Local long shot challenges Romano

County Board of Freeholders seat up for election on Nov. 8

Hoboken and Jersey City Heights voters will have an opportunity to decide who they want to represent them on a county level when Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano’s District 5 seat comes up for election on Nov. 8.
The incumbent Romano, 55, will face off against challenger Kurt Gardiner, 44, a politically-involved Hoboken resident who up until recently operated a blog about local politics.
Gardiner is a project manager for a firm in New York City, and Romano is a retired Hoboken police captain of 32 years.
Local political observers believe that Gardiner is a long shot to win the race, as he is running against a Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) candidate and a better-known figure in the county.

On Nov. 8, Romano is running in column A, and Gardiner is running in column C.
“I’m a long shot,” Gardiner said. “I knew that going in…nobody else has stepped up to the plate, but as a bare minimum, I will at least make an issue that the county is not giving Hoboken a fair shake.”
Romano has represented the fifth district since 2008, when he was asked to run on the HCDO ticket by members of the party.
“They felt that my reputation was good so they asked me if I was interested,” Romano said.
Romano retired from the police force with the rank of captain in 2010 rather than take a demotion during a period of proposed layoffs.

Taxes and services

While the big issue for voters is county taxes, the actual tax levy for Hudson County is set by a state formula. With the rate of taxes virtually untouchable by individual freeholders, it’s up to them to make sure their districts receive their fair share of services.
“When Hoboken didn’t have salt for the snowstorm, I got the county to provide it,” Romano said. “When Hoboken didn’t have enough equipment to plow the streets, the country was there to assist…the county has assisted with the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The sheriff’s department is now working in Columbus Park; they were not there previously.”
Romano also said he believes the county did “a tremendous job” fixing Sinatra Drive North in uptown Hoboken. The road collapsed in October 2010, and the county fixed the road by August 2011.
Romano also touts the allocation of $3 million in county open space money heading to Hoboken for the construction of a new park in the southwest part of the city.
However, Gardiner believes that Hoboken and Jersey City Heights residents deserve more for their money.
“First and foremost, we need to get more services in Hoboken,” Gardiner said. “We aren’t getting back what we pay for in taxes. It’s a form of piracy. All the other municipalities are getting up to the trough, getting fed, but it’s like we’re the runt of the litter getting cut off.”
Gardiner said that as an example, during the impending sale of Hoboken University Medical Center, after the council refused to contribute money to help facilitate the sale, the county was silent, but the state contributed $5 million.
“Almost 70 percent of the people that use the hospital are not from Hoboken,” Gardiner said. “Where was Anthony Romano?”
Romano says he, unlike Gardiner, has working relationships all throughout the county and state necessary to govern effectively.
“I’m open to opinions that different people have,” Romano said. “I work with different levels of government for the betterment of the citizens of Hoboken…I have an ability to work with people on both sides of the aisle, which in Hoboken seems to be the exception rather than the rule.”
Gardiner often took aim at political opponents of Mayor Dawn Zimmer on his blog.
Zimmer, when asked last week if she would become involved in the race and endorse anyone, simply said no.
Although Gardiner has endorsed Zimmer in the past, he said he understands why he wouldn’t get a major endorsement.
“I know the mayor will not be endorsing me and I’m fine with that,” Gardiner said. “I don’t think she should have to risk political capital to back me. If the race was going to be close, according to pundits, I thought she might have [endorsed] me.”
Although Gardiner doesn’t have the same relationships in the county as Romano, he said that shouldn’t be an issue.
“I would have to establish [relationships],” Gardiner said. “I’m a newcomer. If elected I would introduce myself to anyone, but I am not going to back down. I would make it clear that I’m an advocate for my district.”
Gardiner served as the Democratic committeeman for his district two years ago and won by a 15-5 vote, but did not seek re-election.
Another point of Gardiner’s campaign is that he wants the county to re-take control of Washington Street in Hoboken, and repave it for the city.
“If I’m elected, I’ll be voting no on any budget that gives Hoboken a 10 percent tax increase,” Gardiner said. “And I won’t take a county car; that’s what [car sharing] is for.”
Romano uses a county car, but only for county events, he said.
However, despite Gardiner’s claims about Hoboken not getting back enough from its taxes, Romano feels he represents the district very well.
“Whatever we can do with open space money to help Hoboken, obviously there’s only so much you can do, with municipalities biting at the same pie, but I’ll push for whatever I can for Hoboken or Jersey City Heights,” Romano said. “But since I’ve been here, we’ve got an increase in services. For the last term, Hoboken has received the most funds in terms of transportation for the county. All county roads have been paved, which is a tremendous undertaking because Hoboken has many county streets.”
Romano also sponsors youth sports teams in his district.
Gardiner’s campaign has not yet financially taken off, as he planned on opening a bank account last week. Romano, on the contrary, raised over $70,000 during his primary campaign in the spring, campaign records show.
On Nov. 8, Romano is running in column A, and Gardiner is running in column C.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com

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