Three new council members; division still exits Cunningham, Giacchi, Zimmer victorious; Campos to challenge Zimmer's 6-vote win
by Michael D. Mullins Reporter staff writer
Jun 26, 2007 | 1492 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hoboken's 4th Ward City Council election runoff demonstrated the power of a single vote.

With a total of 1,778 votes cast, the most out of any of this year's Hoboken City Council races, 4th Ward candidate and Councilwoman-elect Dawn Zimmer edged out incumbent Councilman Christopher Campos by a mere six votes.

Campos refused to concede the election last week and announced his intention to challenge the results, citing what he described as questionable absentee ballots for his opponent.

In the other two runoff races held on June 12, 5th Ward candidate Peter Cunningham beat out his opponent Perry Belfiore by 112 votes, 636 to 524, and incumbent 6th Ward Councilman Angelo Giacchi defeated candidate Thomas Foley 441 to 325.

The original elections for six seats on the nine-member Hoboken City Council were held on May 8, but three candidates landed in runoffs.

The never-ending 4th Ward race

The 4th Ward in the city's southwest part of town was the site of the most heated race this year, with incumbent Councilman Chris Campos - who grew up in that ward in the city's public housing projects - being challenged by relative newcomer Dawn Zimmer.

Among the heated issues were flooding in the ward, and the prospect of more congestion due to the city's proposed southwest redevelopment plan. Zimmer believed that more studies needed to be done before the plan adds potentially 2,500 new residents to an already crowded part of town.

While both campaigns had accused the other of questionable election tactics in the last few weeks, the anger did not dissolve as the results came in on Tuesday night.

Instead, moments after the initial results were released, a series of indistinct shrieks began resonating throughout the City Clerk's office from a gathering crowd of Campos' supporters, who initially appeared to have believed their candidate had won.

They began congregating around the steps of City Hall, chanting phrases like "We want Chris!," "Zimmer, we don't want you!," and an angry phrase that has been heard in Hoboken political battles and council meetings at various times since the 1980s: "Go back to New York!"

With the southwest part of town seeing more and more new development, it's no longer strictly a bastion of old-time Hoboken residents. And some old-time 4th Ward political players, like former 4th Ward Councilman Andrew Amato, helped Zimmer win.

Tuesday night, after it had become apparent that he was a few votes shy of Zimmer's total, Campos addressed his supporters, reassuring them of his commitment to the community and telling them the election was not yet over.

Campos is an attorney and a member of the Hoboken Housing Authority board that helps oversee the city's federally funded housing projects.

Campos said he plans to fight some of Zimmer's absentee ballots, which allowed residents to vote by mail if they thought they might have trouble getting to the polls. In past years, residents were forced to give a reason for voting absentee (for instance, illness or vacations). This year, no reason was necessary, a fact that worked to Zimmer's advantage. She received 145 absentee ballot votes compared with Campos' 50 absentee votes.

The process of aggressively getting absentee ballots before an election has long been a staple of 4th Ward politics.

In fact, in 1997, as noted in both the Hoboken Reporter and the New York Times, Andrew Amato was indicted on charges that he paid seven people $40 to apply for false absentee ballots in the election for Hudson County executive.

Ultimately, Amato was not convicted of the charges.

Zimmer confirmed Friday that Amato had helped her with her absentee balloting.

The Zimmer victory

Outside Zimmer's campaign headquarters at 411 First St., a diverse group of approximately 50 supporters lined the sidewalk and spilled out into the street.

There was also a political presence that included several local and county politicians and personalities, such as County Executive Tom DeGise and former Hoboken Councilwoman and defeated Assemblywoman candidate Carol Marsh, as well as Hudson County political consultant Paul Swibinski, former Councilman Tony Soares, and former Board of Education member Michael Lenz.

In an empty room at her headquarters, Zimmer said, "It's extremely exciting. I kept telling people the ward was ready for a change, but I never imagined it would be so close."

Zimmer pledged to work with all components of her ward.

In regards to her future plans as councilwoman, Zimmer added, "I'm going to work very hard to reach out to the people of the Housing Authority, because it's really important to me that I represent everyone in the 4th Ward."

In response to rumors that Zimmer would like to see the federally-funded projects closed, Zimmer adamantly disagreed with any such sentiments. She responded that she loved the diversity of the 4th Ward and would not support any measure that would remove the HHA from the city. She added that she planned to begin several initiatives for HHA residents, particularly the children.

The HHA has suffered in the past with deplorable living conditions and financial problems, but manages to provide 1,353 units of affordable housing in town.

Later in the week

While Zimmer had a seven-vote lead as of Tuesday night, her supporters had more reason to cheer on Wednesday.

The provisional votes were released, reducing Zimmer's lead by one vote, with Campos receiving 23 provisional votes and Zimmer 22.

A provisional ballot is cast when a voter's name does not appear on the list at the polling station, whether it be because they were late in registering, or had applied for an absentee ballot but never received one.

That night, Zimmer held a victory party at the Quiet Woman Pub on First Street.

Not over yet

In an interview on Thursday, Campos refused to concede the election. "I'm very grateful for the overwhelming amount of support I received on the machine and from the community, but I cannot stand by and allow questionable absentee ballots to go unchallenged," he said.

Campos intends to bring the issue to court in the coming weeks.

"I have to challenge the election results, to ensure that this was a fair and open election and protect the integrity of the Democratic process," he said. "I plan to shine a very bright light on the questionable absentee ballots."

Zimmer responded that voting by absentee ballots is just as legitimate as voting on the machine, adding that some people work long hours and were not able to reach the polls that day.

"I won the election, and I understand [Campos] might want to have a recount, but I hope that after a few days he will concede and he and I can work together to make the 4th Ward a better place," she said.

City Clerk James Farina said that he plans to certify the election results by this week's City Council meeting on Wednesday, pending a court order that will allow him to open a machine from the 4th Ward, second district, which was not used. He needs to verify that no votes were cast on the machine in order to make the results official.

The new council people will be inaugurated July 1.

Fifth and 6th Ward races

The 5th Ward race in Hoboken's northwest part of town was not without its share of controversy.

Tuesday morning, there was a foot pursuit of a voter who allegedly attempted to vote in someone else's name. See sidebar.

In the end, 5th Ward candidate Peter Cunningham beat out his opponent Perry Belfiore by 112 votes, 636 to 524.

After defeating Belfiore by over 204 votes in the first election, Cunningham's lead was reduced in the runoff.

Much like Zimmer, Cunningham had a support base comprised mostly of upper-class, progressive families and young professionals, representing the obvious power shift in Hoboken politics as its population becomes increasingly affluent. The 5th Ward is defined by rows of brownstones and sidewalks dotted with baby carriages and joggers.

Unlike Cunningham, Belfiore was a long-time resident. Although he has been allied with other Hoboken politicians, he also has been independent at times. In the runoff, Belfiore was supported by 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo and others.

Cunningham, a vice president of a global financial services company, held his victory party at the 10th and Willow Bar & Grill Tuesday evening, where he was joined by his wife and two young children, as well as nearly 40 supporters.

"We feel like the ward has been liberated," said Cunningham. "This was a community effort and I will respond to the community. We will work together to see that the budget stays under control, [obtain] more outdoor recreational space, parking, and controlled development. I'm excited for Hoboken's future, this is a win for everybody."

Belfiore handled his defeat as he did his campaign, with resolve and humor. He quipped: "It hurts too much to laugh, and I'm too old to cry. It was a hard fight and I lost."

Belfiore added that he plans to stay involved with the community.

He said, "I will remain a member of the loyal opposition and continue to fight the 'us versus them' mentality in Hoboken, whether I'm an elected official or not."

Sixth Ward

In the 6th Ward, Giacchi, who beat out Foley by 116 votes, celebrated Tuesday night at the Four L's Restaurant on Washington Street, where he was joined by Union City Mayor and 33rd District Assemblyman Brian Stack, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, 1st and 3rd ward council members Theresa Castellano and Michael Russo, outgoing 2nd Ward Councilman Richard Del Boccio, defeated 2nd Ward candidate Richard Tremitiedi, and Giacchi's wife and three children.

"I'm thrilled and happy to be able to serve my ward for another four years," said Giacchi. "I'm looking forward to working with the new council and moving the city forward as a community by working together."

Foley, the attorney who ran against incumbent Giacchi, thanked his wife and supporters for their help in the election afterward.

He said, "Our campaign was a true, independent campaign, focused solely on the issues facing our city. I'm proud of our efforts and enthused by the response I received from our neighbors."

Unlike in other wards, the 6th Ward race stayed free of public mudslinging.

Foley said, "Although we did not secure enough votes to win the council position, I believe the election was a victory. I look forward to continuing to work for our neighborhood."

Michael Mullins can be reached at Clear case of near-fraud: Who paid this man off?

Although allegations of voter fraud have surrounded past Hoboken elections, there were no proven cases of someone being paid to vote in someone else's name, at least in recent years.

However, last week, it looked as though someone might have finally proven a case of voter fraud in Hoboken.

Tuesday morning, police questioned a Jersey City man whom, they said, admitted to being paid to vote for someone in Hoboken. But because he was chased out of the polls before voting, the investigators said they couldn't charge him with a crime.

Still, the question remains - which political player actually offered him the money, and will that information be traced so that the person is publicly brought to justice?

How he was caught

Tuesday morning, an official campaign challenger in a 5th Ward polling place spotted a man he believed was about to vote under a different name.

The man turned out to be a Jersey City resident.

The challenger chased the man on foot to 10th and Washington streets, and police were notified.

According to the resulting police report, the suspect, a 51-year-old Jersey City resident, was stopped by authorities in the area of 10th and Washington streets after being chased from the voting station at Fox Hill Gardens at 311 13th street.

The man was challenged at Fox Hills by a resident who was there on behalf of candidate Peter Cunningham.

After being unable to present identification, the man allegedly began to run from the voting station, which led to the street chase.

The suspect was subsequently released, according to police. Police said that John Riley, an investigator for the Hudson County Board of Elections, determined that no crime had occurred, because the man was caught before he voted.

However, according to the police report, the individual admitted to receiving $10 to vote. Ironically, according to the police report, the man told the police that he was told to vote for Cunningham.

Last week, Cunningham disputed the man's accusation by describing him as being "clearly confused" and saying that the suspect had initially allegedly told his challenger, who confirmed the account with the Reporter, that he was voting for Belfiore.

Cunningham added, "Why would a candidate who is up in the polls have someone do this? These are the tactics of someone who is trailing and desperate."

Belfiore responded by saying, "Why is the man confused? Because he used Peter Cunningham's name?' "

When it came down to it, some seemed to believe that whoever paid the man off was actually working on a higher level.

Belfiore said, "I'm willing to give Cunningham the benefit of the doubt and say he had nothing to do with this directly. [But] I believe there was an organized movement by powers in the county who wanted to see him elected, and they were willing to go to such measures to guarantee it."

- MM
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