If there was one “biggest” story in Hudson County this year, it had to be the emergence of two separate countywide Democratic parties. Since Democrats almost always get elected to local offices (the ratio of registered Dems to Republicans in Hudson County is about 5:1), the real battle is Democrat vs. Democrat in the primaries in June rather than Democrat vs. Republican in the November general election. The Republicans rarely win.
This year, the old Democratic party in Hudson County, the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), faced off in June against a new party, the “Democrats for Hudson County,” put together by rising political star Brian Stack. Stack, who was both the mayor of Union City and assemblyman for the 33rd District, wanted to move up to state senator. While Stack ended up winning that position in a bitter, muddy primary battle against West New York Mayor and Assemblyman Sal Vega, many of the other pols on his ticket lost.
But putting aside all of the rancor over who gets to lead the county and its towns, a main question should be, what happened this year regarding the issues our politicians are elected to deal with?
Was crime down or up? How about taxes? Were the streets safer from speeding cars? And was George Clooney’s hair mussed after he got into a motorcycle accident in Weehawken?
These stories and many more were covered by the Reporter this year. Click on www.hudsonreporter.com, then click on the purple words “advanced search” and put in 2007 as your search time if you want to learn more. Then you can read all about the biggest issues in our towns this year.
Or, to make it easier, we’ve summarized some of the biggest issues of the year, town by town. Read on! And remember to send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your phone number and keep them to 500 words or less.
On the ensuing pages, we’ve also summarized the year in real estate, education, health care, sports, politics, and more. Enjoy and have a happy new year!
Mayor and wife indicted: Guttenberg is a small town, and in September, the mayor and his wife were indicted because of some small gifts.
Mayor David Delle Donna and his wife, Anna, were indicted on federal charges that they took gifts and illegal campaign contributions from at least three different people. They were accused of using their official positions to help a bar owner, and receiving gifts from her including cash for cosmetic surgery and cash during trips to Atlantic City.
The gifts allegedly also included several bottles of Grand Marnier liqueur and a terrier dog.
Delle Donna has said he is not guilty of the crimes.
Two months later, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Newark added charges that Delle Donna filed fraudulent tax returns.
Hoboken Three separate elections for one council seat: Hoboken’s 4th Ward City Council race proved to be one of the most heated elections in recent years. The 4th Ward in the southwest part of town is home to both luxury development and the subsidized housing projects. It’s long been a place to seek votes, and this year, the race to represent the area was between a native Hobokenite and a relative newcomer.
Incumbent Councilman Christopher Campos and challenger Dawn Zimmer faced off in a field with several other candidates in May and amassed the highest vote totals. Campos received over 100 votes more than Zimmer but failed to get a majority of all votes, resulting in a June runoff between the two.
Campos had another obstacle besides Zimmer: He’d been accused of drunk driving in New York in February. The case still has not been heard.
In the June runoff election, Zimmer edged out Campos by only eight votes. Both candidates filed lawsuits against each other and alleged voter fraud.
The cases led to an agreement between the two candidates to hold a third election rather than have the courts possibly decide the outcome.
In November, Zimmer defeated Campos by over 100 votes. The results were not challenged and Zimmer was sworn in at the Nov. 7 City Council meeting.
Not a good year for police: A series of embarrassing photos surfaced in November showing members of Hoboken Police Department’s former SWAT team, which has since been disbanded, posing with scantily-clad women from an Alabama Hooters restaurant. The officers were on their way back from a relief trip to Kenner, La., where they assisted in the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina. The pictures were released shortly after the filing of a lawsuit by five Hispanic officers who alleged that their superior, Lt. Angelo Andriani, who was in charge of the SWAT team, had engaged in seemingly racist behavior in their presence. Some of the officers also have alleged that while they were working under Andriani, they did house chores at his residence in Verona while on duty.
The lawsuit is still pending and has led to at least two ongoing investigations into the matter.
Jersey City Cop pleads guilty in crash that kills toddler: In December, former Jersey City Police Officer Kevin Freibott pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in connection to a Jan. 23 crash on the Pulaski Skyway that resulted in the death of a 2-year-old boy and left his mother in a coma.
Freibott, a distant cousin of Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, was driving while intoxicated and speeding on the Skyway when he crashed his car into one driven by Carlos Zelaya. Zelaya’s son, Jose Carlo, died a few days after the crash. The mother, Ruth Zelaya, remains hospitalized.
Sentencing for Freibott is scheduled for Jan. 21. He faces jail time of up to 11 years.
A Cunningham in office again: In November, elections were held for state legislative seats and some county offices. As usual, Democrats emerged victorious. One of them was first-time candidate Sandra Bolden Cunningham, who ran for state Senate in the 31st District, which includes Bayonne and the southern and central sections of Jersey City. She now holds the seat that her late husband, former Jersey City Mayor and state Senator Glenn Cunningham, held briefly before his death of a heart attack in May 2004.
Cunningham won the Democratic nod in June in a bitterly-fought primary over state Assemblyman Louis Manzo. Unlike those elected with her, Cunningham was sworn into office only two days after being elected, because she had to fill the remaining term of her predecessor, former state Senator and Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria. Doria had stepped down in October to take over as head of the state Department of Community Affairs.
Embankment: A park, or housing? New York-based property owner Steve Hyman wants to build houses on a raised embankment over which Conrail trains once ran. But activists in the city believe the area should be a park. In August, the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) ruled that Conrail should have gotten authorization from the federal government to abandon the Sixth Street Embankment before selling it to Hyman in 2005. In December, the STB upheld its decision after an appeal by Hyman’s attorneys.
Hyman now is proposing a new plan for the area that involves both park space and housing. Whether the city and activists accept it remains to be seen.
North Bergen Trailer residents must move: In October, approximately 100 residents of the Manhattan Mobile Home Park on Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen were told that they had 18 months to pack up their respective trailers and find another place to live.
Since the owner of the property died last year, the caretaker of the estate has decided to sell the 5.2 acres that have been home for many of those trailer owners for more than 30 years.
It’s believed that the estate wants to sell the land and turn the area into a commercial development.
The township is working with the owners to see if there is something they can do in terms of assistance.
Woman assaulted in cemetery where homeless live: In August, the Reporter learned that more than 100 immigrants, many of whom were in the country illegally, were found to be living in and around the Grove Church Cemetery in North Bergen.
It was investigated after a North Bergen woman was allegedly dragged into the cemetery and sexually assaulted by someone who obviously knew of the living arrangements there.
The township said that they randomly sent units to displace the immigrants, but somehow, they would always return. Some of the immigrants told the Reporter that they had nowhere else to go.
Subpoenas at Public Works: In July, the state Attorney General’s office began a full-fledged investigation into possible wrongdoing within the North Bergen Department of Public Works, filing at least one subpoena and perhaps as many as 11 in order to receive information about possible no-show jobs and municipal workers being paid for two jobs at the same time.
According to a source in the Attorney General’s office in Trenton, the investigation centered on some employees who apparently signed into work in the DPW, but then left to work for private contractors while still on the municipal payroll, and on some part-time inspectors who were being paid by the township, but never showed up for work.
The state Attorney General’s office asked for every time sheet, sign-in sheet, and work order involving the DPW, dating back to September of 2000. The township has been turning over the records.
Sacco and team re-elected: In May, long-time North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and his entire ticket of town commissioners were re-elected, because they had no opposition. Sacco was swept into his sixth term as a member of the Board of Commissioners and his fifth as mayor. Fellow incumbents Frank Gargiulo, Theresa Ferraro, Hugo Cabrera, and Allen Pascual were also re-elected. In North Bergen’s form of government, a five-member board of commissioners is elected, and one of them also serves as mayor.
Sacco was also re-elected as state senator for the 32nd state legislative district.
Town may be forced to add affordable housing: Under normal circumstances, the prospect of getting new affordable housing and a bakery in a town wouldn’t rub a group of city leaders the wrong way. However, this year wasn’t “normal circumstances.” In 2007, Secaucus saw both of those prospects as symbols of the fact that local control over development was being wrested away by the state.
The state-run Meadowlands Commission oversees development in parts of 14 towns near the Meadowlands area, including making decisions on 80 percent of zoning in Secaucus. It’s not unusual that the NJMC makes decisions for the town that its elected leaders and residents resent.
In the spring, the NJMC approved a bakery that neighbors ended up protesting because they did not want it in their neighborhood. The town actually has hired an attorney to fight the approval.
In September, the NJMC notified Secaucus that they may have to include more affordable housing in their town, which is already seeing much residential development. The Xanadu commercial project is being built next door in East Rutherford, and state law says that a certain amount of affordable housing is needed when commercial development is built. The NJMC may look for Meadowlands towns to put the required affordable housing in, and Secaucus, which already has some affordable housing, is high up on the list.
New opposition on council: The ripple effects from the November, 2006 Town Council race were felt throughout 2007, as the newly elected Take Back Secaucus slate frequently butted heads on the council with the allies of Mayor Dennis Elwell.
While the mayor and six councilmen were united 7-0 on many votes throughout the year, a number of key votes were split 4-3, as the specter of the next mayoral race in 2009 looms large.
First Ward Councilman Gary Jeffas and possible mayoral hopeful Mike Gonnelli of the 2nd Ward promised to curb overdevelopment, improve government ethics, and stem patronage. The two men have often formed a voting bloc with Independent councilman John Bueckner.
This dynamic was seen most recently during the pay-to-play vote, with the Take Back Secaucus pols pushing for campaign finance restrictions in the town, and the mayor and his friends on the council shooting down the measure. However, the mayor and his allies pointed out that the Take Back Secaucus bloc had released details of the measure to the press before telling their fellow councilpeople about it, and said they didn’t have enough time to properly review the new measure before the meeting.
The matter died 3-4.
Viaduct collapses: During 2007’s April showers, the south wing of the 14th Street Viaduct in Union City collapsed. Built in 1934, it’s believed that a nor’easter, in combination with water infiltration, was responsible for the April 15 disaster that occurred shortly after 10 p.m. The wall, used to connect Hoboken and Union City, fell on cars and power lines. State police officials, Union City and Jersey City police, as well as Union City’s Emergency Management and North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, were on the scene to assist and search for victims. No injuries were reported but the collapse was reported to have extended out 150 feet.
Some residents were displaced but allowed to return the day after. The road is now back open to traffic.
Cops vs. mayor: In November, two of Weehawken’s highest ranking uniformed police officers filed a federal lawsuit against Mayor Richard Turner and the township, claiming that Turner has used his power to “demoralize the police department and threaten the public’s safety” with the use of a “pay-to-play” policy.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. Federal Court by Capt. Thomas Earl and Lt. Richard DeCosmis, stated that Turner’s “continuous and improper interference” with the police department was carried out “in order to advance his political agenda and corrupt schemes.”
The normally unblemished Turner responded that the suit was baseless. “When they get assignments they hate, they come after me,” he said. “It’s a frivolous lawsuit and it reeks of disgruntlement. What sense is all of this? It’s nonsense.”
New hotel: In October, Roseland Properties, Inc. announced that the second phase of the $700 million Port Imperial South development will begin shortly, when construction of a new 294-room Wyndham hotel gets underway directly adjacent to the new NY Waterway ferry terminal.
The major Roseland Properties development got underway four years ago. This year, they built 174 units called Henley on the Hudson, as well as a new Weehawken waterfront recreational area and park.
Clooney in accident: In September, Weehawken grabbed national attention when megastar George Clooney and his girlfriend, Sarah Larson, were injured in a motorcycle accident on Boulevard East. Clooney suffered a broken rib and some lacerations as a result of the crash. Larson suffered a broken foot.
According to police reports, Clooney and his girlfriend were traveling north on Boulevard East on a rented motorcycle, when it collided with a 1999 Mazda Millenia operated by a 27-year-old Weehawken resident, at the intersection of King Avenue and Boulevard East.
Clooney and his girlfriend were transported by the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad to Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen. They were treated and released.
Clooney and his gal pal had no complaints about their treatment. But it was later discovered that some curious employees gained access to Clooney’s personal records after the visit. Twenty-seven employees were suspended for their actions.
West New York
West New York opens new Public School 4: The town of West New York welcomed its first generation of students to the newly built Public School 4 in September of this year. Construction of the $48 million project began in January, 2006 and was finalized this year in order to house its 705 students between grades pre-K and sixth grade. The school has a cafeteria, a 300-seat auditorium with aisle lighting, two computer rooms, a gymnasium, six small group instruction rooms, occupational therapy rooms, and media and reading centers.
The project was executed in conjunction with the state’s School Construction Corporation.