Confirming rumors that circulated throughout the Hoboken political scene for the past two weeks, 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti filed over 1,000 petition signatures to enter the upcoming mayoral election by the Tuesday filing deadline. Occhipinti, the founder of a local charity group and a strong critic of incumbent Mayor Dawn Zimmer, is at the head of a third ticket in the race called “One Hoboken,” which includes council-at-large candidates Frank Raia, Peter Biancamano, and Britney Montgomery-Cook.
The One Hoboken slate will compete against state Assemblyman Ruben Ramos’ Vision for Hoboken slate, which boasts council candidates Joe Mindak, Laura Miani, and Eduardo Gonzalez, and Zimmer and her team – incumbents Ravi Bhalla and David Mello, and Jim Doyle. The election is Nov. 5.
The third ticket is likely to add an interesting element to election season. With only Zimmer and Ramos in the race, the lines were drawn clearly between Ramos’ base, including many longtime residents, and Zimmer’s supporters, overwhelmingly newer, wealthier Hoboken residents.
“This toxic political divide that’s been created in this city needs to end.” – Tim Occhipinti
“This toxic political divide that’s been created in this city needs to end,” he said in an interview. “We want to create a Hoboken for everyone.”
His ticket, he said, is indicative of that. Raia and Biancamano, who are both longtime residents, have both served on the Board of Education. Cook-Montgomery, an education specialist according to her LinkedIn profile, has only lived here for a few years and understands the concerns of many of the city’s new residents, said Occhipinti.
Occhipinti has lived in Hoboken for eight years. He has served on the council since 2010, is the founder of the Hoboken Volunteers – a group of young professionals who coordinate charity events – and works for an asset management firm.
Creating ‘One Hoboken’
Biancamano and Montgomery-Cook could not be reached for comment last week, but Raia, speaking to Hudson County TV at the 1600 Park ribbon cutting ceremony, summed up his support for Occhipinti. A real estate developer, Raia is expected to fund much of the campaign, sources said.
“I was hoping that someone would come forward to represent all of Hoboken,” Raia said. “But everyone who’s filed so far is only for the ‘new-timers’ or the ‘old-timers.’ ”
He said that in Occhipinti, he saw an opportunity for the type of change that might lead to a unified city.
“Instead of running for mayor, I wanted to run for the council, which is dormant right now and no one can get anything passed,” he said. “I believe I am going to make that difference.”
The council is currently split 4-4 between those who support Zimmer and those, including Occhipinti, who don’t.
Raia said that he was willing to support Occhipinti because of his youth, among other things.
“He’s a younger person who cares about the same values I do,” Raia said, “and I feel that with my experience I can help him in a big way.”
More in tune with Hoboken?
Occhipinti said this week that he hopes to attract a voter base that feels it has been ignored by City Hall.
“There’s a majority of residents in this city that are not being heard by this administration, and they need to be given that chance,” he said. “There are kids that have never had the chance to play on Sinatra field, elderly and disabled residents who can’t get around because we have too many raised sidewalk corners, and we still haven’t stopped the flooding.”
Noting that his campaign will issue a substantial platform in the coming weeks, he pointed to his work in the private sector as an indication of his ability to get things done.
“We’re results driven,” he said. “We finish projects on time and under budget, and that’s something this administration has proven they’re unable to do that over the past four years.”
He said that, like his volunteer work, his campaign will be service-oriented and issue-driven.
“We want to work on the issues that matter to people,” he said.
Asked for a response to Occhipinti’s criticisms, Zimmer simply welcomed the councilman to the race. She touted her own slate.
“I am proud of my administration's accomplishments on parks, cutting taxes, saving our hospital and restoring integrity to City Hall,” she said in a statement. “This is only the beginning of what voters can expect from Jim Doyle, Ravi Bhalla, David Mello and me as we continue to lead Hoboken forward."
Occhipinti also attacked Ramos, who he said has been in Trenton for too long to understand Hoboken’s true needs.
“Ruben’s a really nice guy,” he said. “But Hoboken needs to move forward, not backwards.”
Ramos, reached by phone on Wednesday, blasted Occhipinti’s comments.
“I think my record, both on the city council before I was an assemblyman and during my time in Trenton speaks for itself,” he said. “I don’t think that Councilman Occhipinti’s record on the council, that he’s only compiled over three years, is much to speak of.”
Ramos also accused Occhipinti of being complicit in causing the City Council’s current deadlock, arguing that both he and Zimmer have taken action that has stopped all progress.
“Nothing is progressing in City Hall, and they’re both part of the problem,” he said.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org