In the wake of the July 1 inauguration and ahead of their first council meeting on July 20, the members of Mayor James Davis’s council slate that now make up the new Bayonne City Council looked back on the election and forward to accomplishing much in their new terms in individual interviews with the Bayonne Community News.
While the 2022 non-partisan municipal election in Bayonne was largely a slug fest between the top two mayoral candidates including Davis and former City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski and yielded a low turnout, the incumbent mayor’s council slate played a pivotal role in helping push him over the finish line.
A powerhouse in the Third Ward becomes council president
Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, who is now City Council President, was undeniably a political force to be reckoned with in this past election, and even those prior. In the Third Ward, he got 1,865 votes to Davis’ approximately 1,729 votes, including mail-in and provisional ballots, according to a tally of official election results. While the mayor typically gets more votes than the ward council candidates, that was not the case this time around, when La Pelusa got more votes than Davis.
La Pelusa recently reflected on his victory and looked forward to his upcoming term. While La Pelusa had been approached by both Davis and Ashe-Nadrowski to run on their respective tickets, he ultimately went with Team Davis, which one could argue helped shift the election in Davis’ favor.
“I think the fact that both of the main people running for mayor had asked me to be on their ticket, both sides knew that it would be important where I wound up,” La Pelusa said. “My decision to run on either a ticket or on my own would have made a big difference in the election.”
La Pelusa had been on the council prior to the Davis Administration, but ran with Davis in 2014, 2018, and again in 2022. La Pelusa said he was happy that the Third Ward voted for him and the response he got while campaigning.
“My first two times I ran, I did everything on my own because I had no ticket to run on,” La Pelusa said, attributing his success to his hard work ethic. “Since then, that’s how I’ve been running my campaigns. I get out there and I talk to people. I knocked on every door in the Third Ward.”
Always more work to do, La Pelusa says
La Pelusa is proud of the accomplishments he has helped this administration achieve in Bayonne, but acknowledged there is still work ahead. While the world has been filled with “doom and gloom” lately, La Pelusa looks to make a difference locally by tackling quality of life issues in the city in this term.
“I’d like to do more quality of life things to make peoples’ lives better, at least in Bayonne,” La Pelusa said. “That’s something I can control and that’s something I plan on doing… We talked about possibly finding areas where we could create more parking. We could do a little more quality control for litter. And we need to keep up on our garbage contracts and be mindful of the people who live around us.”
Even more localized to the Third Ward, La Pelusa is excited about the future renovation of Russell Goulding Park and the surrounding area.
“We received a very large federal grant to fix Russell Goulding Park, which is by our gateway,” La Pelusa said. “We’d like to not only fix up that park and use the grant money so it won’t cost taxpayers anything. We want to fix up that gateway area too, so when people come in off the Turnpike, they see how nice Bayonne really is.”
Overall, La Pelusa is happy with the way everything turned out for him, having been elected as City Council President. And he is definitely excited for where the future may bring him, outside of the municipal chambers of the city council and possibly into the corner office in City Hall.
“I was very pleased by the response,” La Pelusa said. “People were asking me to run for mayor. Obviously it wasn’t in the cards. Maybe someday. But I think we’re on the right path. The city itself is growing, and there are some growing pains involved, but I think we’re going in the right direction.”
First Ward councilman starts first full term
While La Pelusa was undeniably a key figure in Team Davis’ victory in the 2022 municipal election, another key player was First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll III. Carroll got 1,851 votes in the First Ward, just shy of matching Davis’ approximately 1,909 votes.
“Regardless of the numbers, I’m humbled by those that would send me back to City Hall,” Carroll said. “Even though it was a low turnout, I appreciate the people that did come out. If I was able to play a key role in a very hard-fought campaign, then I’m very happy about that as well.”
Carroll was first appointed to the council to replace then-City Council President Tom Cotter who was appointed as the Director of the Department of Public Works in 2018. He then had to run for re-election for his seat in a special election in 2019.
“My only regret is that my grandfather was alive to see me appointed, but he was not alive to see me elected,” Carroll said of his grandfather Neil Carroll I, a major figure in Hudson County politics who passed away a month after Carroll was appointed to the council.
Looking forward, Carroll is hoping to put together formalized officer hours to increase communication with residents.
“I’m hoping to team up with a couple of different businesses, restaurants, cafes, and establishments like that,” Carroll said. “As long as I have their permission, I’ll be there for so many hours and residents can come by and have a cup of coffee and tell me what’s going on.”
Carroll concluded that he would continue to serve the council as he has been doing the past four years: “I’m going to continue to be my own voice. I’m proud of the record that stands to date, and I’m just hoping to continue that. I’m very honored to be sent back.”
Newcomer Weimmer takes charge of the Second Ward
In addition to Carroll and La Pelusa, Second Ward City Councilwoman-elect Jacqueline Weimmer also brought in her fair share of votes. Weimmer tallied 1,248 votes in the Second Ward, almost as much as Davis’ approximately 1,416 votes. While maybe not as notable as La Pelusa exceeding Davis and Carroll almost breaking even, Weimmer certainly brought in her fair share of votes as a newcomer on the slate.
“It was really a team effort,” Weimmer said. “Everybody was out there every day meeting the community, talking to as many people as we could. We had some challenges, it was difficult, but I think the effort was there.”
Weimmer looks forward to being the voice of the Second Ward. She is also the only woman on the council now.
“It was great to get the confidence of the people, because that’s what is important, especially as a newcomer,” Weimmer said. “In the past, I didn’t always feel like I had a voice. So I’m a firm believer that when you are a council representative, you are the voice of the people. Things that I think are important or that I would like to see happen have to come secondary to what the people want… I do think that being a woman perhaps will help me in doing things with a bit more care and caress, and finesse if you will. I think that’s what this community needs.”
Weimmer wants to meet with the community regularly, especially with senior citizens and other important groups: “The community feels like it needs to have a greater voice. So once the summer sort of comes to a close, then I’m going to reach out and have some community meetings to start talking to people again.”
Another important thing to Weimmer is redevelopment, to which she emphasized the need to keep that neighborhood feel: “We still want to be a community. Growth is not always a bad thing. If we do it with some consideration for where, and the community around it, and what’s going on, I think that is going to go a long way.”
Highlighting garbage and other issues she seeks to tackle, Weimmer said she will always have her door open and will continue to give out her personal cell phone number: “I promise three things: I will always look, listen, and learn. I will always look for ways to make the community better, if you take the time to come and speak to me I will listen to your concerns, and then I hope that I’m intelligent enough to learn from those who have gone before me and to learn from the surrounding community to really ensure that everyone is living their best life.”
Booker becomes first Black council member
What could be said about the ward council candidates could also apply to both City Councilman At-Large-elect and retired police officer Loyad Booker and City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez. Booker got 4,278 across the entire city. While he did not beat Davis’s 5,048, Booker did get 60 more votes than Ashe-Nadrowski’s 4,278 votes. Booker’s presence on Davis’ ticket was not only historic as he is now the first Black council member in Bayonne’s history, but Booker was also pivotal in securin the victory for Team Davis as a newcomer. Perez brought in 3,548 votes, a decent showing for the incumbent councilman which was enough to lead to his re-election. Both Booker and Perez beat out several other candidates for their seats on the council.
“I think it was a team effort,” Booker said of the election. “I’m not going to sit here and take any individual credit. I believe that it was probably due to the fact that most people have known me for my 25 year career as a police officer. I was very committed to what I was saying. I would not lend myself, my name, my time, or my reputation to something I didn’t believe in. I believe in Team Davis. I think I picked the right team and it showed… But I’m not going to say that my numbers didn’t help, I’m sure they did to some degree.”
It is still somewhat surreal but starting to set in for Booker, who is ready to hit the ground running come the first council meeting.
“Considering the challenges and everything that’s going to go along with the position, I’m excited,” Booker said. “I look forward to serving the community, just leading, and trying to stay current with any situations as I’ve done as a police officer.”
Bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community
Booker said residents can look forward to the council working together cohesively over the next four years.
“I’ve been saying teamwork makes the dream work,” Booker said. “You’ve heard that before, but I think from this council you’re really going to see a cohesive group of men and women who are going to work together and to a common goal. I think if we look out for the betterment of the city, I know it’s going to work.”
Booker takes redevelopment in the city seriously, and is familiarizing himself with ongoing things: “I’m reviewing all the projects that are in place and new things that are coming up. I know people are worried about developing stuff. I cannot lie, I just know things don’t stay the same forever. Things do change and it’s time to change. I’ve been here my entire life, so I think people have to open their arms a little bit and welcome the change.”
On top of ensuring smart redevelopment, Booker hopes to bridge the gap between the police and the community.
“I just recently gave a Ted Talk about bridging the gap between law enforcement and communities,” Booker said. “I definitely believe that the city thrives when people feel safe in their own environment, and we can tackle all the other things without the worry.”
Booker said other important issues at the top of his list involved quality of life and parks.
“There a couple of parks that I’m really interested in looking at,” Booker said, noting residents had brought parks to attention that haven’t been renovated in years. “I want people to understand that things don’t happen overnight like with anything else, but when I make a statement, I try to stick by it.”
Perez rounds out Team Davis
On his contributions to Team Davis and whether he helped bring the slate over the finish line, Perez said the slate worked as a team. When discussing his re-election and how he felt returning to the council, he said he was “very happy.”
This is Perez’s third term on the council, having ran with Davis in 2014, 2018, and 2022. Looking ahead, Perez wants to create more jobs and address infrastructure issues.
“We’re trying to, right now, fix our sewage and clean our roads,” Perez said. “We have people paving out there. We want to improve our overall services. At this time we want to continue going forward.”
Perez echoed other council members that the election was a referendum whether or not residents liked the the direction the city is going in. He feels it shows most residents agree with the progress made in the city.
“The people like what they’re looking at and it’s going to continue,” Perez said. “There are going to be some people who are bitter and they don’t want the town to change. But you have to change. Remember what happened to the dinosaurs. And I’m not talking about overbuilding Bayonne because I like Bayonne for the community. It feels like a nice place, but we just want to do smart development for the city of Bayonne that can bring in revenues.”
According to Perez, the city is going to continue to change in a positive way, with residential and commercial redevelopment that has been in the works finally coming to fruition at long-underutilized sites.
“An accomplishment I feel so good about is bringing the delivery service down at the Military Ocean Terminal. That’s going to be bringing close to 2,700 jobs for the people of Bayonne… Going forward, we’re trying to get senior citizen buildings built… I’m trying to look out for the seniors because I’m a senior myself. And I also want to look for kids because I’m a grandfather and I have kids too.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.