This past Halloween, Frank Raia, who was a candidate for Hoboken City Council in 2013, and Dio Braxton, who worked for Raia’s campaign, were charged with allegedly trying to buy votes in an effort to defeat a Hoboken referendum for rent control during the 2013 election.
A week later, Lizaida Camis, 55, who was charged earlier this year in the same scheme, pleaded guilty.
Even if the charges against Raia and Braxton eventually prove groundless, some people believe the charges may have a significant impact on the Hoboken council election in November 2019, because at the core of the charges is the alleged misuse of vote by mail.
Insiders claim that vote by mail – once called absentee ballots – has become a key tool for controlling how people vote in an election, and can sometimes make a difference in the outcome.
A box full of such ballots helped Peter Cammerano get elected mayor in 2009, a seat he held for two weeks before he was indicted in the infamous federal probe called Bid Rig III.
For decades, vote by mail has allowed candidates to “pay” for votes in various ways. While Raia has been accused of allegedly offering $50 per vote, other candidates over the years have paid for votes in other ways — such as giving potential voters lottery tickets, or even jobs working on the local campaign.
The idea of buying votes is not new. Even infamous Jersey City Mayor and political boss Frank Hague engaged in such activities. But in the past, candidates could not absolutely be assured that someone who said he or she would vote for a candidate actually did when the voting machines were turned off.
Vote by mail removes all doubt, since a candidate or campaign representative can sit beside the voter, watch the voter fill out the form, and seal the envelop.
Some believe the accusations against Raia may create a chilling effect and cause other candidates to shy away from using vote by mail in upcoming elections.
Others, however, claim the indictment will not keep others from continuing the practice since winning an election overrides the potential for being accused of manipulating an election.
Runoff will make a difference
What is expected to change Hoboken politics for the next election and for future elections is the recently-restored runoff system
Voters overwhelming approved a referendum that will require candidates to get more than 50 percent of votes cast in an election or require the two highest vote-getters to face off again in a runoff.
Many observers credit Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s 2013 reelection victory to the lack of a runoff.
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Zimmer successfully backed a referendum ending the runoff system in Hoboken. This allowed her to win with a less than 50-percent majority when she ran for reelection in 2013, when the overall vote was split among three tickets. Some believe that Zimmer then may have brokered a deal with Raia to support a third ticket in order to allow her to win.
Supposedly, Zimmer was planning on naming Raia as one of Hoboken’s representatives to the North Hudson Sewerage Authority, a scheme that later failed when a majority of the council voted against him.
This lack of runoff also contributed to Ravi Bhalla being elected mayor in 2017, when he also received less than 50 percent of the total votes cast.
“This is the end for Bhalla,” said one political observer in Hoboken. “Not only won’t he get his ward candidates elected in 2019, he won’t get himself re-elected in 2021 with a runoff.”
Some, however, do not believe Bhalla will seek re-election and may have his eye on higher office, perhaps a seat in the House of Representatives.
Will Fulop leave office before his term is up?
With the way some members of the Jersey City council are acting recently, you have to think they know something nobody else does.
Several politicos appear to be positioning themselves to run for mayor even though the next election is still nearly three years away.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop won re-election in 2017 with 78 percent of the vote, a landslide of such proportions you might think he could be mayor for life.
But a number of political snafus may well have made him a prisoner of City Hall, unable to pursue higher office in the future.
His sudden decision in late 2016 not to run for governor came as a shock to many of his political allies. His supporters then assumed Fulop would pursue the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Robert Menendez. This was based on the belief Menendez would be convicted of corruption. When Menendez was not, Fulop then was part of a plot to take over the Hudson County Executive’s office. This turned out to be one of the most notable political blunders in recent memory when Amy DeGise beat Union City Mayor Brian Stack for chair of the HCDO.
Fulop, Union City Mayor and State Sen. Brian Stack, along with Bhalla and West New York Mayor Felix Roque, needed the HCDO chair in order to guarantee a takeover of the county executive in the 2019 June primary.
Fulop went on to further offend Menendez when he sat on his hands during Menendez’s heated campaign for re-election in November.
This may spell doom for Fulop, because Democratic leadership is already looking for someone to challenge him in 2021. Some believe he will step down as mayor within the next year.
But don’t count on it; Fulop has already had T-shirts printed saying “Fulop in 2021.”
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