Hoboken Councilman Michael Russo was so friendly with those close to Mayor Dawn Zimmer at the swearing-in ceremonies on Jan. 4 you’d almost forget that he supported her opponent, Ruben Ramos.
Russo sat upfront with Zimmer supporters, hobnobbing with them, while nearby Ramos and Councilman Tim Occhipinti (who also opposed Zimmer in the November election) didn’t even get acknowledged by the mayor in her speech.
Since Zimmer successfully beat Ramos and Occhipinti in November, Russo has become a friendly figure on the City Council, voting more with Zimmer’s council members than with the opposition.
This has to make you wonder what Russo wants that he would divest his old loyalties to support a mayor whom most of his supporters can’t stand.
In the aftermath of the election, Russo appears to have read the political tea leaves better than most, knowing that if he can’t beat Zimmer he might as well join her – at least until he can preserve his own political future.
The bad feelings over the municipal election may well make Russo the focus of a political challenge in the 3rd Ward in the 2015 council races as Frank Raia teams up once more with Councilwoman Beth Mason in an attempt to unseat Russo from the council.
While most insiders believe Russo can prevail, he may want to avoid what will become a bloody fight by seeking another elected office – perhaps freeholder. But he would need the blessing of both Zimmer and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop for this. Fulop has reportedly said the decision is Zimmer’s to make.
If this fails, of course, Russo may have another opportunity to become the state assemblyman for the district, since he was reportedly on the short list to run with state Sen. Brian Stack in November, but got sideswiped by Carmelo Garcia, who got the call instead.
Garcia may soon have to choose between taking his seat in the state Assembly and keeping his job as executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority – a legal issue that has yet to be resolved. If Garcia chooses to remain with the HHA, then his Assembly seat is up for grabs, and Russo is more than likely one of those who will try to claim it.
Garcia, meanwhile, may well hire his Assembly staff anyway, forcing others to make the legal challenge. Hoboken businessman Joseph Branco is rumored to be a future hire as Garcia’s chief of staff.
What happened with Alicea?
Let’s get this straight. Zimmer’s staff negotiated with former public safety director Angel Alicea for a settlement for punitive damages that may have saved the city money, and the Zimmer-controlled City Council rejected it.
Instead, now the city will have to pay an additional $625,000 to Alicea, who successfully sued for discrimination following his 2011 resignation.
The city is already paying him $440,000 in back salary and his legal expenses, and so making him the latest Hoboken millionaire.
Zimmer was personally absolved by the jury of any wrong doing, but apparently she sought to minimize the economic damage to the city by having the city attorney negotiate a lower amount with Alicea. Then, her allies on the City Council rejected the settlement.
No one is saying how much less the taxpayers might have paid if the council had agreed to honor Zimmer’s request. But why did a council loyal to Zimmer vote against her on this?
Was it to allow Zimmer to avoid taking responsibility for the situation?
What, me worry?
West New York Mayor Felix Roque says he wasn’t going to oppose Freeholder Jose Munoz, who was named as freeholder chairman at the annual reorganization meeting this week. Munoz is seen as Roque’s most significant political enemy, and was instrumental in having federal charges brought against Roque two years ago for Roque’s alleged role in conspiring to hack into Munoz’s website. A jury acquitted Roque, but convicted Roque’s son of a misdemeanor.
“Would I endorse him?” Roque said. “No. But I’m not going to try and stop him from getting the position. It wouldn’t be fair.”
The freeholder board has a rotation system that allows freeholders serving as pro tem and vice chair person to eventually become chair person. Munoz was vice chair and replaced Hoboken Freeholder Anthony Romano as chairman as of Tuesday’s meeting.
Munoz had been on a tear against Roque even after the trial, successfully pushing for an elected school board no longer appointed by the mayor, and even seeking investigations concerning alleged misdeeds by those politically close to Roque.
In most cases, the decision regarding who becomes a freeholder and their position on the board is left to the mayors of the various towns. But the two most influential decisionmakers on Munoz are state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, neither of whom apparently wants to upset precedent by denying Munoz the chair. This would cause an uproar on the board that could reverberate in the June primary when freeholders must run this year.
“Let him have his seat as chair,” Roque said. “It will be something he can put on his resume when he gets dumped out as freeholder later this year. I have no hard feelings for what he did to me and my son. I have already forgiven him.”
Roque said he believes that Munoz used the federal investigation as a means of advancing his own political career. But that the effort backfired since discovery in the trial showed Munoz had been working as a federal informant prior to the hacking.
“The federal authorities asked me to do the same thing. I refused because I knew I was innocent,” Roque said. “I believe Jose used this to get ahead politically. This was a mistake. He should advance his political career on his own merits. But Jose has fought against Brian Stack, Albio Sires, Sal Vega and me. I believe his being chairman will hurt the freeholders because he will not pay attention to the job he is supposed to be doing and will focus on getting himself reelected. But in the end, he will lose everything and he will be out of a job.”
As much as Gov. Christopher Christie protests his lack of knowledge over the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge last September, he is saddled with the reputation of knowing what his underlings are doing. Emails show that those closest to Christie allegedly conspired to cause traffic havoc in Fort Lee because the mayor there had not endorsed Christie for reelection.
Can anyone actually believe that any of Christie’s close associates would do such a thing on their own, risking the governor’s notorious wrath later if he found out they operated without his consent? Remember, Christie is the guy caught on video with an ice cream cone chasing someone down the boardwalk because that person questioned him about his treatment of teachers.
If Christie conspired in this, the real question is why. What did the Christie administration do for Fort Lee that would lead Christie to expect an endorsement when a host of other mayors around the state did not endorse him? What is so special about Fort Lee that made it ripe for political retribution?
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.