Mud flap Politicians complain about negative campaigning
by Tom Jennemann Reporter staff writer
May 16, 2003 | 817 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Negative politicking and campaigning are not new occurrences in Hoboken, but some thought that since the sharply divided pro- and anti-Mayor Russo forces of the past were reconfigured, electioneering might not be as dirty this time around.

Wrong.

With 26 candidates battling it out for six seats, the mud has surged back up. Attack flyers made their way onto windshields and telephone poles, personal attacks filled council meetings, and damaging ads played over and over on televisions.

The negative campaigning was particularly belligerent in the 4th Ward, where incumbent Mayor David Roberts' candidate, Christopher Campos, faced council member Tony Soares, who was looking to move from an at-large seat to 4th Ward councilman.

For months, since Soares broke away from Roberts, council meetings had been marred by verbal jousting between the two.

Both sides claim that the other is guilty of the smearing, and neither side is taking the blame for the attacks.

Soares, who took the brunt of much negative campaigning, said the "dirty" campaigning might be responsible for keeping voter turnout very low.

"I believe that people got fed up with the constant e-mails, flyers, and television commercials," he said Thursday. "People were just buried [with literature], and I think that caused many of them to tune out the election."

Roberts and Campos blamed Soares, saying that most of the nasty politics comes from his camp. Roberts said that he only approved literature that was issue-based and did not approve of personal attacks.

"I have never subscribed to negative campaigning," said Roberts.

But what about the literature calling Soares' allies "do nothings" and blaming them for decades-old parking problems? And what about the Hoboken United flyers put on windshields that contained distorted photos of Soares and Councilwoman Carol Marsh?

Roberts said that the "do nothing" attack was solely an issue-based offensive. He said calling the candidates "do nothings" is a reference to what he considers a record of not forwarding any meaningful legislation.

"Time and time again, they are the first to cry foul, but never come up with any ideas of their own," he said. "Tony [Soares] is great at finding faults in other people's programs but never comes up with a single solitary original idea of his own."

One television commercial stated that Soares and Marsh are "career politicians" who are "playing politics with [your] parking spaces." But calling Marsh a "career politician" was a fabrication, since when Marsh was elected 2001 it was her first time running for office. When Roberts first introduced Marsh as part of his team in 2001, Roberts said, "You might not know who Carol Marsh is now, but you soon will."

Roberts said he found it ironic that Soares would accuse him of negative campaigning, since Soares has been so negative in other venues - especially during council meetings and in the press.

"He [Soares] has unleashed the most hellacious campaign of attacks in Hoboken's political history," Roberts said. "He needs to take a good look at himself and the hurtful rhetoric that he his constantly spreading."

Campos also voiced his concern about Soares' negativity.

"In the end, his negative campaigning is really what did him in," said Campos. "People grew tired of the constant criticizing."

He pointed to an ad that ran in this paper portraying Campos and Roberts' other candidates a puppets on a string. He said that Soares was constantly making charges, on the record and off, that Campos wasn't really born and raised in Hoboken, a major issue in the 2001 campaign. He noted that Soares also says that Campos only got his job with the county because of his political ties. Recently, Soares said that "Campos is addicted to the public payroll."

Campos also believes that Soares was behind false rumors about him, like one - that was later proven false - that Campos was driving around in a new BMW. In fact, he drives a Honda. But there is a man who looks like Campos who was driving a BMW in the 4th Ward.

Soares claims it is Hoboken United that went negative. He noted a mailing to residents that said that Soares' team "played politics and held Hoboken's families hostage."

Soares added that blaming Marsh and him for the city's parking problems is misleading. He said that parking was a problem when Roberts was first elected as 6th Ward councilman 18 years ago, and is still a problem today.

Another flyer that aroused Soares' ire contained a "comic strip" with caricature of Soares with captions that read "Just call me flip-flop Tony." The flyer also states that "Tony Soares is against senior citizens."

Campos defended the flyer by saying that it sticks to the issues such as senior citizens and development. He said it's not an attack on Soares personally.

Beth Mason of the Hoboken Alliance group, who is running against the mayor's candidate, Richard Del Boccio, in the 2nd Ward, said Thursday that the negative campaigning has distracted voters from this election.

"There has been a great deal of mudslinging from their [Roberts'] side," said Mason. "It has gotten to the point where people should be angry." Mason said she appreciated the campaign of Hoboken First, another political group, for "sticking to their issues."

John Corea of Hoboken First, who narrowly missed a runoff in the 2nd Ward, said that in this election many of the issues were never really talked about because of the negative campaigning.

"There were a lot of dirty things going on," said Corea. "It became so negative and dirty that the issues were never really addressed."

Anonymous anti-Soares flyers offend others

One of the most disturbing episodes in the council campaign occurred when, during the middle of the night, still-unknown political operatives placed flyers that read "Toss the Midget" on telephone poles in the 4th Ward. Candidate Tony Soares suffers from Achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism.

Both Mayor David Roberts and Councilman Christopher Campos vehemently denied that they had anything to do with the flyers.

Soares said that ridiculing a person of short stature is the equivalent of racial or ethnic slurs.

He added that it is also distressing that "dwarf tossing" is referenced. Soares called the practice "incredibly degrading and dehumanizing" to little people. "This is from someone who is full of hate," said Soares, "someone who wanted to hurt me personally and politically. It had to be someone from the [Roberts] camp."

Campos said Wednesday that he had nothing to do with the flyers. "Absolutely not," he said. "I was as appalled as everybody else when I first saw them. I don't need to engage in that kind of stuff."

Campos also accused Soares posting the flyers himself to make Hoboken United look bad. "I think this was nothing more than sabotage," he said. "They're just fishing for sympathy votes."

However, Mayor Anthony Russo's camp used to make the same claims when anonymous stickers calling Roberts a racist popped up during the Roberts-Russo mayoral faceoff in 2001. At the time, a member of the Russo camp said that Roberts probably put them up himself.

Regardless of who posted the flyers, Soares wasn't the only one stung. Ethan Crough, another person of short stature who lives in the 4th Ward, left his house to walk his dog when only 10 feet from the front door, he saw the flyer.

Crough said he saw six flyers on his block alone.

"Honestly, I'm flabbergasted," Crough said. "I'm outraged that this kind of thoughtless political campaigning is going on. We're already targets of enough discrimination. It's this type thing that makes me not want to live in Hoboken anymore. To be a member of this community and see these signs 10 feet from my home is an insult."

This isn't the first time that Soares' height has been an issue in this election. A picture of Soares was somehow sent to a website that has random pictures of little people and has comments about "midget sex" on it. Somehow, a comment about Soares' photo being on that webpage appeared in a column on a political website that was rumored to be run by a local political consultant who was working for Mayor Roberts' candidate. When reached by phone, consultant Anthony Amabile, who was hired to help run Chris Campos' 4th Ward campaign, said that he absolutely does not own the site. However, he would not comment on whether he writes columns for it, or whether he wrote the passage about Soares.

A web search shows only the name of a company that designs websites as the owner.

It is unknown how the author of that particular column would have known about Soares' picture being up on such a site.

Additionally, last month at a block party hosted by Campos, a clown hired to entertain the kids used the word "midget" repeatedly in his act, something that Soares found offensive. But Campos asked the clown to stop. The clown said that he often used the term as part of his act, calling kids "little midgets" and adults "big midgets." - Tom Jennemann
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