Romano comes out swinging

Freeholder Anthony Romano made it clear this week that he will not change his mind and withdraw from the Hoboken’s mayor’s race. At a kickoff rally this week, Romano announced his first at-large council running mate, Laini Hammond, someone whose candidacy bridges the historic boundary line between old and new Hoboken.

Hammond’s selection shows Romano wants to building bridges and that his ticket may reflect the various constituencies in the Hoboken electorate.

“We have more surprises to come,” said Romano’s campaign manager, Pablo Fonseca, who said the ticket would announce other candidates shortly.

More importantly, his kickoff suggests that the ever-dominant force of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) may not back Councilman Michael DeFusco as was assumed.

Prior to the sudden withdrawal of Mayor Hoboken Dawn Zimmer, the HCDO appeared to be leaning towards DeFusco. But after Zimmer’s shocking announcement, some predicted a realignment of outside support.

The kickoff event had a crowd of about 200 and included a mix of political types and others from around Hudson County, including several mayors from Bergen County. Kearny Mayor Al Santos attended, as did a number of commissioners from North Bergen, members of the West New York Board of Education, and leaders of police unions.

Freeholder Anthony Vainieri – who is seen as the heir apparent to state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco – introduced Romano at the event.

This comes at a time when the one-time reformers that supported Zimmer are split, with Zimmer giving the blessing to the mayoral ambitions of Councilman Ravi Bhalla, while Councilwoman Jen Gaittino appears to have support of the previous generation of reformers who had backed the efforts of candidates such as Carol Marsh.

In the mix are several independent mayoral hopefuls, although one of them, Angelo Valente, withdrew from the mayor’s race to seek an at-large seat instead.

Also kicking off his campaign for Hoboken council was incumbent David Mello, apparently as an independent. This is somewhat of a surprise since some believed Mello would wind up on the Romano ticket.

Board of Education races will be interesting

The filing deadline for November school board races comes in midsummer and so we will shortly see battle lines being drawn in several towns, including Hoboken, Jersey City, Bayonne and West New York.

Some of the conflicts have a personal edge. In Bayonne, some sources believe Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti is expected to back a ticket against Board of Education Trustee Chris Munos in revenge for Munoz running against Chiaravalloti in the democratic primary for assembly in June.

Newly-elected board members in Bayonne will face the task of seeking a permanent replacement for former schools superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan, and perhaps dismantling some of the more expensive programs instituted under McGeehan’s watch.

The Jersey City Board of Education election poses a whole different set of issues. Schools superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles is at the heart of a continuing conflict on the split board. The pro-Lyles members managed to renew her contract before anti-Lyles candidates took control of the board. This happened during a lame duck session between the new board members election in November and when they took control of the board in January. The big question is whether or not pro-Lyles candidates can retake control of the board in the upcoming election.

Already announced is a ticket made up of incumbent trustees Amy DeGise, Gerald Lyons and Lorenzo Richardson. This is something of an odd combination, since DeGise was assumed by some to be pro-Lyles while Richardson and Lyons are not.

A huge question in the Hoboken school board election will revolve around the power vacuum left with Zimmer’s departure as mayor. Her support has always been critical in helping to keep control of the board. With her gone, will someone else step up to lead, or will opponents be able to use this to regain control?

The West New York Board of Education election will be a test of Mayor Felix Rogue’s leadership. In the past, he has successfully managed to maneuver his people to retain control.

Wishful thinking in Bayonne

Reports that Former Assemblyman Charles Mainor, who is running for mayor in Jersey City, had what is being called a “heart episode” on July 19 appear to have generated copycat rumors for other candidates in other cities – including a rumor about Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis. This may well reflect desperation among opponents trying to unseat him, but who to date have been unable to come up with a strong enough candidate to actually challenge him in May 2018.

Those most frequently named as possible candidates are former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell and Third Ward Councilman Gary LaPelusa.

There is even a rumor that suggests that Davis may not seek a second term, and that Chiaravalloti would run for mayor in his place.

This rumor has Chiaravalloti opponents grinning, pointing to the fact that Chiaravalloti’s strongest support in the primary election came not from Bayonne his home town but from Ward F in Jersey City. This was thanks to Eugene McKnight, a key political operative there.

Is Menendez negotiating with the GOP?

Meanwhile theories about U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez have taken a new turn. Operatives elsewhere in the state believe he may be in negotiations with Republican bigwigs to surrender his seat in exchange for U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors reducing or eliminating alleged corruption charges against him.

These state operatives believe that Menendez’ voting with Republicans against former President Barack Obama on issues involving Cuba and Iran may have been an intentional reach across the aisle to the GOP.

Menendez is slated to go to court in early September for what is expected to be a six-week trial. He would have to step down if convicted.

Previously, some believed he was maneuvering to delay the trial until early 2018 when Phil Murphy, a Democrat, might be sworn in as governor.

But one state-level political observer believes Menendez isn’t worried about the Democratic Party.

“He’s worried about his own survival,” this observer said, noting that with the U.S. Senate vote so close, GOP control of Menendez’s seat even for a year could be quite a bargaining chip for Menendez.

Republican Governor Christopher Christie could name a temporary replacement for Menendez until the November 2018 election. This could turn Christie into a national Republican hero rather than a New Jersey pariah.

Al Sullivan may be reached at