Tale of three cities

For reformers, board of education elections in Secaucus, Hoboken and Jersey City proved at best a mixed blessing, justifying Charles Dickens assessment that these are both the best and worst of times.

In Hoboken, the previously fractured reform movement came together in time to elect Carrie Gilliard and Rose Marie Markle.

James Farina led voting in that election, proving that several boxing rounds with Hoboken Mayor Dave Roberts helped rather than hurt his election.

Farina and Roberts allegedly tore up the mayor’s office a few weeks before voters went to the polls, then patched up their differences a week later by making fun of the conflict.

Hoboken political gurus are salivating over the results, reading them like tea leaves to predict the outcome of the upcoming municipal elections.

These same gurus are looking, too, at the June 9 primary and predicting the school election will have a positive impact on a strangely configured Hudson County Democratic Organization.

As with claims about stock market performance, political elections of the past can often be misleading. But reformers peering into their crystal balls see the school board election as bad news for people such as Councilmen Rubin Ramos and Chris Campos, each of whom is faced with tough elections in the upcoming months. Ramos, who broke with Roberts and state Senator Bernard Kenny to run for state Assembly on a ticket headed by Union City Mayor and Assemblyman Brian Stack, has become symbolic of a change in the political landscape where former alliances are being shed for new coalitions.

Behind Ramos are a formidable lineup of Hoboken political elite such as Councilman Michael Russo and Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons.

Russo, of course, is facing a stiff election challenge for city council from Frank Raia, and the school board election may well create a serious problem for Russo.

Reformers, many of whom are backing a slate of HCDO candidates in the primary as well as several key council candidates, believe they can still slip in one more reformer on the school board if they throw their support behind Raia in the municipal election.

Raia, who currently sits on the Board of Education, would give up his seat if he beats Russo in the council race. Reformers would then push to have William Tobias, who finished fourth in overall school board election results, to fill Raia’s unexpired term. The move would give reformers control of the school board, which is currently skewed by one vote against them.

Despite the fact that Hoboken has become synonymous with political dysfunction, the reform movement “Kids First” seemed to show a remarkable sense of team work.

One of the most unlikely benefactors of the Hoboken school board election is Mayor Roberts. A self-declared lame duck (he mistakenly announced he would not run for reelection years before he had to) Roberts backed Farina. Some claim Roberts had previously backed other candidates, too, but took back his endorsements – only Roberts knows for sure. As it is, Roberts stepped out of the path of the Kids First steamroller.

Peter Cunningham helped his own council chances by including support for Kids First in his campaign literature, tying himself firmly with what has proven a successful slate.

Reformers claim their movement has “come of age” and has shifted focus slightly, shedding its outsider persona for something that appears much more inclusive of the whole community.

This could translate into success for former Councilwoman Carol Marsh, who has tied her political fortunes to the HCDO slate as she runs more or less against Ramos for a slot in the state Assembly.

The Secaucus administration pulls one out of the hat

The Secaucus Board of Election has as sharply different result.

Not only was Tom Troyer dumped from the board, but reform candidates backed by Councilman Michael Gonnelli did not win.

John McStowe, Frank Trombetta and Anthony Gerbasio – all supported behind the scenes by Mayor Dennis Elwell – were elected despite predictions that the reform movement would take control of the board.

This either shows Gonnelli’s inability to carry other candidates into elected office or the ability of the Elwell camp to recoup after significant losses in the council races last November.

Troyer’s loss may be attributed to his failed bid to run as an alternative council candidate last November. Many reformers called Troyer “a spoiler” for remaining in the race instead of throwing his support behind Gonnelli’s election.

While Gonnelli won despite Troyer, many reformers, who backed Troyer in the past, did not come out for him in this election, perhaps sending him a message. Troyer is currently running for state Assembly in the 32nd District, part of a Stack-backed opposition to the HCDO.

One of the key people behind Gonnelli’s victory, was Danny Amico, nephew of the former mayor. He apparently was not deeply involved in the school elections, meaning that Elwell should not take this sweep of the board elections as too much of a sign of future council races.

McCann is back?

No campaign so show how effective old style politics works than the recent success story of Gerald McCann’s election to the Jersey City School Board. Although still at risk of losing his bid by a court challenge, McCann used his talent for farming votes out of senior citizen homes to sweep ahead of Jenny Garcia – despite Garica’s winning on the voting machines.

McCann is well-known for his ability to garner absentee ballots and in this case, he managed to use them to make up for his losses on the machines.

The court may still throw out most or all of these votes, depriving him of his victory. Should he win, however, McCann would renew his 1980s conflict with former Jersey City Mayor Anthony Cucci, who also currently sits on the Board of Education.

McCann and Cucci, once allies, fell apart in the 1980s and their conflict evolved into one of the most significant Hudson County political wars in 1987 that saw the rise of people like Robert Janiszewski, Richard Turner, Bob Menendez and many other movers and shakers of the 1990s.

email to Al Sullivan


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