To say Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone is running for mayor under a dark cloud is an understatement, since legal issues surrounding his alleged mishandling of Assembly aide checks are still unresolved. Yet maintaining his innocence after last fall’s indictment, Chiappone launched a partial mayor/council ticket for the municipal elections in May.
His ticket includes Ramon Veloz, candidate in the 2nd Ward, and Denis Wilbeck, a candidate for the at-large council seat.
“Faced with what I’m facing, it is easy for me not to run,” Chiappone said last week, alluding to the indictment, the case for which will not be heard again in court until next fall. “I just don’t believe Lenny [Kantor] can win against Mayor Smith.”
Faced with a choice of allowing Incumbent Mayor Mark Smith to walk back into office with only token opposition, Chiappone chose to run.
“Taxes are the big issue. We have to find a way to put the brakes on municipal spending.” – Denis Wilbeck
In some cases, several of the independent candidates are people he sees as friends and allies, and he didn’t want to have to choose between them.
Chiappone chose to run with two people he considers his closest political allies.
“I believe that with my 11 years of experience on the City Council, I am the most qualified person to run against Mayor Smith,” Chiappone said.
As in the past, one of the key issues in the upcoming campaign involves the public’s right to access information, and he said upcoming plans for development of the Harbor Station section of the former Military Ocean Terminal are hardly open for public scrutiny.
“The public has a right to know who the principals are in the company proposing to build a new mall there, and we’re being told that we can’t have that information,” he said. “And yet, the city is planning to use the anticipated sale of land there to balance this year’s budget.”
Chiappone had raised similar concerns while serving on the City Council in 2006 about anticipating income from sales of land in the municipal budget. JR Horton pulled out of the deal just after the budget was passed, causing a budget shortfall.
“I was right then and I’m right now,” he said. “The city should not anticipate money until the sale is complete. That is no way to run the city.”
Although his opponent, Mayor Smith, is running on a campaign of smaller government, Chiappone is very critical of who is being hired and how much is actually being reduced.
“I’m running because I believe I can make a positive difference as mayor,” Chiappone said. “I want to bring city government back to the people.”
Still maintaining his innocence of the charges against him, Chiappone said he knows he faces a tough road, but he is bolstered by the faith his supporters have in him.
Chiappone served as 1st Ward councilman from 1998 to 2000, then councilman at large from 2002 to 2009, when he stepped down in a political deal with a local Democratic organization, exchanging his council seat for support for his reelection to the state Assembly. However, almost immediately, the state Attorney General began an investigation that led to his indictment last fall. Chiappone believes the probe is also prompted by his political opponents who hoped to force him out of the state Assembly as well.
“But I refused to resign,” he said. “I find it interesting that I was indicted shortly after I asked the state to investigate the city’s operations down at the [former military] base.”
With the change of administration from Democrat to Republican in the State House, Chiappone’s pay as a state assemblyman was restored, and he hopes to have his committee seats restored shortly as well.
Chiappone’s council candidate, Denis Wilbeck, has run for City Council and freeholder previously. He said he decided to run this time because he saw it as an opportunity to serve his community, and to serve as a watchdog for the community in regards to how the city does business.
“Taxes are the big issue,” he said. “We have to find a way to put the brakes on municipal spending.”
Wilbeck said as councilman he could have a say in the city’s policies, and could watch closely how changes in city government affect local taxpayers.
An employee of the Bayonne School District for more than three decades, Wilbeck said he knows the people and the issues and believes he can make a difference if elected.
“I’ve always worked hard, and I hope to help the people who live in Bayonne,” he said.
Ramon Veloz ran for the at-large council seat in last November’s special election. Though he was defeated by Terrance Ruane, the election showed he did well in the 2nd Ward and among Latino voters.
The first Hispanic member of the Bayonne Rent Control Board, Veloz said he comes from a strong political tradition in his native Dominican Republican and would like to join the growing number of Dominican-Americans who are serving in elected office throughout the state.
He has also served on the Bayonne Equal Economic Opportunity’s Board of Directors, and as vice president of the not for profit Hudson County Latino Coalition.
As a business man with a store on Broadway, Veloz said he is concerned about the impact proposed malls for Route 440 will have on the traditional shopping district, and he believes – as a business owner and someone who has had dealings with shoppers over the years – that he can provide insight into what is needed to revive the Broadway shopping district.
He believes the Urban Enterprise Zone and Bayonne Town Center Management Corporation have not done enough, and as a councilman he would seek to increase their role in promoting the center of town.
“In the past, every time we’ve done something on MOTBY (the former Military Ocean Terminal), things have gotten worse on Broadway,” he said.
Three vie for mayor; 21 for council seats
Leonard R. Kantor and Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone have filed nominating petitions to challenge incumbent Mayor Mark Smith in the May 11 election for mayor.
March 18 was the last day for candidates to submit the signatures that will allow them to be considered for a position on the ballot.
This year, the council race features a total of 21 candidates, nine of whom are running to fill two at-large council seats. Four candidates have filed to run in each of the three wards, which could mean run off elections on every level.
In a municipal election, a candidate to be elected to any of the offices must get one vote more than 50 percent or a run off will be held between the two top voting candidates.
Candidates contesting for at-large seats include Christopher Amabile, Maria Karczewski, William J. Birtwistle, Thomas J. Bragen, John Budnik, Denis F. Wilbeck, Incumbent Councilman Terrence P. Ruane, Debra Czerwienski and former Council Member Mary Jane Desmond.
Councilman Vincent Lo Re, who currently serves as council president, has decided not to run for reelection. Lo Re is the longest serving councilman, having served five four-year terms, and is the longest serving council president in Bayonne history.
In the 1st Ward, Thomas J. Cotter, Ray J. Massarelli, John R. Cupo, and Agnes Gillespie are seeking to fill the seat Councilman Ted Connolly is vacating.
Although Connolly took out petitions to run, he made his official announcement that he will not be seeking reelection during the March 16 council meeting.
“I decided to spend more time with my family,” he said.
Connolly steps down after two terms as councilman.
In the 2nd Ward, Salvatore Gullace, Ramon O. Veloz, Joseph Hurley, and John Butchko are seeking to fill the seat being vacated by Halecky.
In the 3rd Ward, Incumbent Councilman Gary La Pelusa Sr. is being challenged by Michael Alonso, Deborah Noble and Raymond Greaves.
“I’m going to work hard and see what happens,” La Pelusa said when contacted about the field of candidates against him. “Although I’m concerned about someone running a negative campaign against me, I like my chances.”
Mayor Mark Smith leads a ticket that includes Ruane and Czerwienski as at-large candidates, Gillespie in the 1st Ward, Hurley in the 2nd Ward, and Greaves in the 3rd Ward.
Although he originally proposed to run a full slate against Smith, Chiappone said he would run with Wilbeck and Veloz.
“There are enough other good independent candidates in the 1st and 3rd wards,” he said.