The Hoboken Democrats who are opposed to Mayor Dawn Zimmer gave a good example last week of why they may not be ready to lead the city into the new century.
In a power grab that was described as “ugly and unseemly,” political committee people tied to Councilman Michael Russo and Carmelo Garcia joined others to force a vote to replace Jamie Cryan as chairman.
Although those who opposed Cryan cited several excuses for removing him, many blame Cryan for leading a third mayoral ticket in November, 2013 that split the opposition vote to Zimmer. This allowed Zimmer to get reelected even though she didn’t get a majority of the votes cast in town.
Hosted in Room 84, a club on lower Washington Street, the newly elected committee members held a vote on Monday and replaced Cryan with Freeholder Anthony Romano.
In Hoboken, chairmen serve two-year terms. Cryan had held the seat for two terms, since 2011.
In what became a competition for which side could most violate the committee’s rules, Cryan attempted to nominate a temporary chairman to oversee the election, but was immediately shouted down by his opponents.
In an apparent attempt to quell the rebellion, Cryan frequently refused to recognize some of the committee people attempting to speak at the meeting.
Under the committee rules, a temporary chairman needs to be nominated and voted on by the committee members before the actual vote on chairmanship and other office holders. Garcia, after a lot of shouting, became the pro tempore of the committee, and proceeded to ask for nominations for a new chairman.
Cryan had tried to opt for a secret ballot, and even arranged for the county to deliver a voting machine for that purpose. But possible insurance risks to the establishment, lack of easy access to the location, and other excuses were used to block the move. Ultimately, county election officials showed up with cardboard box, index cards, and a number of pens to record the vote tally.
While the Russo contingent was apparently right in objecting to Cryan’s nominating process, Russo’s election as vice chair apparently also violated the rules. Chairs and vice chairs are supposed to go to a man and a woman, not two men. Also elected were John Castellano (a cousin of Russo) as treasurer and Joe Branco as secretary. Linda Petruzzelli was appointed sergeant-at-arms.
‘It is what it is’
The entertainment for the night was highlighted by verbal confrontation between Russo and Cryan.
Yet, Cryan eventually issued a consolatory statement after the election.
“It was incredible working with some great committee people,” said Cryan. “The new leadership has my full support.”
In an interview, Cryan dispelled claims that he accomplished nothing during his term as chairman and played down his disappointment at losing the seat.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’m very grateful for last four years. My only goal was to do what was best for Hoboken. We have had no fighting over the last four years. When I took over four years ago, the committee split. Ravi Bhalla [a Zimmer-allied councilman] was in charge, and we barely won the chairmanship 36 to 34. We won it back, without insulting the mayor. Now we have more than 68 committee seats on our side.”
A tough job ahead
Romano, who is said to have aspirations to run for mayor in 2017, is charged with the dubious task of reuniting Hoboken Democrats amid petty feuds.
Romano said he would seek to reinstate the committee process that would involve all committee people in the city, not just leadership, in the decision-making process.
Romano admitted that he was a compromise candidate after several months of jockeying by others including Councilwoman Beth Mason and Russo.
(See prior columns and the Hoboken Reporter cover story from last month for more details on the matter.)
Power play in Hoboken
Behind the scenes, power players from around Hudson County had their influence. People tied to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and mayors in North Hudson did not want Mason as chair. But these powers also wanted Cryan removed partly because of Frank Raia, a local developer who is a strong supporter of Cryan’s.
Raia had supported West New York Commissioner Count Wiley’s bid against incumbent Mayor Felix Roque and is rumored to have donated to Larry Wainstein in his bid against North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
Cryan had apparently hoped to get Raia appointed as honorary chairman of the Hoboken Democrats, a move also blocked by his opposition. Mason and Garcia were appointed honorary chairs instead. Mason is expected to become a leader in the local campaign for Hillary Clinton next year.
While Union City Mayor Brian Stack apparently opposed Romano’s appointment as well, behind the scenes, power brokers have reportedly agreed to help smooth over the differences by helping to raise campaign money for Stack.
Rumors claim that Cryan had also brokered side deals with Zimmer to help protect his seat, offering one or more of the officers’ positions to Zimmer people. Cryan has denied making any such deals.
Zimmer people are not thrilled with Cryan either since he led the effort to remove Dana Wefer as a committee officer after she apparently moved out of her district last year.
Fractured opposition believes they can prevail in November
This sets the stage for a continuous municipal election in November in which many of the same players will take part.
Garcia has already announced that he will challenge Councilwoman Jennifer Giattino in the 6th Ward.
Wefer, this week, announced that she will run in the 4th ward against Councilman Tim Occhipinti. Former Assemblyman Ruben Ramos is also expected to run in the 4th ward, in what looks to be a repeat on a ward level of the 2013 mayoral election.
Garcia, who Wefer helped remove as executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority, says Wefer forced him out in order to raise her profile for the upcoming election.
Cryan is rumored to also want to run in the 4th Ward, although most people believe he will not run since Raia is expected to support Occhipinti.
Although utterly fractured, the anti-Zimmer forces still believe they can win back a majority on the City Council in November. But this depends on Mason. If she decides not to run for reelection, the 2nd Ward would be up for grabs.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.