Elections aren’t won by accident – nor are they won all in one day.
For the Hoboken municipal election, momentum will matter more than anything in an election that may be too close to call. The candidate who can create momentum leading up to the election is the one that will likely come out on top.
“The next mayor could win with as little as 18 percent of the vote,” said one political observer.
This would be unprecedented in Hoboken. In 2012, Mayor Dawn Zimmer convinced voters to do away with runoff elections. This was clearly a calculated move, since she knew she could not muster the 50 percent of the total vote to retain her seat. This set the stage for the 2013 election, in which the anti-Zimmer vote was split between Ruben Ramos and Tim Occhipinti, allowing Zimmer to sweep into reelection carrying her council candidates with her with just over 40 percent of the total vote.
To this day, some believe the Occhipinti campaign was deliberately encouraged by Zimmer to split the opposition vote.
This year’s mayoral race in Hoboken shows the folly of Zimmer’s doing away with the runoff election. While both those camps, one associated with Old Hoboken and one bearing the label “reformer,” are split, the reform camp appears most divided, leaving it vulnerable to a victory from one of the candidates associated with Old Hoboken.
Election may depend on each mayoral candidate’s ticket
Political observers outside Hoboken see 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino has having significant reformer support. While her council running mates Jim Aibel, Jason Ellis, and Sal Starace don’t seem overly inspiring, endorsements from reform council members Peter Cunningham and Tiffanie Fisher give Giattino a voter base upon which to generate momentum and lock down a significant percentage of the former Zimmer support Councilman Ravi Bhalla would otherwise get in his bid to become mayor.
Bhalla apparently has more money than God, and has been spending it liberally with as many as three high-quality mailers per week to the entire city. The funding comes from religious and ethnic groups with which he is affiliated, as well as his strong connections in the legal community.
Bhalla, who is giving up his at-large seat to run for mayor, is running with reform councilman Jim Doyle and two fresh faces to local politics, Emily Jabbour and John Allen (Allen was involved in politics in Old Bridge in the past).
Councilman and mayoral candidate Michael DeFusco, who also has a huge political bankroll, went negative in his campaign literature and has not stopped.
DeFusco, who currently serves as 1st Ward councilman, is running for mayor with a council slate that includes basketball coach Andrew Impastato and commodities broker Michael Flett.
Defusco’s negative campaign has raised concerns among some political observers that voters may steer away from him because he seems too negative. But with the support of Councilman Ramos and developer/former school trustee Frank Raia, DeFusco is still a force to be reckoned with in this campaign – and was seen as the leading candidate against the reformers until Zimmer’s sudden withdrawal from the race over the summer.
Freeholder Anthony Romano’s ticket was not seen as particularly inspiring except for one candidate. While Romano successfully drafted former Zimmer-allied Councilman David Mello, the real inspired move was bringing Buddy Matthews onto the ticket. Matthews, a long time Hoboken athletics coach, will significantly boost the Romano voter base.
Romano also pins his hopes on Laini Vogel Hammond, a pharmaceutical sales representative, to help garner reformer and other new resident votes.
Romano’s alliance with Councilman Michael Russo also brings him a significant base.
With Bhalla and Giattino – and to some degree DeFusco – tapping Zimmer’s reform vote, Romano may well be able to steal this election, thanks largely to Zimmer’s moves in the previous election cycle that did away with the runoff.
But there is also the more remote possibility that this standoff between pro and anti Zimmer voters, and the huge split in both camps, could steer one of the two unaligned candidates – business owner Karen Nason or financial executive Joseph Battista — into the mayor’s office.
No matter who wins, however, it is unlikely they will be able to have a voting majority on the City Council – something Zimmer enjoyed but used ineffectively over the last four years.
The new mayor will have to make alliances with council people issue by issue, creating temporary alliances in order to further his or her agenda.
School board races in Hoboken and Jersey City are their own entities this year
Just how the Hoboken school board race fits in with the municipal election is a mystery. In the past, when school and municipal elections still took place in April and then May respectively, the earlier school election in April was often a good indicator of voters’ preferences for the municipal election in a month later in May.
With both elections now taking place simultaneously and with so many factions in the municipal race, the school election becomes meaningless as a predictor in Hoboken.
In Jersey City, however, the school election is a complete entity of itself – even though the two mayoral candidates may be supporting individual candidates.
With two people running in a special election to fill the seat vacated by John Reichert for the remaining one year, and five candidates running for three full-three-year terms, the school election is once again about philosophy, a battle between forces aligned with or against Schools Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles – although Lyles has become less of a focus than how the board does business.
Although pro-Lyle members controlled the board for several years – including during a period when she was hired and later when her contract was renewed – anti-Lyles forces retook control of the board two years ago, and are currently seeking to retain that control as three incumbents seek reelection.
Although most of the candidates support a forensic audit of school financing, behind the scenes there is a battle between former and current board members, as anti-Lyles board members seek to look more closely at the board business practices conducted during that time when pro-Lyles board members controlled the board.
Jersey City has 34 candidates running for municipal seats
The Jersey City municipal election this year is a scramble, as are most such elections.
Unlike Hoboken, which has at-large council seats up along with the mayor this year then ward council seats in 2019, all nine seats in Jersey City are up.
Some political observers say this contributes to instability in government, since often this can lead to a significant change of policy during one election cycle – such as what happened involving then-Councilman Steven Fulop beat Mayor Jerramiah Healy in 2013.
Although many see the 2017 election as a replay of the 2013 with former Healy ally Bill Matsikoudis challenging Fulop for mayor, the council races are infinitely less predictable, since there are strong candidates for various seats that are not aligned with either mayoral hopeful.
This may well create an even less predictable council no matter which mayoral candidate wins.
Until a special election allowed Councilman Chris Gadsden on the council last year, Fulop maintained a 7-2 majority. Even replacing Councilwoman Diane Coleman in Ward F with Jermaine Robinson, Fulop maintained a 6-3 majority.
Most observers believe that even if Fulop is reelected, he will either have a slim one vote majority on the council, or will lose control of the council with only four of the nine votes loyal to his agenda. On the other hand, Matsikoudis, if elected, would most likely not be able to count on control of the council either, since it is possible unaligned independents or those currently aligned with Fulop could make up a majority on the council.
In either case, Fulop or Matsikoudis will have to make deals with council members issue by issue in order to get legislation passed, a situation that has Fulop critics cheering.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.