Between The Lines

Hoboken election heats up

Depending on which blogger you read in Hoboken these days, the midterm council election for ward seats may well be about a power grab by political brokers from outside Hoboken.

While Mayor Ravi Bhalla has already declared a slate of candidates to run in most of the ward elections, opposition has yet to emerge.

At least, things seem that way on the surface.

But some political observers believe that many of the candidates expected to oppose Bhalla’s ticket may well be a stealth ticket supported by the political organization of state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, or one of the captains in the Sacco political machine.

Vision Media – which is generally seen as one of the key players in the Sacco machine – apparently has begun to represent a number of council candidates, including Jen Giattino, Peter Cunningham, Tiffanie Fisher, Rubin Ramos and Michael DeFusco.

This has far-reaching implications, because the ward races are usually a testing ground for candidates who may seek to run for mayor.

Ramos ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the past, and may be positioning himself for a run against Bhalla in 2021.

At stake in November is control of the city council, which would allow the council majority to set an agenda that might clear the path for a Ramos run for mayor.

There are issues with this strategy, of course. Giattino also ran for mayor in 2017 and may want to do so again. DeFusco, who also ran for mayor in 2017, is still licking his wounds from that loss.

So a fusion ticket this year may only set the stage for yet one more confusing mayoral run similar to 2017, when Bhalla was able to capitalize on a divided opposition and win with much less than half the votes cast.

A larger question might center on why the Sacco organization would want to unseat Bhalla. Is this retribution for Bhalla’s role in trying to help state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack remove County Executive Tom DeGise last year?

Or are powerful interests reexamining the development potential of Hoboken, whose past two administrations have maintained largely anti-big-development policies?

With the Jersey City waterfront rapidity developing to the south, and Weehawken development rapidly expanding to the north, Hoboken’s mostly low-rise development philosophy may well be jeopardized.

Is Jersey City being forced to issue abatement?

Mayor Steven Fulop says he will continue to oppose new tax abatements on new development, despite a recent court ruling that would require the city to consider one for a new project in the Newport section of the city.

A lawsuit filed in June is intended to force the city to abandon a no-new-abatement policy implemented two years ago. A Superior Court ruling was issued in early July that would force the city council to consider an application that was filed with the city last December.

Instead of providing more revenue for the city, as is typical in payments in lieu of taxes under traditional abatements, the developer would dedicate the funding to the school district instead.

Critics of the Fulop Administration claim that the city short changed schools with abatements in the past, and this new development proposal would go a long way to winning allies among Fulop’s critics.

The question here is whether or not a developer can force the city to issue an abatement, which in the past has been used as an incentive to encourage developers to build in largely undesirable areas. This project is slated for one of the wealthiest and more desirable parts of the city, and would become one more in a series of luxury high rises.

Fulop said he opposes the abatement, and sees the lawsuit as a way to force the city to abandon its new policy of pushing these kinds of developments to areas other than the waterfront.

More important, the lawsuit appears to want to strip the city of its ability to regulate development, and to allow developers to write their own laws and set their own incentives, much in the way lobbyists do to development law on other levels of government.

What’s going on in Union City? 

The onetime powerful Brian Stack Civic Association appears to be dormant recently, suggesting that there may be issues involving Stack’s ability to raise money for his community events.

In the past, a rally by Stack’s civil association was breathtaking event, often designed to wow statewide dignitaries. But more important, the organization had a huge influence on local voters with its turkey distribution and its ability to hold feel-good events.

But recently, the doors to its office were shuttered and Stack appears to have relied on other organizations for his feel-good rallies. This raises questions about what happened and whether or not there are problems inside the usually invincible Stack political machine.

Some of Stack’s old political enemies have reappeared like sharks, perhaps tasting blood in the water.

In the past, many of Stack’s enemies came out only when there was an ongoing political war between Stack and his neighboring political boss, Sacco.

You have to wonder if perhaps a new war is emerging as a result of Stack’s ill-fated attempt to take over the county executive’s job.

While Stack appeared to make peace, the Hudson County Democratic Organization has a very long memory and may well subscribe to an old adage by William Shakespeare: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com