Campaigns and deals in 2005 Another amazing political year

As usual in Hudson County, the past year has seen remarkable changes in the local political landscape, although not everything that happened was a big surprise.

State Senate President Richard Codey had taken over as acting governor in December of 2004 after Gov. Jim McGreevey resigned.

At the beginning of the 2005, the big question was whether Codey would seek to make the job permanent.

McGreevey had foiled an effort by U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine and Rep. Bob Menendez to force a special election in 2004, so nearly everybody knew Corzine would seek the governorship. But would Codey oppose him? Polls later showed that Codey would likely win such a standoff.

Codey, however, decided against the move and allowed Corzine to win the state’s Democratic nomination this past June. This translated into a general election victory in November 2005 when he beat Republican challenger Doug Forrester.

This also translated into what some have called “political pinball” that led Corzine – after many weeks of pondering – to appoint Menendez (a Union City native and current Hoboken resident) as his replacement in the U.S. Senate. It also promises to deliver Menendez’s seat in the House of Representatives to West New York Mayor Albio Sires, and Sires’ state Assembly seat to Freeholder Chairman Sal Vega.

But by year’s end, no seat seemed safe, despite the political machinations that allowed the appointments to be made. Menendez, Sires and others may face challengers in the primaries and in the future.

Fight for the 31st district

The Democratic Primary in June had huge significance in Bayonne and Jersey City, partly because it tested the remnants of an alternative Democratic organization established by late Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, to see if candidates could still use it as a vehicle to challenge the dominance of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO).

Using the modified name of Democrats for Reform, Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone and former Cunningham Deputy Mayor Bill Ayala opposed HCDO-backed Incumbent Assemblyman Louis Manzo and Jersey City Schools Superintendent Charles Epps in the June Democratic primaries for Assembly, while Ed Mezzo ran against HCDO-supported Doreen McAndrew DiDomenico for freeholder to replace retiring Freeholder Barry Dugan. DiDomenico went on to win the freeholder seat in November.

The former Cunningham machine was unable to counter the concerted effort of the HCDO in June, as money and workers flowed into the district to assure an HCDO victory. Manzo and Epps were assured a slot on the November ballot, which they won.

Healy won in Jersey City

In an election that was seen by some as a declaration of independence from North Hudson’s political control, Jerramiah Healy handily beat Melissa Holloway and Al Pine for Jersey City mayor in May.

Incumbent council members Mariano Vega Jr. and Peter M. Brennan retained their at-large seats on the Jersey City City Council, and Willie Flood was elected to the remaining at-large seat.

Michael J. Sottolano led contenders in Ward A, although chief challenger Karen DeSoto became victim of unfortunate news when a former paramour of hers was involved in sticky business. Mary Spinello easily outdistanced a wide field of challengers in Ward B. Incumbent Steve Lipski beat off a heated challenge from former Parking Authority Director Jimmy King in Ward C, although Lipski would later get embroiled in a conflict with his own campaign staff.

Incumbent Bill Gaughan dominated his opponent in Ward D. The upset of the Jersey City election occurred in Ward E where challenge Steve Fulop beat incumbent E. Junior Maldonado. And in Ward F, incumbent Viola Richardson kept her seat despite a wide field of challengers.

Hoboken shaken, but undefeated

In a campaign that had started more than a year prior to the May election, Incumbent Mayor Dave Roberts fended off a challenge to his seat. But it took a runoff election against challenger Carol Marsh to accomplish it. Five candidates sought the mayoral seat, hinting of that Roberts may have been weak.

Marsh ran a campaign, fueled partially by a successful pay-to-play reform referendum from November 2004, could not overcome Roberts’s significant support among older Hoboken residents in the runoff.

In an equally wide field of candidates, incumbent at-large candidate Tony Soares lost his seat as voters re-elected Ruben Ramos, and elected Terry LaBruno and Peter Cammarano.

By the end of the year, Roberts’s one time loyal follower Council President Carmelo Garcia had become a political enemy, with attorney Cammarano possibly being groomed as the next mayoral choice, while Soares speculates about a possible run for the school board in 2006.

Municipal elections in November

Running unopposed, Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna received all but five votes cast, in an election that also saw incumbent council members Gerald Drasheff, Adela Martinez, and Efrain Velez elected.

Kearny Mayor Al Santos also won re-election, although his real victory will come at the beginning of the year when he also takes over as part-time clerk to the Hudson County Board of Freeholders.

In Secaucus, Incumbent Mayor Dennis Elwell fended off a challenge by former Housing Authority Trustee Frank MacCormack, who could not make his over-development theme resonate with voters. MacCormack also faced an uphill battle because the Elwell Administration has not raised municipal taxes in seven years.

Secaucus council races saw incumbents Richard Kane and John Bueckner re-elected unopposed, while incumbent Councilman John Reilly had to beat back a challenge from Tom Roarty.

Although Maryury A. Bombino beat Jose Falto for a position on the Union City Commission, the margin of victory may spell some trouble for Mayor Brian Stack in the future. Falto – a sharp critic of Stack – was defeated by two-to-one majority, while previous challengers to a Stack-backed candidate have lost by margins of three to one or better. Some opponents are reading weakness in this year’s results.

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