Just when you thought you heard everything Hudson County politics had to offer, you get hit with something out of left field.
Former Mayor Gerald McCann, who might well rival the Boston Red Sox in his inability to get into the World Series of the local political scene, has suddenly been granted what he professes to want most: a chance to become mayor of Jersey City again.
McCann served as mayor from 1981 to 1985, then lost a brutal re-election bid to return to the top spot in 1989 – when he wrestled control of the county from then-County Executive Robert Janiszewski only to get sidetracked by a conviction for acts not related to his duties in office.
In February, 1992, he was forced out of office after being convicted of 15 counts of mail, wire and bank fraud, and tax evasion related to a deal he brokered with a Florida savings and loan and a private citizen in 1987. Although he still maintains his innocence, the conviction has foiled his several attempts to run for mayor since. The last attempt in 2001 took him to the state Supreme Court, which ruled he could run for any office other than mayor.
Since then, he has attempted to run for freeholder and been the mastermind behind several other successful campaigns, but the mayoralty remained beyond his reach until last week when Jersey City Business Administrator Robert Byrne called to inform him a change in state law has cleared the way for McCann to run.
This law was passed, not for McCann’s benefit, to benefit the mayor of Passaic who had some issues with a past conviction that might have thrown him out of office.
Everybody wants to be mayor
This news comes at a volatile time, as people gear up for a rare November mayoral election in which someone will be elected to fill out the unexpired term of deceased Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham.
Although Louis Manzo is the only currently declared candidate, a list of names has already emerged more than two months ahead of the Sept. 15 filing date. Among the candidates is Sandra Cunningham, Glenn’s widow, who some in the African American community hope might pick up the mantle of her fallen husband and carry on with the programs he had intended. But a Sandra candidacy seems less and less likely as rumors hint she will back Willie Flood, a well-established politician from Jersey City.
Although Acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith will likely also run with the belief he will get the support of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, the HCDO (or a faction backed by County Executive Tom DeGise) seems to be gearing up to support Jersey City Councilman Jeremiah Healy.
Healy sought out meetings with both DeGise and Rep. Bob Menendez, indicating he would like the opportunity to run. Menendez’s office was a busy place that day because he also apparently met with Freeholder Bill O’Dea, McCann and Manzo within an hour of the Healy interview.
There were rumors that O’Dea had made a deal to run for mayor with the HCDO support – a deal which could have offered Manzo HCDO support for his Assembly reelection if he bowed out of the mayoral race in favor of O’Dea.
O’Dea put an end to the rumor last week with a letter indicating his support for Manzo, and some claim the rumor was designed to put a wedge between the natural alliance of O’Dea and Manzo to allow Healy to take the seat.
Healy versus Manzo?
With the support of DeGise – a former at-large councilman in Jersey City with the strong support of Jersey City Heights and the current Heights Councilman Bill Gaughan – Healy makes a formidable force with potentially strong support throughout the city, including the ever-shrinking Greenville Irish community, wards C and D, some B and solid support in Ward A. If the HCDO can get the Latino community to support Healy, Manzo – whose name recognition gives him some advantages but lacks a solid base anywhere but in Ward B – may have trouble in November where the highest vote-getter wins without a runoff.
In 2001, Manzo did not do well in the Heights or in Journal Square, critical areas for his election if he plans to become the next mayor of Jersey City. His strong areas were wards A and B, with a piece of C.
For McCann, this new opportunity comes at a time when he has already committed himself to supporting Manzo, which means he would have to abandon Manzo to make the run. Political observers claim McCann has a tough haul to win mayor and point to his failed attempt to take a vacated freeholder seat last year, even when Latino vote was divided between two Latino candidates.
“I’m contemplating it,” McCann said. “A lot of people have asked me to run. At this moment I’m still supporting Manzo, but I want to weigh my options.”
Around the county
Adding to the irony of McCann’s possible return as a mayoral candidate is the fact that the HCDO has been evicted from its Washburn Avenue headquarters. The sale of The Trust Company Bank caused the HCDO to seek new digs elsewhere in the city. The wandering Democrats found a new home at 253 Academy St. – in offices that once housed McCann’s accounting firm.
Anthony Cruz and other members of the former Cunningham administration are scrambling to find a new political leader – and may find a friendly reception with Manzo, who said he is seeking to pick up many of those let go recently by Smith.
But Smith, scrambling to find alternative support, may not have given up on all of the Cunningham cohorts and is reported as having met with Cunningham’s inner cadre of Bobby Jackson and Joe Cardwell in Port Liberte.
Meanwhile, the Secaucus Democratic Organization made a small but fundamental change. Jason Elwell, son of Mayor Dennis Elwell, took over as treasurer, and essentially took control of the party. Although Dennis Elwell joined the Democrats in 1999 to upset then-Mayor Anthony Just, he maintained his own organization called Team Elwell.
But the independent organization had severe limits on fundraising that the SDO does not face. Vendors doing business with the town, for instance, could only donate $2,200 to Team Elwell over four years, whereas they could donate nearly as much per year to the SDO.
Although Mayor Elwell was the rumored choice to take over the chairmanship, he apparently decided to wait, not wishing to create any more problems for the already legally besieged Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto – the current party chairman – who has come under state investigation for his own campaign financing.
In Jersey City, Rich McCormack held his last district meeting in B-2. He was beaten during the Democratic Primary by Robert Quigley – son of the current Jersey City assemblywoman Joan Quigley. “I’ll still help people,” McCormack said.
In West New York, Commissioner Sal Vega will soon have to face a choice if rumors are true that Mayor Albio Sires will soon take a spot in Gov. Jim McGreevey’s administration. Sires is about to lose his post as speaker of the Assembly to Assembly Majority Leader Joseph J. Roberts Jr. Sires will likely give up his Assembly seat leaving Vega a choice whether to continue as chairman of the freeholders or move onto the Assembly. Vega apparently also has his eye on replacing Sires as mayor if Sires leaves that post – which is likely.