Many Hobokenites still undecided about mayoral race

As six candidates clash, voters speak out
Even though residents are getting flooded with campaign literature, many are still doing research to make up their minds.
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Even though residents are getting flooded with campaign literature, many are still doing research to make up their minds.

Despite the recent bevy of mailers and candidates knocking on doors, many Hoboken residents said last week that they are still deciding whom to support in the Nov. 7 election for mayor and three council seats. Six people are running for mayor and 14 are vying for council.
The Reporter’s recent article contrasting the six mayoral candidates’ experience, positives, and negatives can be read by heading to http://tinyurl.com/hobokenmayoral. If you have thoughts, questions, or letters, email editorial@hudsonreporter.com.
The Reporter will host what should be a lively mayoral debate this week in its offices. Video will be posted on the internet soon after.

How the mayor’s race breaks down

Incumbent council member Ravi Bhalla, who was endorsed by Mayor Dawn Zimmer, is facing two other council people — Michael DeFusco and Jen Giattino, both of whom have been allied with Zimmer in the past – as well as current County Freeholder and former Police Captain Anthony Romano. The four officials also face local activist Ronald Bautista and business owner Karen Nason.
Zimmer held a surprise press conference in June and endorsed Bhalla to succeed her, forcing a split among Zimmer allies, some of whom encouraged Giattino to enter the race. DeFusco had announced an intention to run several months before Zimmer dropped out, and had broken with Zimmer on a few issues while on the council.
The candidates with the most money and fundraising mettle have been spent much of it on ads, mailers, and their campaign staffs, while independent candidates like Nason have said they can’t afford to have a staff. With so many candidates splitting various voter bases, there’s no telling who will slide into the seat.
Hoboken did away with runoff elections in 2012; thus, whoever gets the most votes will automatically get the spot, even if they garner less than 25 percent of the vote.

Dim bulbs: Mailers go negative

Until last week, the candidates’ mailers have focused on their platforms rather than attacking opponents, although Bhalla has repeated taken a stand against the administration of Donald Trump in his mailers (presumably to also draw attention to opposing candidates who are registered Republicans.)
Usually, the most negative (and sometimes misleading) mailers appear in the final days before the election so they can’t be fact-checked by the press, sometimes slipped under residents’ doors as “midnight fliers” intended to convince tenants that they will lose their apartments if this or that person is elected.
While there were no such misleading fliers last week, some candidates did start to go negative in their mailers last week. DeFusco’s glossy one-page mailer listed specific problems with Bhalla, Romano, and Giattino. Meanwhile, Giattino’s camp sent out a folded mailer full of negative photos of situations in Hoboken, with the cover of the mailer in black and white showing uptown streetlights that appear to be out of commission. “Are nearly half the streetlights on your block dark, too?” it asked. “Hoboken deserves a mayor who can…keep the lights on, the streets pothole free and City Hall responsive to our neighborhood needs!” However, Giattino has almost never publicly spoken out against Mayor Zimmer during her six years on the council, until recently. When asked about this three weeks ago by the Reporter, Giattino said she handled differences behind the scenes during those six years.
Last week, many residents of this somewhat transient town – when interviewed on the street — said they haven’t had a chance to do enough research on the candidates to decide, but they intend to do so in the remaining weeks.

Residents sound off

Those who want to vote on Nov. 7 must register to do so by Oct. 17, according to the Hoboken City Clerk’s office. The office will have late night registration on Oct. 13, Oct. 16, and Oct. 17 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The office is located in City Hall at 94 Washington St.
Eric Kramer, who moved her only a month ago, said last week, “I’ve been blasted by the candidates leaving stuff under my door. I honestly don’t even look at it and just throw them away. I guess some of them sneak into my building.”
He said he needs to do more research to decide who he’ll support. He added that since he commutes to New York, any candidate who focuses on transportation to and from the city would be a person he’s interested in.
“I have no idea who is running,” said Doug, a resident of 10 years who declined to give his last name. “I don’t pay attention to local elections. I have better things to do with my time and I only rent here, so it’s not like it will really impact me.”
However, renters like Doug are affected by local government in many ways: property taxes and utilities can figure into local rents, and previous administrations have suggested amending rent control laws and protections. Tenants are also affected by regulations on restaurants and other businesses, car sharing, bike sharing, recreation programs, parkland, parking, and many other issues.
Rebecca Stern, a resident of almost four years, said she is interested in candidates who care about storm preparedness and cutting down on flooding, as well as improving the city’s aging water infrastructure and supporting the schools, since she has two young children. She said she doesn’t care about parking concerns because she believes Hoboken is very pedestrian friendly and she doesn’t own a car.
She said she needs to do more research, but is leaning toward Bhalla because he “seems to be the most experienced” and because his kids are in the schools. (Currently, his children attend a charter school in the city. They previously attended Brandt and Wallace elementary schools.)
Stern said that also, “He has talked a lot about infrastructure improvements and storm preparedness.”
She said she plans to speak to the candidates, as she always sees them around town. She says she wants to do more research on Giattino.
She said she isn’t a fan of the fact that Freeholder Romano is running for re-election to freeholder and for mayor at once. Romano has said in the Reporter that if elected to both spots, he’ll become the mayor.
A resident who has lived here a year said he has seen the signs for the candidates up around town but hasn’t looked into the race much.
“I probably won’t research it until the week of,” he said.
Konstantine, a Hoboken resident of 30 years, said, “My mailbox is full daily… it’s all boiler plate stuff. They all essentially say the same thing: ‘Vote for me, not the other guy.’”
He says his biggest concern is fiscal responsibility.
“The taxes in town are causing families to leave,” he said. “They can’t afford their child’s education.”
He said that as of now, he is “intrigued” by Councilman DeFusco. “He thinks this town should be more diverse in so much as not just families,” he said. “The past administration was all about families and kids.”
He added, “I am losing a lot of really great neighbors. There aren’t enough places for them to afford to live in town because one-bedrooms are disappearing… it is all three bedrooms being built.”
His comments may surprise the families who have complained publicly about a lack of three-bedrooms being built in town. And some existing three-bedrooms have been rented to groups of roommates.
Konstantine noted that DeFusco has stood up to Zimmer at times, something that the other candidates – except for Nason – have rarely if ever done in public.
“Out of the candidates running, a lot of them pandered to her,” he said. “DeFusco didn’t.”
He noted, “He announced he was running before she announced she was dropping out. That took guts. I like guts. Now the people running who supported her are finding fault with her, and that’s just hypocrisy.”

Word of mouth

Ronald Bautista and Karen Nason, both independent candidates for mayor, are relying on word of mouth and their websites to reach voters. According to their last state ELEC filings, Bautista had a closing balance of $1,272.46 on July 17 and Nason had a closing balance of $4,146.73 on Aug. 7.
As a contrast, DeFusco had a closing balance of $113,046 in donations as of July 17, and Bhalla had a closing balance of $84,380.19 as of July 18. Giattino and Romano both have yet to file their funds, and the next fundraising deadline is Oct. 10.
“I have been knocking on doors since day one,” said Nason. “I don’t even have a campaign manager. I don’t have money or funds close to the money Councilman DeFusco has. It’s not about the money from contributors in Bergen County or outside of town; it’s about the people in Hoboken. I am working my butt off and people know me and hear me. Actions speak volumes.”

Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.