As the race for two at-large seats on the Jersey City Council heads into the final stretch, few political observers are willing, it seems, to make predictions or bets on who is likely to win.
“Nobody would put a dollar on it,” said Journal Square activist Riaz Wahid (who is not running for office) last week. Other local political observers made similar comments, listing the strengths and weaknesses of the top five of 17 contenders.
The only consensus seemed to be that people will be surprised no matter who wins the election, set for Tuesday, Nov. 8.
The winners of the at-large race will represent the entire city on the nine-member city council and will serve out the remainder of terms vacated by two former council representatives. All nine seats are up for re-election in 2013.
The crowded ballot means candidates are relying on old fashioned door knocking to connect with voters.
Hitting the pavement
The heavily populated ballot means the candidates must rely on old-fashioned door-knocking to connect with voters and motivate their supporters to get to the polls on Nov. 8.
“One of the unique things about the City Council, more so than the executive branch, is it is the representative of the people. Communication is important,” said candidate Omar Perez, who has teamed up with Suzanne Mack. “We’ve been going into the communities and speaking with residents. We’ve been trying to bring an awareness of the city budget and the role that the council plays in setting that budget.”
Tying together such issues as taxes and abatement agreements for developers, said Perez, has been useful to his campaign with Mack and a good way to motivate their supporters.
“We have to look for other ways to bring economic development to Jersey City that don’t solely rely on property development and abatements for developers,” he added. “Voters understand that and agree that’s what we need to be doing as a city.”
Candidate Rolando Lavarro acknowledged, “Voter turnout is generally low to begin with. It’s tough to get people’s attention. Most voters are fairly cynical about politics. That’s the challenge for all the candidates.”
Lavarro, who ran for the Ward A City Council seat in 2009 and who came within a “couple hundred” votes of winning then, hopes his name recognition will help put him over the top this time.
Of course, this year’s race already includes three current City Council members, who may also benefit from name recognition and incumbency status. Current at-large City Council representatives Velazquez and Ahmad are in the race, as is Ward F City Councilwoman Viola Richardson.
On the ballot, Lavarro and Richardson are bracketed together, as are Velazquez and Ahmad, and Mack and Perez.
Incumbents defend their seats
The Velazquez and Ahmad ticket is interesting because many see their candidacies as a proxy vote on Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy and his administration. The mayor last year appointed Velazquez to replace disgraced former City Council President Mariano Vega after Vega pleaded guilty to corruption charges and resigned from the governing body.
Healy appointed Ahmad to replace Councilwoman Willie Flood, who resigned from her seat earlier this year due to poor health.
Should the Velazquez/Ahmad ticket win, it could be an indication that Healy still has considerable political capital – perhaps even enough for a mayoral run against Councilman Steve Fulop in 2013. But if the pair is defeated, it could spell trouble for the mayor.
Velazquez and Ahmad understand Healy’s support could be a both a blessing and a curse to their campaign.
“Depending on who supports you, things are viewed from different perspectives,” said Velazquez. “At the end of the day, I just hope that folks will take a look at what we’ve each done while we’ve been there and see that we’ve worked hard to get a budget out that did not have a tax increase on the city side this year.”
He noted that he has been on the City Council for a year now, and Ahmad has been there since February, long enough for each of them to have some name recognition and a voting record.
But Velazquez, a former Hudson County freeholder, said no candidate can take anything for granted.
He said, “I’m just going out there everyday, ringing the doorbells, talking to people, and handing out the campaign literature. I’m working this like I’m just another candidate trying to win this seat.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.