

“Voting in municipal elections goes to the quality of life of residents,” Zimmer said. “The choices affect your everyday life.”

Zimmer said she believes the city should look into holding elections in November, which would most likely increase voter turnout because the council elections would not be separate from other elections. For example, voters who go to the polls for the presidential election would also have the opportunity to vote for City Council candidates.

Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com

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