The butterfly effect?
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Jan 03, 2008 | 1485 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In Hoboken, Councilwoman Beth Mason won't let the election fraud issues that came up during the 4th Ward campaign between Dawn Zimmer and Chris Campos die.

Although Mason and Zimmer both consider themselves reformers, they represent a division in the reform movement that goes back to the beginning of the ward council races earlier this year.

Recently, Mason introduced resolutions to the Hoboken City Council to investigate campaign fraud allegations in this year's council elections.

But when she suddenly urged Zimmer to sign a letter to the attorney general in the middle of a meeting, Zimmer's supporters saw it as an attack and a political move.

Mason is apparently seeking to turn over every rock in her search to determine if the Zimmer campaign (or other campaigns) actually did anything questionable.

There really isn't a rulebook on how to win elections, although there are a lot of common practices.

Mason, unlike former Jersey City Mayor Jerry McCann, isn't as savvy in the ways of political dirty tricks. So half of her campaign to examine campaigns may well serve Mason as a graduate study for her potential run for Hoboken mayor in 2009.

If she looks closely enough at all the things done in the elections leading up to Zimmer's eventual victory, she may be able to use some of the knowledge to her own advantage.

But in some ways, Mason seems to have learned one important lesson in politics: sow seeds of doubt early that you can harvest them later during the election.

One local writer called it "the butterfly effect," meaning that if you touch the previously unsullied wings of a butterfly (such as Zimmer) who is just coming out of the cocoon, you can rest assured that butterfly won't be able to take off later.

Mason supporters seem to think it was time for new leadership in reform movement, after the old guard reformers lost in the mayoral battles two years ago.

While Zimmer and her close associate, Peter Cunningham, are relatively fresh faces on the political scene, they rose out of the same political soil that had backed Carol Marsh's failed mayoral bid years earlier.

While former Councilman Tony Soares had moved on with his career independent of politics, others like political guru Michael Lenz were not yet willing to give up the distinction as prominent reformers.

Coming into the council elections last May, Marsh, Lenz, Cunningham, and Zimmer did an unexpected thing: they hooked up with their former political opponents the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO).

Although this became the subject of attacks against them, the combination proved a powerful one, sweeping Cunningham and later Zimmer into office (not to mention letting them take control of the Board of Education) and giving reformers a dominant role on the City Council after a reformer had lost nearly everything two years earlier.

The new dominant reform moment led by Zimmer and Cunningham could marginalize Mason's group.

Instead of Mason being the sole voice of reform in Hoboken, she is one of a chorus.

A clever move

Zimmer continued to have HCDO support in the third and last election against incumbent Chris Campos this year. But as HCDO people put it, the campaign "got green instead of mean."

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy and County Executive Tom DeGise, the power figures behind the HCDO, were very frustrated by the fact that former Jersey City Mayor Jerry McCann had managed to drag Zimmer into a special election.

But since Campos had already used the HCDO's involvement as an election ploy to claim that the reformers had sold their soul to the political machine, the Zimmer camp rejected an offer by the HCDO to pour money and workers into the special election.

So DeGise apparently came up with a clever way of putting "the machine" to work. DeGise, Healy and state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco each contributed $2,000 to the "Vote Yes for Parks" campaign that was organized to support Hoboken ballot question 5 that called for imposing a 2 cent tax that would generate money for creating open space such as parks.

Campos, misreading the local public, ran against the referendum. He seemed more in tune with the voters around the state that rejected some statewide initiatives.

The HCDO funds helped underwrite a television and print media campaign that delivered a 2,331 to 1,403 win for the ballot question citywide.

Zimmer, who was a strong supporter of open space, clearly benefited, since 505 of the votes for the referendum came out of the 4th ward.

No more civil war among Hudson Dems

On Sunday morning, Rep. Albio Sires woke up in Athens, Greece, to a phone call from Hudson County.

An aide to Sires - possibly Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner - said Sires should check out "Between the Lines" column. Accessing a computer in Athens, Sires discovered to his dismay that a deal seemed to be in the works that would begin healing the wounds of last year's Democratic civil war in Hudson County.

Sires, who had suffered numerous insults during last June's primary from West New York Mayor Sal Vega (who Sires later called "a water boy") vowed never to make peace with Vega.

But HCDO officials this week confirmed that negotiations are underway to avoid a repeat of last June's pointless political war.

The agreement would create a truce. State Assemblyman and Union City Mayor Brian Stack would refrain from running a slate of freeholder candidates next spring. In exchange, the HCDO would pay off Stack's huge campaign debt (in excess of $300,000). Sires, however, will not run for re-election in the primary with HCDO support next June.

A small book with big impact

With all the hype over the 25th anniversary of the publication of the Jersey City political book Powerticians, a perhaps more important book got ignored.

Powerticians, by former Jersey City Mayor Thomas F.X. Smith, has become a kind of touchstone for Hudson County politics since it was viewed at one of the first books to actually detail the way politics was done here. (For a story on the book, see

The problem with the book is that it is extremely accurate when talking about earlier Hudson County political history such the era of political boss Frank Hague, but grew more and more vague as the book came closer to contemporary times. The details of the book concerning John V. Kenny and the conflicts of the 1970s have huge gaps.

While books such as Five Finger Discount released later have also received significant attention, they also barely covered the details of how political world in Hudson County operated.

Both books owe their roots to a smaller volume pushed in the late 1970s by Matty Amato called Jersey City, a City in Socio-Economic and Political Change.

This master thesis, later expanded into a book, is a snapshot of the nuts and bolts of how politics operated in the 1970s. Although most of the political landscape later changed when political bosses like Robert Janiszewski and Bruce Walters "professionalized" politics through the use of pay-to-play - giving contracts to contributors - Amato's book is perhaps the most accurate portrayal of how the ward concept worked, as well as providing a neighborhood by neighborhood breakdown of how race and ethnic political forces influenced government.

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