Fisher, also a city councilwoman, backed a political opponent of Mayor Ravi Bhalla in the Hoboken mayoral election last year. Allies of Bhalla are leading the charge to replace her.
The candidate Fisher supported, Councilwoman Jennifer Giattino, was a Republican. Although Hoboken elections are non-partisan, some found the move contrary to the principles of the group.
Over the past year, the Hoboken Democratic Committee – consisting of one female and one male elected representative in each of 40 voting districts in Hoboken -- has hosted fundraisers for local Democratic candidates, canvassed for Gov. Phil Murphy, and organized phone banks for Democratic candidates in various elections.
The committee is not a government body, but rather an independent partisan group. The members of the HDC are elected during June primaries each year.
On April 2, recording secretary of the committee Rachel Hodes sent an email to committee members reminding them of the upcoming Monday evening meeting. In two earlier emails on March 26, she first said the meeting was about a “vote on changes for the leadership” and then clarified, in a subsequent email, that the meeting was actually about Chair Tiffanie Fisher.
Hodes is the fiancée of Bhalla’s deputy chief of staff, Jason Freeman. She said last week that she believes the committee is in need of a leadership change.
“The purpose of this meeting is to address leadership of the Committee,” states the most recent April 2 email. “Per the by-laws and Robert's Rules of Order, there will be a motion to rescind the vote taken on June 12, 2017 electing Tiffanie Fisher as Chair. If the vote to rescind passes, the Chair shall be deemed vacant and nominations for Chair will be accepted.”
The email also states committee members have the option to vote by proxy.
A simple majority vote is needed to elect a new chair if more than one nomination is put forth.
Last week Bhalla said he has not been encouraging members of the committee to replace Fisher, but, “I support the effort and I absolutely believe the Democratic Committee would clearly benefit from new leadership.”
He explained, “I think it’s important in any municipality in Hudson County for the Democratic mayor of a municipality, who is largely considered the de facto chair of the party in that municipality, to have the political support of the Democratic Committee chair and to have a working relationship with that chair. Despite my best efforts, that relationship is not there right now.”
Fisher and the majority of the nine-member City Council (many of whom supported various candidates other than Bhalla) has voted against Bhalla on a few key policy issues, while compromising on others.
When asked why the committee is considering her removal, Fisher said, “I think it’s a combination of not backing a Democrat in our local non-partisan mayoral election, and local politics.”
Giattino was a registered Republican when she ran for mayor against Bhalla last fall, and has since become a registered Democrat. Some were frustrated during the campaigns last year because she hesitated when asked by the media if she had voted for Donald Trump, and whether she supported him. Eventually, she said she had voted for Gary Johnson. Her reticence came at a time when ardent Democrats believed support or resistance to the president was a defining issue. She did issue a Facebook statement against the president’s actions during a hate march last year.
The Hoboken Democratic Committee bylaws state, “The officers of the Hoboken Democratic Party pledge to support, endorse or otherwise aid in their official capacity only Democratic candidates for office running in partisan and/or Democratic races. In the event any officer violates this pledge, said officer shall forfeit the office and it shall be deemed vacant.”
Hoboken’s municipal elections are nonpartisan.
It adds, “Nothing within this section shall be interpreted to prevent an individual from exercising political expression in his or her personal capacity as a voter and every accord shall be made to respect such privacy provided no advocacy is made in his or her official capacity to support a candidate in a nonpartisan election or where such advocacy would run contrary to electing a Democrat to office.”
When asked whom she would want to replace her, Fisher said, “I would like to see someone who is a committed Democrat who is not entrenched locally, and the best person for that would be Mitch Fagen.”
Fagan is a young committeeman in the 1st Ward, which is in the south of town. According to LinkedIn, he works as an attorney.
Fisher said if replaced she will still be a member of the committee and will be as active as she can be in the committee.
“A lot of my friends are in the committee and I’ll do what I can to support them and other Democrats,” she said. “I’m sad this may ultimately be the outcome. “
“I think it’s a combination of not backing a Democrat in our local non partisan mayoral election and local politics.” –Tiffanie Fisher
Fisher sent out an email to committee members on March 27, saying, “This effort to take over the committee actually started back in mid-January. I received a call then from our new mayor asking for a ‘meeting of the whole’ committee. At our executive committee (‘EC’) meeting a few hours later that night, Rachel offered a draft amendment to the by-laws for us to consider that was characterized as ‘minor wordsmithing.’ It was only later that night that I realized it contained clear language intended to remove me as Chair.”
The email also states, “When I recently met with the mayor (and Rachel who joined) to try to work together, my efforts were rebuffed. I then received the petition for the April 9 meeting, which I supported although felt the path taken was unnecessary.”
According to the bylaws the chair can call a special meeting or 30 percent of the members can call for a special meeting in writing.
“The second email you received yesterday came only after I informed the EC members driving this effort that they must be honest and transparent with you,” wrote Fisher. “About why you’re being asked to attend the meeting on April 9 and why you are being asked to surrender your vote to a proxy.”
In the email she states that she believes the mayor’s current chief of staff and his former campaign manager contacted members about the chair seat.
“No matter what the outcome of the meeting, I remain committed to fighting for and supporting Democratic values, working with Democratic committee members and pushing the Democratic agenda including among others women’s rights, supporting our middle class and gun control,” she wrote. “And I still firmly believe we can accomplish more when united, than divided.”
This isn’t the first time there appears to be a divide within the committee.
According to another email on March 12, Mayor Ravi Bhalla reached out to committee members inviting them to a meet with State Sen. Brian Stack at an invitation-only March 19 meeting.
Stack is running for the chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, the longtime county political organization (or machine, to some). But according to a March 13 email to committee members from Fisher, not everyone in the committee was invited, including Fisher.
“Mayor Bhalla did not invite the entire Hoboken Democratic Committee, only those who were on “the line” / Column E from last summer’s election, and select media,” Fisher wrote, the day after Bhalla’s email went around. “I, our committee chair, was not invited either.”
Bhalla said “The meeting was for all elected members of the Hoboken Democratic Committee to meet Senator Stack. Chair Fisher wasn’t elected [as a district representative] so she doesn’t have ability to vote in the June 12 primary to elect a new county chair. The meeting was to support Senator Stack’s efforts to be the new county chair and to secure commitments from as many voting committee members as possible to support Senator Stack’s efforts.”
He added that there were a few people he did not have emails for, which is why they did not receive the original invitation, but he later contacted them via phone to invite them.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.