Between The Lines

Cunningham withdrawal is a gift to Bhalla

The withdrawal of Peter Cunningham in the 5th Ward race in Hoboken may well prove a decisive victory for Mayor Ravi Bhalla in the mayor’s effort to keep control of the city council.

Even had Cunningham remained in the race as an incumbent, his challenger Phil Cohen would have been tough to beat.

Cohen is a walking-talking meet-and-greet, a hardworking politician who makes up in energy what his campaign might have lacked in financing.

Without Cunningham in the picture, Cohen will have a huge advantage, and will bring the mayor another vote on the council just when Bhalla needs it.

The loss of Cunningham may well also give advantage to Bhalla candidates against Tiffanie Fisher and Jen Giattino. With Cohen working so hard, Bhalla can steer campaign resources to those wards.

The question is whether or not Fisher and Giattino will unite with Councilman Michael DeFusco to form a ticket of their own, thus combining their resources. With Vision Media clearly working for all three candidates, a ticket looks inevitable. But we may not see this transpire until just after Labor Day and the final deadline for filing.

Bayonne special election heats up

A special election to fill the unexpired term of 1st Ward councilman Tom Cotter has become a litmus test on the popularity of Mayor Jimmy Davis in Bayonne.

There is almost nothing at stake in this election, since Davis holds firm control over the city council.

But at least five challengers are rumored to be running to challenge Neil Carroll III, the person appointed as a temporary council member late last year.

The Davis camp appears to be taking the challenge seriously, dispelling earlier rumors that Davis might have been seeking someone other than Carroll to run.

Even though the school board election appears to have more issues to contend with, the special election for the first ward becomes a symbolic vote, akin to former New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s question “How am I doing?”

With a revaluation of property underway and massive new development taking place throughout Bayonne, voters in the 1st Ward will have an opportunity with this election to either support Davis or issue a warning that the city might be going in the wrong direction.

While new development in Bayonne will eventually begin the same gentrification process underway in places like Hoboken and Jersey City, the impact may not be felt until new residents move in. This may have a more significant impact on the 2022 election when seats for mayor and the entire council are up again.

But there are enough issues already in play, such as traffic and parking – issues that will be exacerbated as new residential units become available.

Lavarro reprises Marlon Brando

In the classic 1950s biker movie “The Wild One,” a character played by Marlon Brando is asked what he’s rebelling against. He answered, with a sneer: “Whattya got?”

This appears to be the same attitude Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro has adopted in recent weeks as it becomes clear he will not be invited to run on Mayor Steven Fulop’s ticket in 2021.

Lavarro is questioning everything that the Fulop Administration is presenting to the city council, looking for cracks he can exploit, especially in regard to overspending and the use of executive privilege.

No stone, no matter how small, is left unturned in Lavarro’s “rebellion.”

Even the recent addition of electric charging stations in the city hall parking lot became a political issue, because apparently Fulop ordered them installed without asking the city council first.

When it became clear that Fulop could legally do this, Lavarro raised legal concerns about another charging station installed on the sidewalk for public use.

The broader battle is over turf, and who has the authority for many of the things the Fulop Administration is taking credit for.

By operating through executive order, Fulop does not have to share credit with Lavarro for some of the more successful achievements, a fact Lavarro well knows.

With two years until the 2021 municipal election, Lavarro appears to be trying to lay groundwork for either a run for mayor against Fulop, or for an alternative ticket which would allow him to retain his seat on the city council.

But Fulop’s campaign is in full gear already, boasting of successes on social media, while behind the scenes his campaign raises cash.

There are forces opposed to Fulop. But it is unclear if Lavarro is willing to align himself with them. Many of these were behind-the-scenes sources for a recent hit piece on Fulop in Bloomberg News – unnamed sources for the most part, but clearly recognizable.

The only quoted media source in the story was an already-tainted Jersey City blogger site, whose manager has been working with a police chief Fulop forced to resign in 2015.

Not everybody on the city council is aligned with Fulop. But for the most part, Lavarro isn’t embracing them either – especially the financially powerful Heights councilman, Michael Yun.

Some observers previously assumed that there would be alignment of Yun, Lavarro, and Councilmen Richard Boggiano and James Solomon. But the differences between Fulop opponents appear to be nearly as great as the differences between them and Fulop.

Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com