Musical chairs in Bayonne
The resignation of 1st Ward councilman Thomas Cotter in Bayonne and his subsequent hiring as the head of that city’s Department of Public Works has opponents of Mayor Jimmy Davis screaming foul.
While there is nothing illegal about the move, Davis’ opponents claim this is another form of patronage – especially because the City Council earlier this year voted for pay raises for some of its department heads.
Cotter’s resignation also sets into motion a whole series of shifts, including the naming of a temporary replacement and setting up a special election.
Rumors suggest that Neil Carroll III will be named as a temporary replacement. He is the grandson of former Freeholder Neil Carroll and a tip of the hat to his years of service.
The elder Carroll has been grooming the younger for a political career, and this appears to be the kickoff of that career.
Whether young Carroll will have the backing to win a special election is another matter.
This election will be limited to the residents of the first ward. But it will be a test of Davis’ political strength – after what proved to be somewhat an embarrassing outcome in this year’s Board of Education election.
People are already lining up to run. This may likely include someone backed by former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell – who is credited for helping Michael Mulcahy win a seat on the school board this year.
O’Donnell, who was beaten in his mayoral bid by Davis in 2017, is seen as still a viable challenger in 2021. His ability to get a candidate elected to the first ward may be critical, not just to prove the success of his machine, but to get a critical voice on the council.
Who are all these people?
One of the most common observations on Nov. 6 involved all the unfamiliar people who showed up at the polls.
Driven by a national agenda that had people coming out for and against GOP candidates backed by President Donald Trump, the election saw an unusual spike in voting that spilled over into local elections such as those for school board.
Some candidates such as those in Jersey City saw a record-setting spike in votes that may not have had anything to do with their own credentials.
“People just came in, voted on top, and seemed to vote for the first people they saw in the other elections,” said one school board candidate in Bayonne. Predictions went out the window. Ballot position appeared to be the biggest deciding factor.
This includes Bayonne, where Leo Smith and Ava Finnerty both managed to finish well against a slate of candidates backed by Davis.
“If you were on the top or near the top, you did well,” said a political observer from North Hudson.
Another deciding factor may have been name recognition. Voters who may not have voted in years may have looked for names they remember. This appeared to help Smith in Bayonne, whose brother, Mark, was mayor for several years.
But another significant factor throughout Hudson County may also have been a candidate’s close association with Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who was caught in a tight battle with GOP candidate Bob Hugin.
Many of those who came out this year in Hudson County appeared to be supporting Menendez because of Hugin’s ties to Trump.
Local issues reflected by national politics
While the numbers may have been skewed, the sentiment in places like Jersey City and West New York was not.
The vote in Jersey City clearly went to candidates who were pro-teacher’s union and against Schools Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles.
For a number of local activists, Lyles has had too comfortable a relationship with former GOP Gov. Christopher Christie. So the school vote that elected candidates with a history of being critical of Lyles may also have been generated by an anti-GOP vote at the top of the ticket.
In West New York, Rep. Albio Sires flexed his political muscles which helped see a landslide victory for the school board ticket he backed. This ticket included his wife.
Sires also won reelection to The House of Representatives, helping Democrats to regain control there. While not quite not as potent a win as Democrats had hoped for nationally, in New Jersey, Democrats won a number of seats formerly held by the GOP.
Sires has strong ties to Menendez, and this may have helped puff up his victory numbers as well as those for his Board of Education candidates.
This bodes ill for Mayor Felix Roque, against whom Sires is expected to run a slate of candidates in next May’s municipal election.
Hoboken goes back to the future
The overwhelming passage of a referendum restoring runoffs for municipal elections in Hoboken may well spell serious problems for Mayor Ravi Bhalla.
With ward elections slated for next November, Bhalla could actually lose control of the City Council. Although he faces opposition on the council currently, Bhalla has managed to put together coalitions that allow him to get his agenda passed on most issues.
This could change after next year’s election if the opposition wins ward seats.