Hoboken candidates exchange barbs, song ideas

Interrupt each other at debates at Hudson Reporter office; available online this week

Hoboken’s City Council candidates exchanged barbs over everything from internet use to campaign music to rent control when they gathered at the Hudson Reporter’s uptown office last week to answer questions and debate. All six ward council seats are up for election on May 10, and nearly all of those running for the offices took part.
The debates, which became heated and personal at times, can be viewed online this week at www.hudsonreporter.com. You can leave comments at the end.
The candidates also appeared in a forum last week run by the non-profit group, People for Open Government.

Election Day is May 10.
At the Reporter debates – broken into three sets of two wards each – the candidates were asked about corruption, parking, rent control amendments, development, the waterfront, tax-cutting, and affordable housing, and were thrown a wildcard question to see how well they think on their feet.
One wildcard question during the 1st and 2nd Ward debate somehow led to an argument about attacks on internet blogs. It also resulted in one candidate declining to answer.
After each candidate gave a two-minute answer, each was allowed 30 seconds to respond to the opponent.
The City Council is currently split 5-4, with five members often opposing Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s more controversial initiatives, and four members who support the mayor’s plans. Each ward has two to four candidates running for a slot.

1st Ward

Longtime Councilwoman Theresa Castellano and challenger Eric Kurta engaged in several heated exchanges, attacking each other on just about every issue.
Castellano attacked Kurta’s lack of experience, claiming Kurta was using the campaign for his “master’s thesis.” Kurta, who has spoken out about Hoboken campaign finance reform for many years, said he was not running as an academic exercise.
As a wildcard question, all of the 1st and 2nd Ward candidates were asked, “If your campaign had a theme song, what would it be and why?”
Castellano said her song would be “God Bless America.” Kurta wouldn’t volunteer a song, saying he didn’t like such questions because he considers himself a “serious” candidate. He said he would give “the Dawn Zimmer answer, and pass.” In 2009, Zimmer, in a Reporter debate, was asked to name her favorite Beatle and couldn’t provide an answer. Her challenger, Peter Cammarano, poked fun at her faux pas for days.
Castellano shot back that Kurta’s response was not surprising because he will do whatever Zimmer wants.
All of the candidates somehow ended up transitioning from this question into an argument about nasty attacks on the internet.
To see what else they said in response, and more of their barbs and responses to questions about taxes, rent control, and corruption, check out the website this coming week.

2nd Ward

Three of the four 2nd Ward candidates – Council President Beth Mason, Tom Greaney, and Franz Paetzold – debated, but candidate Patricia Waiters did not participate. Waiters is also running for school board.
Mason has been at odds with Zimmer in recent years. Greaney has received Zimmer’s support in the upcoming election. Paetzold said he believes that since he has no official endorsement he will better service the needs of the ward. He pointed out that both of his opponents are spending many thousands of dollars to get a part-time job that pays less than $25,000 per year. He hinted that they are beholden to others.
Mason thanked council members Carol Marsh and Ravinder Bhalla, both allied with Zimmer, for voting for her as council president earlier this year. Greaney responded by pointing out that Marsh and Bhalla have thrown their support behind him against Mason’s re-election.
Mason repeated a position she’s taken often, that the city should take the 5 percent cash surplus in the propose Zimmer budget, and give it back to the taxpayers. Greaney supports retaining the surplus, as does the mayor, because it improves the city’s bond rating, which he says will result in a gradual decrease of taxes.
Paetzold said he supports taking a look at personnel costs to cut taxes, and supports “benchmarking” to look at how Hoboken’s costs compare to those of other towns.
Mason, who chairs the city’s rent control subcommittee, said she worked hard and came up with a compromise on three changes to the rent control ordinance. Greaney accused Mason of doing an “incomplete job” and showing “poor leadership” because the compromise took too long.

3rd Ward

In the 3rd Ward, Councilman Michael Russo took on challenger Greg Lincoln.
Russo sidestepped a current controversy over FBI surveillance tapes that show him discussing a $5,000 campaign donation in 2009 with informant Solomon Dwek. This forced Lincoln to raise the issue, which he did a number of times.
Russo is considered an enemy of Zimmer by her supporters, and the mayor has tried to focus public attention on the tapes as well.
Russo said his main focus for the next four years if elected would be to bring a “large park” to the ward. Lincoln said the issue should have been a priority before, not just at election time.
The candidates were asked about a serious personal challenge they faced, and how it will affect how they govern. Their responses were telling. See the debate on-line for more.

4th Ward

The 4th Ward debate was arguably the most heated. Councilman Tim Occhipinti took on Rami Pinchevsky, who, like Lincoln, has received Zimmer’s endorsement. Occhipinti frequently interrupted Pinchevsky to claim he was lying about Occhipinti’s record, while Pinchevsky maintained his compsure.
Pinchevsky claimed Occhipinti was supported by developers. Occhipinti said that’s not true and admonished him to “stick to the facts.”
Pinchevsky also said Occhipinti’s solution to flooding in the 4th Ward was that people should watch the Weather Channel, which Occhipinti also said was untrue.
Regarding the budget surplus, Occhipinti said he would like more of it given back to the taxpayers. Pinchevsky said all the sources he’s studied recommend a municipality should try to maintain a 5 to 10 percent cash surplus.
The two continued to argue, even after the debate was over.

5th Ward

Challengers Scott Delea and Leonard Luizzi took on incumbent 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham in the debate, while resident (and past Board of Education and Hoboken Housing Authority member) Perry Belfiore was sick and could not attend.
Cunningham is the only incumbent up for re-election who is supported by Zimmer.
Delea, a founding member of Hoboken Revolt and a business owner in the ward, criticized Cunningham on his handling of ward issues and called him “an absentee landlord for the 5th Ward.”
Luizzi blasted Cunningham for not passing the budget in 2008 when Dave Roberts was mayor, and criticized Zimmer, saying she uses the city website for political purposes.
Cunningham said his opponents didn’t know what they were talking about, and said it was illegal for the council to vote on an underfunded budget. Cunningham touted his experience as a councilman, and said he hopes to get more done in the ward in the next four years.
The 5th and 6th Ward candidates were asked for parking ideas. Cunningham spoke of some, while his opponents asked why he hadn’t acted on them yet.

6th Ward

Sixth Ward Councilman Nino Giacchi took on challenger Jennifer Giattino, who portrayed herself as the answer to “the old boys’ club,” to which Giacchi took offense, saying he’s only 46 and unaware of such a network.
Giacchi said he wants to make metered spots in the ward available to residents for free after the dinner hour to create more parking. Giattino, who has the support of Zimmer, said she is a great believer in the city’s transportation options, like the city’s HOP shuttle bus and corner cars.
They and the 5th Ward candidates were asked a wildcard question of where they would take friends from out of town – and they weren’t allowed to give “the waterfront” as their answer.
To find out what they chose, and to hear their takes on other issues, log on to www.hudsonreporter.com, check the video links on the homepage, and go to the photos and videos toolbar option.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com

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