Every election has lessons to be learned, even if you happen to win a race that’s largely unopposed. Mayor Richard Turner did run unopposed in the May 13 municipal election, but two of his four Township Council running mates faced opposition.
Deputy Mayor and 3rd Ward Councilman Robert Sosa defeated Joseph Mendez, and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Rosemary Lavagnino defeated Richard DeCosmis. First Ward Councilwoman Carmela Silvestri-Ehret and Councilman-at-Large Robert Zucconi were reelected after running unopposed.
In Weehawken, voters elect candidates to the council. Then the council selects one of its members to serve as mayor. Turner has been mayor since he was first elected in 1990.
“We have a mandate from the people,” Turner said, noting that his ticket amassed many votes even in the uncontested elections. Turner led voting with 1,729, followed by Zucconi with 1,427. In the ward races Lavagnino received 520 votes, Sosa 485, and Silvestri-Ehret 441.
Sosa got 84 percent of the vote in his ward, while Lavagnino received 72 percent in hers.
Turner said his ticket took nothing for granted and campaigned door to door in their attempt to meet with people and get their message out.
Defeated but not forgotten
Although defeated, DeCosmis and Mendez both felt they made a difference, especially in raising awareness of issues. Both ran their elections partly on the belief that there is a disparity between the wealthier eastern portion of Weehawken, and Park Avenue, which borders West New York.
“I’m just getting started,” said DeCosmis, who is not discouraged by his election loss. “We accomplished so much with so little. I did win my district and it shows the split in Weehawken right now. We are going to continue to inform everyone about the happenings in Town Hall.”
Mendez said he intended to continue his civic involvement. “It was a great experience and very educational,” he said.
Lessons to be learned
Turner said the 2nd Ward is extremely diverse and that his candidates talked to people in all parts of it.
“In every election, there are legitimate issues and a whole lot of nonsense,” Turner said.
While taxes and other topics may have been legitimate concerns, he said these were often laced with misinformation. So he and his candidates spent a lot of time trying to untangle misinformation from fact.
Turner said the election outcome proved that the people trust those on his ticket.
“They trust us even when there are problems,” Turner said. “When there are problems we go out and listen. People know we will give them a straight answer. If we can do something, we will, if we can’t, we’ll tell them we can’t, but we’ll explain why we can’t.”
Tuesday’s vote, he said, was a strong statement of confidence.
But as in all elections, Turner said there were lessons to be learned. “We need to find better ways to communicate with people.”
Even in a township as small as Weehawken, some voters were hard to reach. This was not for lack of trying, since the township has a good website, and has social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.
“People want to be engaged, we just have to find a way to make sure we reach them,” Turner said. This could involve additional media, he said, such as a quarterly news letter.
Although the council reorganization isn’t until July 1, his administration is back to work with several initiatives, such as setting up the job bank that will give preference to residents of Weehawken for rank and file jobs at the new hotel when it opens and other new businesses.
He said his administration is working to get a new bank to replace the former TD Bank branch at Liberty and Park Avenue. And he hopes to expand the Department of Transportation-funded road repair program to include replacing sidewalks in a number of areas in the township.
“We will continue to deal with taxes,” he said, noting that Hoboken, Weehawken and Secaucus are considered among the wealthiest communities in Hudson County.
“Someone told me that over the last 18 months, Weehawken is second behind Jersey City with the most new building permits issued,” he said. “Recovery takes time. I want to thank voters for their support and their confidence.”
Parking is an issue
Although Sosa said he felt great about the election, he said he also learned a lot, too, in particular about the parking shortage.
“We have one pound of parking and two pounds of cars,” he said, referring to an area in the northern part of Weehawken. “We need to revamp and look at policies to see how to relieve the situation. These are not people parking there to commute to jobs in New York City, they are people who want to get home and eat dinner.”
While the township’s plans for parking work on paper, they do not always work in practice. “This is one of our main issues,” Sosa said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”
Although he met a lot of people while campaigning, he said he has been listening over four years and helping people with their concerns.
He’s very excited about the future, including sidewalk restoration, the expected senior housing at 48th Street and Park Avenue, the linear park near the waterfront, and the township’s bicycle sharing program.
“I’ll be looking at things and trying to improve the quality of life for people in the township,” he said. “I will continue to be accessible, and not merely just around election time.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.