The City Council’s 5-4 defeat of Councilwoman Beth Mason’s non-binding resolution recommending that Mayor Dawn Zimmer rescind the impending police layoffs appears to be the loudest and possibly final fight in the council chambers before the layoff of 18 police officers and demotion of 19 senior officers becomes effective on Friday, Sept. 24.
However, some council members have suggested that agreements can be worked out, including Councilman Michael Lenz, who said during the meeting, “We can keep talking and come to a better place.”
“There is no need to lay off a single city worker, police officer, street sweeper, or anyone else.” – Hoboken PBA President Vince Lombardi
Mayor: No drop in officers on the street
At the meeting, newly-appointed Interim Corporation Counsel Mark Tabakin spoke about the possibility of retirements of senior officers, which could reduce the amount of layoffs.
“Getting the [police] contract done in and of itself could encourage retirements and reduce layoffs,” Lenz said on Thursday. “Both sides need to step up and do that…Everybody on both sides recognizes the need to cut costs, but nobody is insensitive to the pain of layoffs to the degree that we can talk constructively. I’m sure we can get to a better place. I know the mayor is committed to doing that.”
The mayor has said the layoffs will not result in a drop in officers on the street, but rather the city will work with the police to create a new deployment plan.
“I recognize that there is a great deal of concern about safety,” Zimmer said. “There will not be a reduction in police officers on the street. This will include a power shift. There will be more police officers patrolling the streets at night.”
PBA supporters spoke, sang, and chanted
Before the meeting, approximately 250 opponents of the layoff plan rallied with the Police Benevolent Association, marching throughout downtown Hoboken before arriving in front of City Hall at 5:45 p.m. The group blew whistles, held signs, and chanted, “Mayor Zimmer’s got to go!” and “Stop police layoffs! Keep Hoboken safe!”
Participants in the rally took turns with a megaphone outside of City Hall, ranging from Hoboken seniors to six-year-old Hoboken resident Marisa Bamondi.
“I’m only six years old and I know we need the police,” Bamondi said into the megaphone to a cheering crowd.
Fourth Ward candidate Tim Occhipini addressed the crowd moments after he told reporters that “it’s official” that he has filed to run for the seat.
“They are ripping the heart out of this city,” Occhipinti said of the Zimmer administration’s layoffs to the crowd of police supporters. “I stand behind you 100 percent.”
The crowd included supporters of Occhipinti, with some yelling “Vote out Lenz!”
Councilman Lenz, an ally of Zimmer, is defending his seat in a special election on Nov. 2 against Occhipinti.
Senior citizens from Hoboken were bussed in by the PBA, and arrived at around 6 p.m.
Hoboken PBA President Vince Lombardi reiterated his stance before the meeting.
“There is no need to lay off a single city worker, police officer, street sweeper, or anyone else,” Lombardi said.
During the meeting, Gene Drayton, the president of the Hoboken chapter of the NAACP, spoke out against the plan to lay off officers.
“Do the right thing,” Drayton said, speaking to the council. “They did it in Passaic; they laid off 18 cops last time. The overtime budget tripled.”
‘We can come to a better place’
Council members spoke passionately about the layoffs, but the majority allied with the mayor rejected the resolution recommending Zimmer change her intentions.
The administration has announced that the layoff of 18 city workers, 18 police officers, and the demotion of 19 senior officers will save the city $2.5 million.
The city is currently operating with a surplus, which has been a point of controversy. Some say it is a surplus of around $20 million, while others point to the unrestricted cash surplus, which is $11.9 million. The city plans to spend $1.9 million to lower taxes, which will leave a $10 million unrestricted surplus. Opponents of the police layoffs say some of this is should be spent to keep the police on the job.
However, Zimmer’s decision to cut the police came from the result of a state audit that preceded the announcement of the budget surplus and concluded that the police department is overstaffed. The PBA has said the state audit is flawed, and countered with an audit of its own reaching the opposite conclusions, which Zimmer has rejected.
“We still can keep talking and come to a better place,” Lenz said. “Nobody here doesn’t appreciate cops.”
Zimmer attended the Sept. 1 meeting to introduce the budget, but was not in attendance at the Sept. 15 council meeting. She is not required to attend the meetings, but did receive some criticism for not attending by Councilwoman Theresa Castellano.
“These officers deserve a response from you, not a press release tomorrow morning,” Castellano said.
Some opponents of the mayor criticized her commitment to the city.
“I embrace all of Hoboken and I absolutely love this town,” Zimmer said in an interview on Thursday. “I was elected to serve Hoboken. I was disturbed by the comments from Councilwoman Castellano who said something to the extent of ‘this mayor hates all things Hoboken.’ It’s extremely divisive language. I would urge her to not only reconsider her words but to think about the attitude that it reflects.”
Overflow room: ‘An insult’
Lombardi also addressed the council during the public session.
“I am a little out of breath, I had to run up from the overflow room,” Lombardi said. “I was banished in the basement…the mayor is completely deaf to the majority of the citizens.”
Lombardi had previously asked the mayor and council if the Sept. 15 meeting could be moved to a location in the city that has a much larger capacity than the council chambers. Council President Carol Marsh announced on Sept. 10 that the meeting would remain at City Hall. Lombardi and some supporters of the PBA called the move an “insult” prior to the meeting.
Wednesday night the overflow room held only nine members of the public throughout some portions of the meeting, but many attendees spilled out of the council chambers and watched the meeting on a television in the lobby of City Hall.