In Bayonne’s May 8 municipal elections, 12,047 people voted for mayor, with incumbent Mayor James Davis taking in 57 percent, or 6,909 votes. Davis’s slate of five incumbent council members swept challengers running with former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, who garnered 4,593 of the mayoral votes, or 38 percent. Dr. Mitchell Brown with 528 votes, got 4.4 percent of the vote.
Voter turnout was slightly lower than the last mayoral election on May 13, 2014, which saw 12,846 votes cast for mayor. That race was a lot closer and resulted in a runoff election where 15,928 votes were cast. Davis won 51 percent of the vote in the following June 10 runoff election against then-incumbent Mayor Mark Smith, whose administration hired Jason O’Donnell as its Public Safety Officer.
“The truth is, it was a relief knowing that I’m coming here for the next four years to finish what I started,” Davis said of showing up to work the next day, May 9.“What I was worried about was getting this started and turning this around and not being able to finish it. The best feeling was coming to work the next day and everyone just went right back to it. The campaigning was finally over.”
On campaign night, Davis supporters gathered at Villa Maria. Within a half hourof polls closing, Davis supporters spilled onto Broadway, where the block was closed to traffic. O’Donnell and his supporters, meanwhile, were gathered on the other end of Broadway at the Chandelier Restaurant.
“We changed the conversation. We made people sit up and take notice of the fact that Bayonne is not getting its fair share,” O’Donnell reportedly said to a crowd of about 100 at around 9:30 p.m.“Don’t be despondent over this. Continue the fight. Because it’s worth it.”
Campaign season lasted eight months. In that period, Davis and his team promoted their accomplishments, debated their opponents, and navigated election rhetoric typical of campaign season, which was magnified at times on social media. Davis participated in two debates, one at the offices of the Hudson Reporter and one at Nicholas Oresko School.
“The truth is, it was a relief knowing that I’m coming here for the next four years to finish what I started.” – Mayor James Davis
“This feels like affirmation that peoplehere like what we’re doing and agree with the vision the mayor and our team has had for Bayonne. Of course, that’s rewarding,” said Bayonne City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski. “The fact that for all of us, it was a complete sweep both times, it feels great.”
“It was nice to know the margin shows where the people of Bayonne are at,” said Davis.“They wanted this change and wanted it to happen.” But Davis and his team were not without doubt.
“Before we started going out door-to-door, you always worry,” said Ashe-Nadrowski, who said she was becoming aware of the political ads against her on TV, on the internet, and in flyers. “You never know, people might believe what they see. Once we got door to door, we didn’tsee much negative.”
Ashe-Nadrowski and Juan Perez won with 30.7 and 27.8 percent, respectively. Second Ward Councilman Sal Gullace had the closest race, winning by 2.11 percentage points against Kevin Kuhl, proprietor of Kuhl’s Tavern. Davis and the team of incumbent council members have been the first to stay intact for two elections straight since 1962.
“We’ve had four years to learn from each other. The first time around, we learned, personally and professionally, what each person wants for their ward and for the city,” said Ashe-Nadrowski, who said that relationships between the council members were not as cooperative when they were first elected in 2014.
“We’re going to keep going with what we already started. We’ve done a lot, but it proves there’s a lot more to be done,” said Davis. “We heard a lot of complaints about streets in the campaign. Whether we have to do opposite-side sweeping, or other solutions, we’re going to come up with a program in the first year.”
Ashe-Nadrowski said that parking issues, such as commercial vehicles and scarce on-street parking, rose to the top on the campaign trail. She said the city is looking at options to build more public lotsand gain better tools to regulate parking rules.
After eight months, being freed from a PR whirlwind and returning to the municipal role he’s grown accustomed to, Davis said, “It was like boom, OK we’re good for four more years.”
Election season rhetoric can get ugly at times. In today’s social media culture, personal attacks on both sides inflame feelings that can take a while to burn out.
“Everywhere I’ve been around town has been positive,” said Davis. “It’s my job to make sure that when it’s over, all of us come together and continue moving the city forward. Not everyone has to agree all the time, and I’m not one to hold grudges.”
Campaign season is over, but Davis’s message of change is consistent.
“Changing the atmosphere of the city, which we’ve done so successfully, between the music and art, and fairs,” he said.“These statues, these paintings. In different art shows. Getting people out of their houses and coming face-to-face, seeing their neighbors.”
“We got to meet a lot of people who were here who we didn’t know before,” said Ashe-Nadrowski. “Our base built from this agenda, being more in touch with the people. That was one of our goals, building back that sense of community.”
Incumbent Third Ward Councilman Gary La Pelusa won with over half the vote in the three-way Third Ward council race against Air Force veteran Matt Klimansky and Zoning Board Chairman Mark Urban. La Pelusa will continue representing uptown residents living north of 34th Street. La Pelusa more than doubled the number of votes of the second closest vote-getter – Klimansky, who had 1,000 votes.
“I’m very excited to have won and regain confidence of uptown people in the Third Ward,” said La Pelusa, who was also victorious in a three-way council race in 2006 – his first for council. “I won outright in that one, too,” he said.
On election night, Councilman-at-large Juan Perez said, “This is a great moment. I feel that people gave me another chance. We’re going to continue in the right direction.”
Second Ward Councilman Sal Gullace, who won by 64 votes, thanked his family and supporters, adding, “This is great. I’m glad it’s over.”
First Ward Councilman Tommy Cotter, who represents Bergen Point, also thanked his family and supporters. His council race had the largest margin of victory, with more than 29 percentage points.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.