New Acting Mayor Dawn Zimmer said last week that some of her decisions have caught City Hall employees off guard.
“It’s going take a while for people to get used to me,” she said. “I have a different style, a more down-to-earth style.”
One employee asked Zimmer if she wanted a parking placard for City Hall, but she refused and instead had a bike rack installed.
“I feel like I hit the ground running,” she said.
So far, she’s “just about met all the employees just to say, ‘This is an extremely difficult situation’…I just want them to know that I understand that,” she said.
With the city in the shadow of the former mayor’s resignation on corruption charges and bracing for yet another election on Nov. 4, Zimmer is focusing on governing.
Even though Zimmer’s future as permanent mayor is not yet secured, she made many decisions in her first week in City Hall.
She notified most of the six new department directors – who had been hired a month earlier by former Mayor Peter Cammarano but not yet approved by the council – that their jobs would be subject to an open call for resumes. Other positions may be eliminated or vacated.
“It’s going take a while for people to get used to me.” – Dawn Zimmer
They also reinstated a 10 percent reduction of the mayor’s salary that had been previously enacted in the budget crisis by the council under Mayor David Roberts.
This reduces Zimmer’s salary from $129,894 to $116,904.
Someone else’s cabinet
Zimmer guaranteed last week that Cammarano’s intended directors would be considered equally with any other applicants for the directorships. She announced at the council meeting that the city was opening the search for department heads for Environmental Services, Human Services, and Community Development, along with a previously unfilled position of director for the Hoboken Parking Utility. The current HPU head, John Corea, is not considered a director. Ex-Mayor David Roberts had hired him under the title “program monitor” during his term in order to avoid having to put him to a council vote. He will have to apply for the directorship if he wants to stay at the HPU.
Sources inside City Hall claimed Zimmer was advised by Fiscal Monitor Judy Tripodi to wait until a permanent mayor is chosen in November to begin a search for cabinet of directors, but Zimmer said that was not true.
“I think it’s extremely important to have an open process,” Zimmer said Thursday. “It’s never too soon. I think it’s important for me to get the work of the city done as quickly as possible.”
Cammarano had moved Director John Pope from Human Services to Environmental Services, but now under Zimmer, Pope may be asked to apply for his former job rather than his new one. Pope said he would be applying for either job or both, depending on how Zimmer handles the process.
Former Environmental Services Director Jim Ronga was displaced by Pope, but can be reconsidered for the position under Zimmer. A source said that he plans to apply.
If Ronga returns, Pope could apply to go back to his position in Human Services, displacing former Councilwoman Terry LaBruno. LaBruno also said she would re-apply for her position.
Community Development Director Todd Poole, hired a month ago, will also re-apply, sources say. He has economic development experience in New Brunswick, Lakewood, Camden, and at the state level. He also owns his own planning consultation firm, 4Ward Planning LLC.
Cammarano hand-selected each candidate and presented them to the council for approval. The council delayed their vote until they could interview the candidates, but indefinitely postponed the interviews after Cammarano was arrested for corruption in late July.
Roberts had hired John Corea, a former City Council candidate who had a checkered past on Wall Street, to run the Parking Utility years ago. Last week, Zimmer opened the process to fill an HPU directorship and encouraged Corea to submit his resume.
No matter what, the position of “program monitor” is civil service-protected, so Corea must remain in that position, fill the same position in another city department, or be removed from his position with cause. He cannot be replaced like other directors, who work at the will of the mayor.
After David Roberts was elected mayor in 2001, his former campaign manager, Michael Lenz, had lobbied for the position, several sources say. He ended up being the town’s chief financial officer for a time. Currently, Lenz has a county job.
Lenz, a Zimmer ally, said on Friday that he has no intention of applying for any of the director positions right now, but did put his name into consideration for a volunteer commissioner seat on the Housing Authority board and on the Municipal Hospital Authority board.
What about the others?
Zimmer did not mention the departments of Finance or Public Safety at the meeting, nor did she mention the positions of chief of staff and city attorney. But when asked about this Thursday, she addressed those jobs.
The Finance Department is headed by Nick Trasente, who was appointed by Tripodi, not the City Council. He will remain in his position, Zimmer said.
New Public Safety Director Angel Alicea has a position as an administrative go-between for the police and fire chiefs. The job was unfilled during Roberts’ term – the mayor assumed the duty – until Roberts appointed retired firefighter Bill Bergin to the post in the wake of the infamous SWAT investigations. At the time, both Fire Chief John Cassesa and Police Chief Carmen LaBruno were about to retire and Bergin was brought in to stabilize the departments.
Bergin worked full-time in his role, but he was hired in a part-time position at roughly $28,000.
Cammarano filled the position with Alicea, a Union City detective who was on Cammarano’s council slate, for the same pay. But according to Zimmer, Cammarano was planning to increase the salary at some point in the future.
Alicea confirmed that Cammarano was considering the salary bump. “[The pay] is insulting to a professional like myself,” he said last week.
Zimmer said, “Right now I’m in the process of evaluating whether we need a public safety director.”
She also confirmed that she will not be hiring a chief-of-staff, a position that had been slated to cost the city $125,000 annually under Cammarano. Cammarano’s chief of staff, Joe Garcia, resigned after Cammarano was arrested.
City Attorney Steven Kleinman was scheduled to stay in his position until he and his fiancée marry in September, but Zimmer may ask him to stay on longer as a consultant.
Zimmer said she is currently reviewing the operations of the Law Department and devising a transition plan. Cammarano had brought in Harvard-educated attorney Jason Orlando, who was previously working at the state Attorney General’s office, to succeed Kleinman starting in September. But Orlando’s future with the city is up in the air, according to sources, and he may be sent packing by next week.
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Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at email@example.com. Artie Lange, Beth Mason discussed for mayor
Acting Mayor Dawn Zimmer has made clear her intention to run for permanent office in the Nov. 4 mayoral contest. Because it will take place at the same time as a heated gubernatorial election, it may draw more votes than the average municipal election.
Residents are already talking about possible challengers to Zimmer.
Councilwoman Beth Mason, who placed third in the May election for mayor and missed out on the runoff in June, wasted no time in mentioning herself as a possible candidate for the Nov. 4 showdown.
She released a statement on Friday, July 31, while she was on vacation and just hours after Zimmer was sworn as acting mayor.
“[M]any of my supporters from across the city have asked me whether I intend to run for mayor in November’s special election,” she wrote. “In a time of crisis, people are clearly looking for a viable alternative who can unite the people of Hoboken to fix the city’s problems. As a person who has been a corporate executive living here for over 25 years and who has been a good government advocate all of my life, I am confident that I have the experience and vision this city needs to move forward. I am taking this opportunity to discuss my future plans with my family and I plan on making a final decision announcing my plans in the near future.”
Mason became a known entity in the city years ago by using lawsuits to force the city to open up public records. However, she angered some last year with decisions on extending a city tax deal for the moderate income Church Towers development, and other issues.
Recently, Mason has been touting a development plan for the northwest sector of the city that could bring a minor league ballpark there.
When asked about her future on Wednesday, Mason said that discussing her plans was “inappropriate at this time” and declined to set a timetable for announcing her candidacy.
“Right now, I’m trying to work with this mayor to get some stuff done,” she said. “I’m not a candidate now.”
City Attorney Steven Kleinman was still researching when petitions need to be submitted for placement on the ballot in November.
As far as he could tell, petitions will be due on Sept. 15 for interested candidates for the no-runoff, winner-take-all affair.
In addition, someone started a Facebook group last week to push Artie Lange, a comedian and Howard Stern sidekick who lives uptown, as a candidate.
Lange was recently charged with Driving While under the Influence and is known for his problems with substance abuse. While this may give him similar qualifications to several local politicos, he has not endorsed the Facebook group “Artie Lange for Mayor of Hoboken 2009.” However, the group has 76 members.
Lange has endorsed Hoboken council candidates in the past.
Last week, rumors circulated about whether Frank Raia, a real estate developer, former Board of Education president, and lifelong Hobokenite would enter the race.
Two sources claimed he told them he was going to run. However, Raia denied the rumors while on vacation in the Bahamas. He said has not made any decision yet.
Even a few of his supporters recognized his close personal relationship with Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, one of the 44 persons arrested in the FBI corruption sting, and said it may be a reason for Raia to sit this one out.
To comment on this story, go to www.hudsonreporter.com. – TJC