After loud shouting and insults, the Hoboken City Council voted 5-3 Wednesday night to fill one of the seven unpaid seats on a city board that helps oversee Hoboken’s 1,353 units of low-income and senior housing. While helping oversee the city’s projects may not sound like an enticing job, it is seen as a way to increase someone’s political visibility in a part of town that can provide thousands of votes at election time. Or, if someone is interested in applying for altruistic reasons, it provides a chance to make positive change in a part of town marked by old buildings and poverty.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, the council majority allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer voted to appoint Greg Lincoln, a relative newcomer to town who ran unsuccessfully for City Council against native Hobokenite Michael Russo last spring.
But the four minority council members, including Michael Russo, were furious with the vote – first, because they had only recently found out that housing board member Marianne Camporeale, a woman in her 70s who wanted to stay on the board, was being ousted by the state for not taking the required courses in time. They said the City Council should wait to fill the seat so she could take the courses. Then, the minority council members wanted the seat to go to local bar owner Joseph Branco, who had applied last month to join the board when a different seat opened up, but lost out to a Zimmer ally.
“I think injecting age and disability [into this argument] is pretty disgusting.” – Ravi Bhalla
What it does
The Hoboken Housing Authority (HHA) oversees 21 federally subsidized buildings on the west side of town. A paid executive director and staff run the agency, but they are subject to oversight from the unpaid Board of Commissioners and by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city board has seven members; of which five are appointed by the City Council, one is appointed by the mayor, and the last is appointed by the governor.
It became public on Thursday, June 14 at a HHA board meeting that a seat was potentially opening up the week before the Wednesday City Council meeting.
At the Thursday HHA meeting, board member Jake Stuiver, an ally of Zimmer, publicly said that Camporeale had not taken the required five courses to be on the board. That meant she was ineligible to stay in the seat.
The day after the housing meeting, Stuiver explained to the Reporter that he brought up the matter so that the meeting would not continue while a potentially ineligible board member was present, which could void the votes.
“This came to my attention and I made some inquiries as to what the proper way to proceed is under the circumstances,” said Stuiver on Friday, June 15, the day after the meeting. “I was told categorically that there are no exceptions, extensions, or waivers under such circumstances. The statute is extraordinarily cut and dry.”
That Friday, HHA Executive Director Carmelo Garcia and Camporeale both told the Reporter that she was still on the board. But officials allied with the city administration said that they believed she was not, and that they were awaiting confirmation from the state.
Camporeale, who turns 78 in November, told the Reporter that a disability had kept her from completing the five courses in the required 18 months. She said she had knee and back trouble due to an earlier bout with polio. “I missed some of the sessions because although it was requested, [I was not] provided with a footstool or a deeply-padded back,” said Camporeale.
At this past Wednesday’s council meeting, members of the council minority asked why the administration hadn’t brought the matter to anyone’s attention before the public housing meeting on Thursday. Camporeale had actually become ineligible in January of 2012, 18 months after she joined the board, because she had not taken the courses by that deadline.
Camporeale herself called Stuiver’s move a “sneak attack” on Friday.
“Mr. Stuiver and the mayor have a goal in mind, and that is to take control of the Hoboken Housing Authority,” shouted Camporeale from her seat at Wednesday’s council meeting. “I can promise Mr. Stuiver and Madam Mayor that if they mess with me again, the Americans with Disabilities Organization will be breathing down their necks. We will own your car, your children’s college tuition, and even the clothes on your back.”
“I think your conduct is demonstrating your fitness to serve, with all due respect,” said Bhalla, when Camporeale continued shouting.
Russo said that Camporeale should not be removed from the board, given her circumstances and service to the city.
“I think injecting age and disability [into this argument] is pretty disgusting,” said Bhalla at Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s like playing the race card. It’s very despicable and I take offense.”
The council minority asked to wait 30 days to fill the seat so that Camporeale could take the last two courses.
At one point, the debate grew so heated that Bhalla and Russo exchanged words over each other’s past, including Russo’s appearance on FBI tapes and the recent police charge that Bhalla drove with a suspended license.
And during a recess, Mello and Occhipinti engaged in a heated exchange that teetered near a physical fight.
The council minority members also said the council should publicly advertise the opening and questioned the timeline of Greg Lincoln applying for it since it had only become public a week earlier (see sidebar).
The council had decided to use previously submitted applications from Lincoln, as well as three other people, rather than advertise for new applicants.
Lincoln ready to work
Amid the political wrangling, the candidate for the seat remained composed. Lincoln said at the meeting that his background in data collection, analysis, and assessment could go a long way in helping an organization like the Housing Authority.
“I’m sure [my background] is something that can be very helpful in the Housing Authority,” said Lincoln, “[by making sure it is] fiscally responsible and [working] to assist the residents there in any way that I can.”
Lincoln moved to Hoboken with his family seven years ago after living in Minnesota and Chicago. He has degrees from colleges in Minnesota and Nebraska, and his wife's degrees are from Brigham Young University in Utah and from Nebraska and Northwestern University in Illinois. He traveled east to Hoboken because of his wife's job as a faculty member at Sloane Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York.
This is not the first time that the Housing Authority has had a controversial appointment. Just last month, Mello received a seat on the Housing Authority, which prompted Branco, who was among those applying, to charge that he was seemingly not actually considered for the seat.
“The [four] people that applied for this position should be considered,” said Branco during the May meeting. “That’s not what happened. Are we deliberately misleading the public? Was my application ever actually reviewed?”
“We have a process, it’s imperfect, and I acknowledge that there is room for improvement,” said Bhalla at the time.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Should HHA vacancy have been advertised?
The Hoboken City Council received a copy of a letter dated this past Monday, June 18 from the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), a state division that oversees municipal governments, denying Maryanne Camporeale’s requested extension on the city’s housing board, and saying her vacancy was official as of January of 2012.
However, the resolution to appoint a new commissioner to her seat was put on the council agenda by Council President Ravi Bhalla before June 18, and even before housing board member Jake Stuiver brought the vacancy up publicly at the housing board meeting, which prompted questioning from the council minority at this past Wednesday’s council meeting.
Bhalla and Stuiver are allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer, as are five of the nine City Council members. Camporeale has been a Zimmer critic and was supported last week by the council minority.
“Council president, when did you become aware and how did this get on the agenda?” asked council minority member Councilwoman Beth Mason on Wednesday.
“This [was put] on the agenda Thursday [June 14 at] 4 o’clock,” said Bhalla. “There was a possibility that there was a vacancy on the [HHA]. I did not receive any confirmation from the DCA. My decision was to keep this on and await confirmation from the DCA and I was fully prepared to pull this from the agenda if I did not receive that confirmation.”
Mason then asked Bhalla from whom he received word of the vacancy.
“That’s attorney-client privilege,” said Bhalla. “I’m not going to waive my privilege if you’re asking me to do that. I had a discussion with our legal counsel which I will not divulge.”
Mason and Councilman Michael Russo also questioned the lack of advertisement for the vacancy.
“We have a requirement to advertise this position,” said Mason. “The reality is, [the statute] does not say anything about filling that seat immediately upon [receiving] that letter [from the DCA].”
Prior to the meeting, Bhalla told the Reporter that the council had a “fiduciary responsibility” to fill the position now, rather than waiting, and that there was already a list of four qualified candidates who had applied for HHA slots in the past.
“We have 30 days to make a decision,” said Russo. “We can hold for 30 days before we make a decision and we can allow Ms. Camporeale to be removed from that board seat, allow her to finish her classes, and then [allow her to apply for reappointment].”
Councilman Tim Occhipinti equated the appointment to an “attack,” saying Camporeale was forced out after she did not support Stuiver in his bid to become chair of the HHA board.
“Voting on this just doesn’t seem prudent especially when we’re not forced to, by any means,” said Occhipinti, later adding, “This is a well-coordinated attack against Marianne Camporeale, who did not support Jake Stuiver for chair of the Housing Authority … I know I’ll sleep easy. I don’t know about the rest of you.”
Councilman David Mello, who also serves on the Housing Authority, said that the application process for seats is ongoing.
“Anyone who is interested, get your application in right away,” said Mello. “It’s not going anywhere. I would encourage people to just put in applications knowing that they don’t end and knowing that they will be there.”
Mello then addressed Camporeale, who remained heated throughout the majority of the discussion.
“Quite frankly, considering the behavior you’ve exhibited tonight, I would not vote for you in the future,” said Mello.