Chairman of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders and former Hoboken Police Captain Anthony Romano insisted this past week that he has still not made a decision about whether to run for mayor in November, leaving the number of candidates at two – Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Assemblyman Ruben Ramos. Romano, who expressed interest in running when he told PolitickerNJ last month that he “hadn’t ruled it out,” said in an interview on Wednesday that he was still considering many factors and will not decide immediately.
“There are lots of things to look at,” he said. “The mayor is very popular. I’m not sure if I want to do the combination of things I would have to do if I was mayor, and there are no more runoffs in Hoboken.”
Last year, Hoboken residents voted to eliminate runoff elections, meaning that the person with the most votes this November will win, even if he or she does not amass more than 50 percent of the votes.
Romano also said he has been working “around the clock” on the county budget lately, since towns including Hoboken face a massive tax increase.
A third ticket with Romano at its head would throw an interesting twist into the fall election season, as his support would likely be drawn from the same pool as Ramos. Both are native Hobokenites.
“Obviously my support would come from Old Hoboken, a lot of business people, senior citizens, longtime residents,” said Romano. “But I would have to get the support of some key people before I decided to run. I’m not going to run if I can’t win.”
Ramos, for his part, declined to accept the old versus new designation, saying he is running for the benefit of all Hoboken residents. In the past, he has served as a city councilman and has run with newer Hobokenites like former Councilman Tony Soares.
“I try not to distinguish between what people seem to think are two different Hobokens,” he said. “I see one Hoboken. I’m looking for a parking space just like someone else is looking for a parking space. Their houses were flooded by Sandy just like my house was flooded by Sandy.”
Zimmer vs. Ramos
Zimmer declined to comment for this story last week, saying she wants to wait until she officially kicks off her campaign. There is no date set yet, and the mayor has said in the past that “right now, I’m focusing on governing.”
Zimmer is considered the favorite in the Nov. 5 election, especially following her rise to national prominence in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But on Wednesday, Ramos blasted the mayor on her actions during the hurricane.
“I think people tend to forget that just a year before Sandy, we had Hurricane Irene,” he said. “I think we were probably more prepared for that than we were for Sandy.”
Ramos said that he thought that the mayor’s appearances on national television and her personal pleas for assistance to President Barack Obama contributed to the idea that, when it came to Zimmer’s immediate role, “perception and reality were two different things.”
“I saw failed leadership,” said Ramos. “There was zero communication except for fire trucks going through the streets saying help would come tomorrow. All [Zimmer] had to do was call in the National Guard.”
He also touted the role he played in the securing of state and federal funds for the city’s first stormwater pump that was installed after Irene, though Zimmer has also taken credit for the pump.
Asked which issues he would focus on during his campaign, Ramos named flooding, parking, government efficiency and open space as his priorities.
“1600 Park is languishing. We’re not trying to build the Taj Mahal here,” he said of a soccer field uptown that is expected to be completed after several date changes next month. “Kids who were nine when Sinatra Field collapsed are now 14, and never even got a chance to play there.”
Ramos called the city’s parking laws, many of which have been in place before the Zimmer administration, “ambiguous at best” and said he would work to change them. Although the parking crunch is nothing new, the city has stepped up enforcement in the past few years, irritating many.
If money is a telling sign in politics, then Zimmer is ahead of Ramos. As of April 15, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission’s (ELEC) most recent filing deadline, Zimmer’s Friends of Dawn Zimmer political action committee has six dollars for every one that Ramos has.
Zimmer’s reports shows that they have raised $51,985, though the committee has already spent $30,259 of that amount. Ramos’ Vision for Hoboken slate had only raised $9,166 and spent just over $1,000.
The most recent Zimmer report did not disclose any major donors, because no contributions over $300 have been collected during the last reporting cycle (people who contribute less are not required to be included in filings under state law). The rest of Zimmer’s money would have been left over from previous campaigns or efforts.
Ramos’ report included significant donations from, amongst others, Hoboken police officers, firefighters, and former Mayor David Roberts, who donated $1,316. The Committee to Re-Elect Vincent Prieto, a committee that supports the Secaucus-based assemblyman, also donated $2,500, but the Ramos campaign later returned $500, due to a city ordinance which bars committees from making contributions over $500 to any candidate. Prieto was recently elected the chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, the county’s longtime political machine.
(The Vision for Hoboken slate is fielding four candidates, making $2,000 the maximum possible donation from a committee.)
Zimmer’s forms also showed several returned donations.
Rumors have flown that the financial backing of 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, who has donated prolifically to Democratic causes around the state, and former council member and school board trustee Frank Raia, would be crucial to ensuring victory for any Zimmer opponent. Mason did not return a call for comment. Sources told The Hudson Reporter that Raia has decided against backing Ramos. Raia himself would not comment on whether he’d chosen where his allegiance will lie.
“I’m talking to basically everyone,” he said. “If I’m going to back someone it’s going to need to be someone who doesn’t owe anybody anything and who knows the town and its needs.”
Asked what he thought the ideal candidate would need to beat Zimmer, Raia simply responded, “myself.”
Asked whether he thought the disparities between Zimmer’s funds and his own will damage his chances of defeating her in November, Ramos insisted that his campaign’s next ELEC filing will be “more impressive.”
Ramos has held a few fundraisers around town, notably at Texas Arizona, the downtown watering hole where he was again this past Tuesday night, and where Zimmer will appear this Tuesday for her first fundraiser of the season. In her invitation to the event, which has a suggested donation of $150 per person and $200 for couples, Zimmer took a stab at Ramos’ support, which, she claimed, comes primarily from out of town.
“While [Ramos] is focusing on trying to get politicians from outside Hoboken to ‘support’ his campaign, I believe, as I always have, that Hoboken elections should and will be decided by Hoboken’s own residents,” she said. “County or State machine politicians pursuing their own outside agendas should not decide our future.”
Ramos responded last week by saying that Zimmer’s insinuations spoke highly of his own political ability.
“I feel very fortunate to have been able to craft relationships outside of Hoboken during my six years in the state legislature,” he said. “If people from outside Hoboken are going to support me, I’m not going to turn them away.”
He also said that portraying his campaign as being driven by exterior political groups is irresponsible, and said that his next ELEC report, expected to be filed on July 15, would show that he has substantial support within Hoboken.
Council seats up for grabs
Ramos has fielded an election slate under the name “Vision for Hoboken,” along with council-at-large candidates Joe Mindak, who owns a creative firm that publishes a local magazine, Laura Miani, a mom and director of marketing at a Hoboken tech startup, and Eduardo Gonzalez, a New York City banker. Gonzalez also serves as a commissioner on the board of the Hoboken Housing Authority.
Zimmer has not announced her ticket, but incumbent Councilmen-at-Large David Mello and Ravinder Bhalla are both expected to run. Mello said on Thursday that he “has no plans to the contrary,” while Bhalla said that he had not yet finalized his plans. (Bhalla briefly was running for Assembly in November, but dropped out of the race.)
Bhalla had high praise for Zimmer ahead of election season, noting that she has “higher qualifications than Ramos.”
“I think the mayor is a better candidate than [Ramos] because of her commitment not only to deliver constituent services to this city but also to implement policy initiatives,” he said. “Hoboken is in a considerably different situation than it was when she took office four years ago.”
Bhalla also criticized the Vision for Hoboken council candidates, saying that he had not seen any of them, with the exception of Gonzalez, attend a city council meeting.
“I’m not aware that any of them have a track record that even comes close to the records that [Mello] and I have put together,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re ready for prime time.”
It’s unclear if Zimmer will also select Jim Doyle, the resident she has tried to place in the council’s vacated seat since last fall, for her ticket. Since Doyle’s failed appointment, the council has operated with eight members as the legality of Doyle’s appointment is being argued by lawyers. Two weeks ago, Zimmer said that she is expecting a decision on the matter “any day now.”
Mello, a public school teacher in New York City, has not yet filed any ELEC reports, saying that his campaign will have to wait until the end of the academic year. He said he will be focusing much of his campaign on open space issues.
According to the Friends of Bhalla for Council ELEC report, he has raised just over $11,000, and has spent around $3,300.
A few months ago, the May 1 ELEC reports of 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti amounted to around $13,000, almost all of which has already been spent, even though Occhipinti does not face reelection until 2015. Occhipinti did not return two phone calls seeking comment.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org