United front can block ‘divide and conquer’ tactics

Dear Editor: Under the ironic headline “Enough with the attacks already,” Councilman Tony Soares was himself viciously attacked. A letter signed Elsa Gonzalez charged him with “attacking those who have lived and contributed to our community long before he knew it existed,” “having a sham of a political organization,” being of European de[s]cent,” having (presumably negative) “views toward the poor and less fortunate,” and for being “anti-Hobokenite.” What earned him these attacks? He took issue with granting mega-raises to George Ortiz and Robert Crespo, two of the Mayor’s key political operatives. To Ms. Gonzalez these two are “well regarded and well educated Hispanic leaders.” Readers of this paper may remember Mr. Crespo from the election day orders he has given various city employees and Mr. Ortiz from the circumstances of his recent departure from Senator Torricelli’s office. Whatever you think of these men, it is absurd to imply that Tony ‘singled-out’ anyone. Tony is not a squirt gun, he is a fire hydrant. He pours his enormous energy onto any problem facing the people of Hoboken. He has in his six months in office, and in the years before, addressed all problems facing the city, regardless of who might feel that their toes were being stepped on. That is his greatest strength. George, Robert and the Mayor who wastes our money for his own political benefit, were just the latest to earn his attention. And charges that he is anti-Hispanic are equally off base. Tony fought the amendment to the rent control ordinance that would have cost many Hispanic families their homes, he was the campaign manager for Councilman Ruben Ramos Jr., and has made the condition of the Hoboken Housing Authority a major priority. So if the anti-Hispanic charges are so weak against Mr. Soares, what was the point of the letter? In my opinion, to strengthen by repetition the charge that his last letter was “anti-Hobokenite.” His “last letter,” supporting Jon Corzine for U.S. Senate, has been discussed ad nauseam in these pages. In it, he did not, in fact, attack the “born and raised,” many of whom voted him into office. What he did do was point out the simple fact that Hoboken City Hall, has in fact been pretty much closed to those not born here. He expressed his long held belief, which I profoundly share, that Hoboken would be better off on the whole if we elected people based on their merits, not on their birth certificates. But he expressed this belief in a clumsy, stupid way. His letter applauded the fact that the City Council, now that he was a member, was no longer totally “dominated” by the “born and raised.” I admit I cringed when I saw that sentence. I have spent 15 years in Hoboken public life motivated by the belief that dividing “us” against “them” hurts all of us, and only helps unscrupulous politicians who seek to divide and conquer. Tony has also been a fighter for all of Hoboken, and this sentence, out of context, could be used to portray him as the worst kind of interest group panderer. Further, he got the facts wrong. In 1987, to pick a year, one out of nine City Council members was not born in Hoboken. In 2000, after his election, it is once again one out of nine. Until we get beyond the “us” vs. “them” philosophy, that is probably the way it will remain. But the attack that ensued for this unfortunate sentence was overwhelming. Far in excess of its importance, particularly in light of Tony’s record of bringing people together. It came from all sides–publicly and privately–both from his opponents and from a few of his supposed allies. And who were these attackers? Many had over the years pillaged the City and its new residents for their private benefit. All were same politicians who had won elections in the past by using “us” vs. “them” tactics and stirring up anti-newcomer hostility. These new attacks on Tony Soares are simply more of the same. He is discovering that the charge he is anti-Hobokenite is, in this case, as it is so often, an excuse by those who have the power to hold on to it through fear of change rather than by fearlessly addressing our City’s problems. This is an ugly lesson. Yet from my perspective I see hope. When I first chose to become a Hobokenite, two decades ago, charges like these would have reverberated into a yuppie vs. B&R war. (Remember the feast bomb letters?) Today, even with careful tending by political hacks throughout the city, there seems to be little actual anger. Why? Because most people born and raised in Hoboken have come to realize that most newcomers like and respect the long-time residents. Most newcomers understand that without our long-time residents, Hoboken would lose its soul. More and more we share a vision of Hoboken, thriving, free of fear, and with room for all of us. Finally, we seem able to ignore those who would divide us. In the words of the letter writer, divisive attacks like these are just a “political game…slowly coming to an end.” Michael Lenz


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