Hoboken Councilman Ravinder Bhalla’s move to mount a primary challenge to incumbent Ruben Ramos for the state Assembly in the 33rd district that includes Hoboken, Union City, Weehawken and Jersey City Heights has taken on dimensions well-suited for a plot to the next Tom Cruise “Mission Impossible” movie.
The theories abound as to why Bhalla would incur the wrath of one of the most powerful political forces in Hudson County. The aftermath, however, may be worse than the original act. Bhalla’s ally, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer has refused to back down against the political bosses, an apparent act of political suicide.
Hoboken reformers claim Bhalla, who is chairman of the Hoboken Democrats, was encouraged to seek petitions to run, even though the idea of State Sen. Brian Stack dumping Assemblyman Ruben Ramos from his ticket in a year when he has already lost his staunch ally Assemblywoman Caridad Rodriguez to redistricting makes no sense – unless someone in the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) deliberately wanted to drive a wedge between the two Hudson County mayors that have close ties to Republican Gov. Christopher Christie.
Stack’s reaction to Bhalla’s move was absolutely predictable. Stack always over-reacts.
And until Stack and HCDO chairman Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith brokered a deal to keep the peace, Stack and the HCDO were on the brink of war, and Stack people were actively recruiting candidates to run against the HCDO.
Many Democrats are nervous about the close ties Zimmer and Stack have with Christie. By putting a wedge between Zimmer and Stack, Hudson County Democrats could be thinking to create havoc in the 33rd district so that they might at some point groom a possible challenger against Stack.
In order to keep peace in the primary, Stack agreed to accept Jersey City police detective and Board of Education member Sean Connors, and incumbent Assemblyman Ramos, on his slate.
Zimmer’s knee-jerk reaction
Zimmer is almost equally predictable. She has almost no political skills, and when she gets kicked she tends to kick back. By issuing her letter imagining a possible conspiracy between Stack and Smith designed to keep Bhalla from getting the Democratic line for the Assembly primary, she made an enemy of Stack as well as the HCDO, just prior to a critical council election in which she needs to regain control of the City Council or face the next two years as a virtual lame duck.
Smith called Bhalla’s move “a plot” against Ramos – who is considered the leading candidate to challenge Zimmer in the 2013 Hoboken municipal election.
“Either Mayor Zimmer is complicit in this blatant, anti-Democrat attack or she’s not in control of the Hoboken Democratic Party – either way they don’t deserve the Democratic line,” Smith said.
This, of course, only feeds the perception of an HCDO conspiracy to keep Zimmer and Stack at odds, and thus reduce the Republican ability to fracture the new Democratic unity which is fragile on its best days.
An alternative conspiracy theory claims Zimmer encouraged Bhalla to run in an impossible-to –win fight against Ramos in order to eliminate him as a potential alternative reform candidate for mayor in 2013 when Zimmer will have to seek re-election.
Let’s face it, the reformers in Hoboken do not have a lot of politically savvy people – gauging from the huge gaffes Zimmer made going into last November’s special 4th ward council election and her series of gaffes prior to the upcoming ward elections May 10. But Bhalla is a legitimate political animal, a bit green, but with all the right killer instincts required to play the game well in Hudson County.
Even the HCDO wouldn’t mind luring Bhalla over to the dark side of the force if they could manage it. So it is possible that Zimmer might see him as a threat, although in truth, she seems naïve when it comes to such political games, otherwise she would never have issued a letter making political enemies of Stack and Smith prior to the May election.
West New York election looms
West New York candidates for the municipal elections could not be interviewed in the same room together so they came to the Hudson Reporter offices for their video debate in two groups. Not to spoil the show for anyone who wishes to catch it on our website, an apt description may be to call it a battle between the well-prepared incumbents verse the well-intentioned challengers. After several years of intense rhetoric, voters will get to look at the two candidates answering the same questions to see which best suits the needs of the community.
While Incumbent Mayor Sal Vega and his team of candidates have the advantage in campaign experience, Dr. Felix Rogue – who will become the mayor if his team wins – seeks to make up this difference with his sincerity.
The problem is, the HCDO always has a bombshell to drop, and you can expect the West New York race to get very ugly shortly.
In some ways, the battle for West New York resembles the Vietnam conflict where political superpowers are using the local election as a test of strength. U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, who apparently wants to replace Rep. Albio Sires next year with a candidate of his own, is backing Vega, while Sires, who apparently wants to run again in 2012, is backing Dr. Roque.
Hudson Democrats face off against Christie on issues
Local officials are also forced to decide whether or not to support continuing the state’s Millionaire Tax, something that Christie claims is something of a misnomer since it really socks it to anyone earning more than $500,000. While this may seem rich to most people, Christie notes that those socked by this tax are many small business owners, who are lumped in with the super-rich.
This, of course, leads you to wonder about Christie’s commitment to small business when he has hinted at if not yet acted on doing away with or revamping the state’s Urban Enterprise Zone program – a program designed to help small businesses especially in the already economically savaged traditional shopping districts. Some local legislators would be much happier if the state did away with some of the regulations and fees that are imposed on small businesses, rather than cutting programs or doing away with taxes that affect some of the wealthier tax payers in the state.