In a last-minute decision, Mayor David Roberts' former campaign manager has actually decided to run for a council seat against a candidate backed by Roberts.
Michael Lenz has decided to run in the Nov. 6 special election for the 4th Ward City Council seat that was left open when Ruben Ramos, Jr. moved to an at-large seat in July. Lenz will face a field of as many as five candidates. One will be Christopher Campos, who is temporarily has the seat now and is backed by Mayor Roberts.
Campos was selected for that seat in June by allies of Roberts, while Lenz, according to sources, supported another candidate.
Now Lenz believes he is the best person to fill that seat.
"I believe that Mayor Roberts is a good mayor, and given the same choices today, I would vote for him again," said Lenz in an interview Monday. "I still support everything that Hoboken United stood for, and I see my candidacy as a way of advocating that agenda. I have nothing against [Mayor Roberts], but I do have something against a candidate [Campos] who is underqualified and illegitimate."
Jockeying for positions
Lenz, 45, a real estate consultant and former school board president, was the manager of the victorious Hoboken United ticket that brought Roberts into office this past spring. Lenz also helped put Ruben Ramos, Jr., Tony Soares, and Carol Marsh into council-at-large seats. However, last year, before Roberts had announced he was running, Lenz himself was running for mayor. Then, Lenz decided to remove himself from the field and instead serve as Roberts' paid campaign manager. Lenz received a salary of $1,000 per week.
Lenz's political star began rising after Roberts won in a landslide in May. But in the few months afterward, Lenz's alliance with Hoboken United suffered.
There was talk shortly after Roberts' election that the administration would give Lenz the job of executive director of the Hoboken Parking Authority. There was some instability at the HPA board, though, and the Roberts team had to endure a legal battle to get two commissioners they appointed to the board. Lenz believed that once the commissioners came aboard, they would vote for him to have the position, which would mean demoting or removing current executive director JoAnne Serrano.
But it was not to be. Instead, Hoboken United told him he would only be hired as a consultant.
Lenz said this past Tuesday that while he would take the director's job if offered, he would not take one as a consultant. He said that he believes he is underqualified to be a consultant, and is more qualified to do the director's job because he has experience as an accountant and as someone who deals with policy. Lenz said that the consultant job would look like a political payoff.
Critics of Lenz do not think that his intentions are nearly that noble.
Councilman Soares said he believes that once Lenz didn't get the job he wanted, he pulled his name from consideration and decided to run against the mayor's candidate in the 4th Ward.
In fact, Lenz announced his intention to run for the seat only the Friday before the Monday filing deadline.
"I was shocked," said former ally Soares. "I feel totally duped. [Lenz] is a smart man and an effective campaign manager, but he betrayed many of his friends."
Roberts himself declined to comment on Lenz's candidacy, but said he is backing Campos.
Challenging Campos' candidacy
Lenz's decision to run marks the first major fissure in Hoboken United since the election.
Some of Lenz's stiffest competition will come from Campos. At the first meeting of the Roberts era, the council voted to install Campos as the temporary councilman for the ward. Campos has the distinct advantage of being backed by the mayor, Soares and Ramos.
While Lenz acknowledges that he is no longer in the Hoboken United stable, he does not feel his decision to run is a major shift in his philosophy.
Campos' legitimacy has been challenged as critics have asserted that the councilman has not met residency requirements to run in the upcoming election. In July, the Housing Authority executive director released a memo stating that Campos has not lived in the HHA or the 4th Ward, which is in the southwest part of the city, for the past year - a requirement to run for office. But Campos, 26, contends that he has always lived there and only left town to pursue an undergraduate and law degree.
Lenz doesn't buy it. Last week, he said, "There are 3,000 people in the 4th Ward that are more qualified than Chris Campos, simply by the fact that they have actually lived there for more than a year."
HPA member says Lenz pushed him
Meanwhile, Parking Authority Commissioner Alan Cohen said Wednesday that there was discussion of creating a garage consultant position, but that job has not yet been created.
Soares said that when it became evident that Cohen was not going to support an attempt to replace or demote JoAnne Serrano at the Sept. 10 HPA meeting, Lenz jumped ship - using his 4th Ward campaign as political leverage.
"If dog catcher became an elected position, [Lenz] would probably run for that if it gave him leverage," Soares said.
Cohen, who is currently serving as Chris Campos' campaign treasurer and who served as Soares' campaign treasurer, said Lenz pushed hard for the job and was upset when he didn't get hired.
But Lenz said that it was announced at a transition team meeting in June that he would be given the job so that he could help reform the Parking Authority. He said that he discussed it with the mayor, and that the reason he kept asking about it for many months because he simply wanted to know what was going on.
Cohen said, "[Lenz] put a lot of pressure on me to make a move at my very first meeting on the board [Sept. 10]. I'm nobody's puppet. When Mayor Roberts appointed me, he knew I was independent. I'm going to do what I feel is right by the Parking Authority and what is right by the residents of Hoboken. I'm not going to do what the politicians tell me to do."
"There's no way we're going to replace the executive director at our first meeting," Cohen added. "We need time to get in there and get our bearings before we would even consider making such a move. It would have been highly irresponsible to even consider such an action at the [Sept. 10] meeting."
Lenz contends that he withdrew his name before he told anyone that he was going to run in the 4th Ward. "The truth on the matter is that I never told anyone that I might run, so how could I use a campaign as leverage?" said Lenz Monday. "Those accusations don't make any sense."
Ballot positions drawn
On Monday City Clerk James Farina drew ballot positions for the November elections. In the 4th Ward, Campos drew the fist spot, followed by former City Council President Nellie Moyeno, who lost her re-election bid for a third term as councilwoman-at-large in May. Moyeno works for Central Parking, which manages the city's parking garages.
Third on the ballot was Tammy Goodwin, a supervisor of Meter Enforcement Officers for the Hoboken Parking Authority.
Fourth was Lynda Walker, a Harrison Street resident and mother of three who is an ordained Pentecostal minister. Walker, a housing activist, was recently appointed by Roberts to the Hoboken Housing Authority.
Lenz appeared fifth on the ballot.