Hoboken’s divided post-election atmosphere nearly rivals the national political scene.
Supporters of Mayor Ravi Bhalla have returned to the Hoboken cold war rhetoric of “us” vs. “them.” These die-hards are trying to paint anyone who disagrees with Bhalla as in league with the devil or supporters of the evil empire.
In the past, reformers were able to disparage opponents by claiming “the other side” was part of the culture of corruption. In such campaigns of the past, reformers claimed that anyone associated with “old Hoboken” was corrupt, or at least tolerated corruption.
This rhetoric should have changed with the last election, when “reformers” split into two camps, those who supported Bhalla in the election, and those that supported 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino. But unable to let go of a good political routine, Bhalla supporters are currently claiming that Giattino and her supporters went over to “the dark side” of the political spectrum, and are aligning her with Councilman Michael Russo and Councilman Michael DeFusco.
Unfortunately, these labels no longer apply, and so making the case against Giattino won’t work as well as it did when reformers used the technique in the past.
Giattino, whether Bhalla people like it or not, remains firmly in the reformer camp.
The current split in reformers is similar to one that took place a decade ago after the failed effort of Carol Marsh to become mayor. Marsh and other early reformers such as Michael Lenz and Tony Soares were shunted aside in a power play by then-2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, who tried to take over the reform movement.
Lenz and others scrambled and eventually supported Dawn Zimmer for a City Council seat, which she later brokered into a run for mayor.
Mason made an alliance with Russo, which forever cast her out of the reformer movement, and allowed Zimmer supporters to paint her as part of Old Hoboken.
But Zimmer’s ascension to power also cast aside early reformers. Lenz lost influence. Soares, discouraged by Zimmer’s lack of attention to the business community, shifted alliances as well.
In the last election, Lenz became part of the brain trust behind Giattino. Soares became a supporter of DeFusco.
While Bhalla retained the bulk of Zimmer supporters, he lost control of the City Council, and can no longer claim sole leadership of reformers.
While Bhalla people try to paint Giattino as part of the Old Hoboken crowd, in truth, she, along with Peter Cunningham and Tiffanie Fisher, have become a huge swing vote. They wield powerful leverage over Bhalla’s agenda, and if unhappy with the direction the mayor takes, can vote against him.
Watch what you ask for
The fact that state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack has a clear pathway to becoming the next chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) was a secret to no one.
But what shocked many old time members of the Democratic elite was to hear state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco endorse Stack.
Few political rivalries have been so contentious as the one between Stack and Sacco. Their dispute over the last decade will likely go down in history side by side with John V. Kenny against Frank Hague, and Robert Janiszewski against Jerry McCann.
Stack and Sacco have the most powerful political machines in Hudson County, and over the last decade or so, Sacco has retained tight control over the HCDO, first through one-time Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, and most recently through former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
Partly due to combat on a state level, Prieto’s leadership role has diminished and likewise Sacco’s. Many people presume control will have to pass to Stack, who remains stronger than ever partly due to his savvy support of GOP Gov. Christopher Christie, and most recently, newly-elected Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
But running the HCDO is a demeaning task, forcing the chairman and his staff to raise funds from a powerful set of mayors who are the real power in Hudson County. Janiszewski reinvented HCDO fundraising, turning to modern techniques to raise funds.
The HCDO, like most county political organizations, gets around some of the rules for elections as outlined by Title 19 in state statutes, often giving endorsements to candidates in primaries. Under Janiszewski, candidates were given a quota of how much they had to raise or risk not getting HCDO support.
But since Janiszewski, HDCO fundraising has been more haphazard, and the organization has struggled to fund itself. Instead of threats, the HCDO chairman has had to grovel to get candidates and political leaders to open their change purse to give.
Stack’s fundraising in Union City has rivaled any in the state, having at least two avenues, a very powerful civic organization side by side with a more typical election fund.
If Stack takes control of the HCDO, he will likely not reinvent the wheel, but will use his own political machine as a model for the county. This could become a huge boon for the financially ailing HCDO.
Promise them anything
Two weeks into his new job as governor, Phil Murphy already has poor poll numbers, with only 35 percent of adults in the state approving of his job performance.
Conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind polling institute, the poll showed that nearly 21 percent disapproved, while 40 percent had no opinion.
This may indicate the dangerous ground Murphy treads on in promoting an extremely progressive agenda in a state that does not – except for places like Jersey City – reflect an extreme progressive viewpoint.
This 35 percent approval rating, compared to 48 percent Christie had when taking office, may reflect a population that is nervous about the price tag of programs Murphy is proposing.
While the progressive parts of the state applaud many of his programs, many areas of the state are much more conservative fiscally than he is, and with changes in the federal tax code, may well be nervous about impact of Murphy policies on local taxes.
The new federal tax code limits writeoffs for property taxes from federal income tax to $10,000. Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation. Several research groups believe the lack of writeoffs for full property taxes will cause a fall in the resale values of homes, and may well cause the housing market to stall.
At the same time, many of the programs Murphy is proposing may well increase state budget spending, and force Murphy to seek new avenues of revenue.
While Murphy is looking to legalize marijuana – a very lucrative proposition for state tax revenues – and raising the state’s tax on earnings over $1 million, these things may not offset the cost of new programs he is proposing.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.