14 council candidates sound off
Discuss Trump and local issues
by Marilyn Baer
Reporter Staff Writer
Aug 20, 2017 | 2441 views | 0 0 comments | 164 164 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Voters last November in the AJ Demerast building voted for board of education trustees. This November they will vote for three new at large council members.
Voters last November in the AJ Demerast building voted for board of education trustees. This November they will vote for three new at large council members.
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Along with the six people running for mayor of Hoboken in November, 14 people have announced they will run for three at-large Hoboken City Council seats. Eleven of those people are spread among four mayoral slates, and three are running as independents.

Candidates do not have to file until September, but there have already been controversies.

One issue that’s popped up in this traditionally Democratic town is some of the candidates’ Republican leanings. Current Mayor Dawn Zimmer has been vocal in saying Donald Trump’s national policies would hurt the people of Hoboken, from views on climate change to immigration.

Local elections are, however, non-partisan. Residents can vote for any three council candidates and do not have to stick to a slate.

Below are some of their responses to questions asked two weeks ago.

Team breakdowns

So far, in alphabetical order by mayoral slate, we have these council candidates:

Councilman Ravi Bhalla has announced a full slate: John Allen, incumbent Councilman Jim Doyle, and Emily Jabbour.

Councilman Michael DeFusco is running with: Michael Flett, Andrew Impastato, and Vanessa Falco.

Council President Jen Giattino also announced her full slate including Zoning Board Chair James Aibel, Jason Ellis, and Sal Starace.

Hudson County Freeholder and mayoral candidate Anthony Romano has only announced two candidates on his slate so far, Laini Hammond and incumbent Councilman Dave Mello.

This year’s independent candidates include Joshua Einstein, Kurt Gardiner, and Angelo Valente.

Interestingly, Bhalla, Giattino, and Mello were all allies of Zimmer before she announced she would not run again.And DeFusco was her ally last year. Now, they stand to split the Zimmer-allied vote. Some of her allies were frustrated that she did not consult them before publicly endorsing Bhalla.

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“I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” --Michael Flett

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Is the Trump issue valid?

Two weeks ago, candidates were asked point-blank if they support the Trump administration, and if they think it matters in local politics.

The exact question was: “One of the issues that keeps coming up right now, because it's being discussed so much nationally, is local candidates' party affiliation and feelings on the Trump administration. We're going to ask point blank: Do you currently support the Trump administration, and do you think this matters in local politics?”

Some candidates felt the issue is an important one, others did not, and some skirted the question of support.

Independent candidate Einstein, a 10-year Hoboken resident and New Jersey Republican State committeeman, was clear in his answer. “I 100 percent support the Trump administration,” he said. “You can quote me 10,000 times on that…But at the same time I think it’s important that the high taxes we have, the anti-common sense zoning we have, and the attitude coming out of City Hall to shut down businesses, is the natural end point of unbridled progressivism.”

Independent candidate Gardiner, the sergeant of arms for the Hoboken Democratic Committee and current commissioner for the North Hudson Sewage Authority, said, “I am a registered Democrat that did not vote for Donald Trump…With that said, people have the right to express themselves on the national issues as they see fit. However I would like to see an emphasis on local issues that matter to Hoboken.” He criticized Bhalla for bringing up the Trump issue in the past. “I view Ravi Bhalla's attempt to incorporate national issues into the mix as a cynical ploy to distract voters from the local issues and create an unnecessary division in our electorate,” he said.

Gardiner added, “The Hoboken electorate is intelligent and many I have spoken to see through this ruse. Additionally they are not necessarily robotically following Mayor Zimmer's coronation/endorsement, as many do not want an extension of Mayor Zimmer's third term. Many good things happened on Zimmer's watch, but there still some areas of concern. Hoboken needs a reboot … and that is why I support Jen Giattino for mayor.”

Valente, a former councilman from the 1980s who heads the statewide non-profit Drug Free New Jersey and who has been registered as a Republican in the past, refused to say whether he supports Trump. He said he believes in the “privacy of the ballot box.”

He said, “I think we need to work with all elected officials who have an interest in helping city of Hoboken on state national and local levels.”

Bhalla’s ticket unified on the issue

Bhalla’s ticket was unified, each saying he or she does not support the Trump administration and that this matters in a local election.

Allen, an attorney and Hoboken Democratic committeeman, said “I categorically reject the policies advocated by President Trump. The positions taken by the current administration do not reflect what I believe are core American values: tolerance and equality…local leaders can give voice to the many residents who oppose such extreme policies.”

Incumbent councilman Doyle, who also serves on the Planning Board, said, “To date, I cannot think of a single policy position of the Trump Administration that I can say I support… there are clearly many aspects that are very relevant at the local level, such a climate change, federal social programs, discriminatory policies, and the health care debate.”

Jabbour, who works for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in the Administration for Children and Families, said, “One of the reasons I decided to stand up and get involved in local politics is because I disagree with the priorities of the current administration and am concerned with the nature of the policy discussions taking place in the country.” She said that candidates should respond on this issue.

DeFusco’s ticket split

A few months ago, after Jen Giattino, a registered Republican, entered the race, DeFusco questioned the possibility of a Republican mayor. In a July interview with Insider NJ, he said, “As a progressive Democrat, I have serious concerns about a Republican mayor at a time when Donald Trump is attacking cities and limiting HUDs funds.”

But it soon came out that DeFusco’s first announced candidate, Michael Flett, donated to the Trump campaign last year.

Flett, a local businessman, said last week, “I think that if you are running for local office in Hoboken, it’s because you know the needs of your neighbors and it’s because you are on such a hyper local level...I think bringing up national politics is a tactic to kind of win an election. That being said, I am sensitive to people’s worries and where we are going on a national level. When I’m walking down the street and knocking on doors that subject comes up a lot. I am sensitive to those concerns and it opens up a conversation that’s a good thing.”

He added, “I would say if I were to kind of put myself in a box I would say I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

Local businessman Impastato declined to directly respond to the support question. Instead, he said, “I’m an independent. I don’t vote for a particular party directly. I look at the issues out there try and see who is the most level headed and who I believe in.”

He added, “We are a very unique city here...I don’t think what might work on the national level works here…I don’t think we need to look too far past our borders to see what the issues are.”

Falco, a lifelong resident, said she does not support the Trump administration.

“I am not a Trump supporter,” she said. “I am a Democrat and I think it matters on a national level. However, locally, I think some of our issues are not so relative on a national level. There are things specific to Hoboken that I think our focus needs to be on… Hoboken is unique.”

Giattino’s ticket also split

Giattino is a registered Republican who has declined so far to publicly say if she voted for or supports Trump. Her candidates were mixed on their feelings on whether it pertains to a local election.

Ellis, a 10-year Hoboken resident and registered Republican, responded to the question by saying he “expected much better from this administration” regarding Trump.

He added, “This is a local, non-partisan election. National issues are not nearly as important to how City Hall operates such as planning out our development, making city government more responsive to its residents, and ensuring we have places for our community to come together.”

He added, “The challenges we face getting [by] along on the Hoboken City Council are nothing compared to the partisan gridlock in Washington. Staying as far away from that as possible can only help Hoboken. If I am trying to work out a solution to improve traffic in Hoboken, disputing fixing the Affordable Care Act versus repealing it and replacing it with single payer is only a distraction. Except in cases like the City Council announcing its support for infrastructure projects like building tunnels under the Hudson and other issues with a direct impact on our community, I think City Hall should be for city issues.”

Starace, a 14-year resident, said, “I am not a supporter of his administration for many reasons, both personal and professional, but at its core I do not believe that Trump’s focus is to serve the best interests of the people of our nation.”

Starace added, “There are many examples including his general intolerance for many of our citizens and his unwillingness to work with anyone who disagrees with him. And an issue close to me which is his interest in setting the labor movement back years. Do I believe national politics has a place in local politics? I intend to be a council person for everyone in Hoboken, not just those who agree with me on national issues. I think it is incumbent on all of us to find our points of common ground and work together.”

Aibel said he doesn’t support Trump.

“My immediate reaction to the question was simply, ‘no’ and ‘no,’ ” he said. “But the question deserves a closer look. Is it intended as a referendum on our views on national issues and the Trump Administration’s positions and conduct? If I say I do not support the current administration, would I be unpatriotic or subversive? If I say I do support the current administration, would I be labeled a Republican (oh my) or a Republican sympathizer? The question answers itself: partisan party politics or political beliefs cannot be a litmus test for individual community members seeking a City Council seat in a nonpartisan election.”

“But if party politics were a measure of a council person’s qualification for office,” he added, “let me say that I am a lifelong, card carrying and voting liberal Democrat. What we all have in common is an extreme distaste for the current bipartisan dysfunction in Washington. Does this matter in local politics? Yes – the toxic political environment in Washington provides a model of disservice to the public at the national level. I cannot change the result of last year’s presidential election, change policy or direction in Washington or stop the dysfunction. But I can and will make a difference as at-large council member for all the residents of Hoboken.”

Romano’s ticket

As for Romano’s ticket, Laini Hammond, when reached by phone, declined to answer questions herself, saying all questions should be directed to campaign spokesperson Pablo Fonseca.

Fonseca said on her behalf, “She absolutely does not support the Trump Administration.”

Incumbent councilman Mello, who has served on the council for the past eight years, said, “I’m probably one of the truest Democrats on the council.” He added, “I do not support the Trump administration or what it stands for. I understand it matters a lot to Hoboken residents who are affected by his policies.”

As of press time, Romano had not announced a third person on his slate.

More issues

Most of the candidates brought up several local issues of importance, including traffic, parking, flooding, overdevelopment, aging infrastructure, high taxes, a need for indoor recreational space.

“The parking crisis, shortage of residential units, and the tax burden are some of the issues I’m focused on,” said Einstein.

Gardiner said he was focused on five main issues; including preventing overdevelopment by limiting residential development in the southern NJ Transit project and in the northwest.

Doyle cited “displacement of residents and loss of historical character” due to development.

For much more on the candidates and the election, read the Hoboken Reporter over the next three months. Send comments, questions, and letters of 500 words or fewer to editorial@Hudsonreporter.com and always include an address and phone number.

You can leave comments on this story by emailing editorial@hudsonreporter.com and put Hoboken in the subject head.

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