Mayoral candidates in Bayonne are jockeying for position to win May’s municipal elections. Rumors about former Mayor Mark Smith running for mayor are still swirling; candidates will have to submit petitions by March 5.
Recently elected Board of Education trustee, Michael Alonso, requested a nominating petition to run for mayor. All candidates need at least 300 signatures from registered voters by March 5 to run. Alonso ran unsuccessfully for the General Assembly in 2017 simultaneously with his Board of Education run.
“The mayor is the person that gets everything done,” Alonso said.“When I’m on a board with nine people, you need four other people to get something done. That’s why I’m thinking about it.”
Campaigns are expensive, so early 2018 has become fundraising season in Bayonne, with both Mayor James Davis and his challenger, former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, hosting events in recent weeks. Both campaigns have full slates of council candidates announced, with Davis running with a slate of incumbent council members.
The Davis campaign hosted more than 300 people at a fundraiser at Winners Racetrack last week, while the O’Donnell campaign will host a cocktail reception this week. Both campaigns reportedly have plenty of money to sustain a legitimate mayoral run.
At this point, the campaigns’ focus has veered away from issues. Currently, othing substantial separates the two candidates philosophically. The biggest policy criticism so far has been O’Donnell’s call to tie project labor agreements to major development projects, but an ordinance introduced at last month’s council meeting proposes to do just that.
That means this election may turn on what many elections are about: character.
“Sexting’ scandal looms
O’Donnell said that this kind of election will work in his favor if enough people begin to think that Davis had violated standards in the treatment of women.He is referring to the so-called “sexting” scandal in which a former Davis campaign worker, Stacie Percella, filed a lawsuit against Davis, accusing him of sexual harassment. “If proven true, they are simply appalling,” O’Donnell said of the allegations.
Soon after the lawsuit was filed, O’Donnell issued a press release praising recent efforts by the NJ State Legislature to update the state’s sexual harassment policies to make sexual harassment training mandatory for legislators and employees.
“It’s too late for the mayor to take responsibility for his actions,” O’Donnell said.“But if I’m elected, I will immediately review and strengthen the city’s sexual harassment policies.”
Davis has called the “sexting” messages “playful banter,” and his campaign spokesperson has repeatedly insisted the former employee is disingenuous and primarily seeking financial gain.
“It’s clear that the mayor will continue to say that the text messages are a ‘joke,’ but I don’t find the allegations to be funny,” O’Donnell said in a press release. He also said that Bayonne taxpayers, who will have to pay for the suit, won’t find it funny.
While the me-too movement sweeps the nation, it remains to be seen how it will affect the Bayonne mayoral election, with a mayor as popular as Mayor Davis. Since being elected in 2014, the real estate market has exploded, as has the stock market. And violent crime has statistically decreased.
One of the biggest problems facing Bayonne and the region is cost of living. Since the city moved to privatize its public infrastructure, water bills rose. Meanwhile, most new housing being constructed is luxury, and many of those developers will make payments in lieu of property taxes, which were increased this year by the Board of Education to make up for budgetary shortfalls.
Council members commit
Adam Semanchik, who has been a key figure in Bayonne’s theater and arts scene, said that he will run for First Ward City Council against Councilman Tommy Cotter on Mayor Davis’s ticket, and Sharma Montgomery on O’Donnell’s ticket.
“Honestly, I like them both. They’re great people. I just have a different vision for Bayonne,” said Semanchik. “I believe in better city planning. If we’re going to develop, we have to plan it right. And I have new ideas to bring to the table.”
Semanchik takes a page from the books of cities and states across the country that have been improving their communities. He looks to Louisiana, for instance, for an idea for a recycling program that recycles cigarette butts.
“I have a deep-rooted passion for our community and want to see it get better,” he said.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.