The shadow of the late mayor Glenn D. Cunningham still looms large a month after his May 25 passing, as last week’s City Council meeting showed.
Whether the issue was the calling for a vote to name current Acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith the interim mayor, or discussing opposition to the Jersey City 9/11 memorial statue, the presence of Cunningham seemed to occupy the agenda.
The meeting started with Smith announcing to the crowd that discussion on a large Sept. 11 memorial statue would not be on the agenda for this meeting. However, he would allow four members of the audience to speak during the public comment portion of the council meeting (for more on the controversial statue, see sidebar).
The first major issue of the meeting was a spirited discussion on the legitimacy of Smith’s authority in his current position.
Right now, Smith is also the City Council president. He became the acting mayor as a result of Cunningham’s death from a heart attack on May 25.
Ward C Councilman Steve Lipski called for a vote by the council to elect Smith as the interim mayor. According to NJ state law, the City Council of a municipality has 30 days to either vote to name an acting mayor to an interim mayor, or the acting mayor stays “acting” until a special election for a mayor. The special election is coming in November, and whoever wins will fill the remainder of Cunningham’s old term until May.
If the City Council had voted to name Smith the interim mayor, then Smith would not be able to hold his City Council seat at the same time. This would leave a vacant seat on the council to be filled in November.
However, the vote failed, so Smith can remain both acting mayor and City Council president.
Before the vote, Lipski, who was an ally of Cunningham, explained his reasons for nominating Smith as interim mayor.
“One, the people of Jersey City need the separation of powers with checks and balances,” he said. “I think two, the people of Jersey City deserve a full-time mayor. Three, by having a temporary interim mayor as a managing mayor, we would lend ourselves to stability and consistency in government. Four, eliminate the number of questions surrounding the authority and power of acting mayor.”
Smith then addressed the audience before there would be any voting. “I am a full-time mayor at this juncture,” he said. “The record is clear on my authority. It was established in 1985 and reaffirmed in 1992. I appreciate the nomination, but I also want you to know that I am in the mayor’s office and we have a stable situation in the city of Jersey City, despite what some people say.”
Smith then named the issues he would be dealing with as the acting mayor, such as negotiating the city’s contract with the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority, which. would bring in $8 million into the city’s coffers, and working on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
“There is no caretaking going on in the mayor’s office,” said Smith. “Now is the time to move forward.”
There was a verbal back and forth over the issue. Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson agreed with Lipski, saying there would be a conflict of interest with the mayor introducing a resolution or an ordinance to be voted upon in the council, and then signing it.
Ward D Councilman William Gaughan was the most vocal, saying this move to nominate Smith was disingenuous and just a cynical ploy by those pretending to be Smith’s friend.
Eventually the vote was 5-2, with Smith abstaining. In the affirmative were councilpersons William Gaughan, Jeremiah Healy, Mary Donnelly, Peter Brennan and Mariano Vega. Voting against were Lipski and Richardson.
Sidebar 175-ton Sept. 11 memorial statue on shaky ground?
At last week’s City Council meeting, there were many who came to speak in opposition to the Sept. 11 memorial statue that a Russian sculptor wants to donate to the city. Some believe the 100-foot sculpture is too bulky for the waterfront, even if it is a donation.
The bronze statue, designed by renowned Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, weighs approximately 175 tons. It will contain a “Grief Tear” made of nickel-plate metal that weighs 4 tons. The monument has been proposed to be placed at the south end of J. Owen Grundy Pier in Exchange Place. The monument has already been completed at a foundry in St. Petersberg, Russia, and is ready to be shipped to the United States.
Those who oppose the statue claim it received no public approval and it was not subject to a public process, but rather was just accepted by city officials because it came at no cost to the city.
Those in favor of the statue claim the proposal was subject to a public process, and that the opposition is in the minority.
In fact, the City Council voted to accept the statue last year, but there has not been much room for public comment on it since then. There was supposed to be discussion of it on the council last week, but there was none.
City Council President and acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith said that public discussion of the statue (known recently as the “Grief Tear” monument but will revert back to its original title, “To The Struggle Against World Terrorism”) was not on the meeting agenda. He did not say whether it would be discussed at a future meeting.
The statue has not been sent yet because they have to finalize the location. They expect to ship it by Sept. 11. – Ricardo Kaulessar