Those opposed to Mayor Dawn Zimmer are starting to feel more confident about the upcoming mid-term elections on Nov. 3. Five of the six wards are being contested. At stake is control of the City Council, where those loyal to Zimmer currently have a 5-4 majority.
In 2013, Zimmer and her slate of at-large candidates won with less than a majority of the total vote, thanks to division in their opposition. But with some of the ward elections this year, that has changed.
Early infighting among the anti-Zimmer forces seems to have been resolved – if temporarily – and they now present a more or less united front. Those opposed to Zimmer believe they have a chance to sweep all five of the contested seats.
Coming into the election season, Zimmer supporters had felt their seats were more or less secure with the hope of even picking up additional seats. They believed they might be able to win in the 1st Ward, 2nd Ward, even the 4th Ward, seats currently occupied by anti-Zimmer council members. But it appears that even the 5th and 6th wards, which are currently occupied by pro-Zimmer council members, are at least in play.
Although Michael DeFusco appears to be a strong pro-Zimmer candidate in the 1st Ward, incumbent Theresa Castellano seems to have gained strength with the end of infighting among anti-Zimmer forces.
Zimmer supporters held out great hope for the 2nd Ward when it became clear that incumbent Beth Mason would not seek reelection. But in the three way race, independent Bonnie Murray may well steal votes from the pro-Zimmer Tiffanie Fisher, allowing Peter Biancamano to get elected.
The withdrawal of Frank Raia as a challenger against incumbent Michael Russo in the 3rd Ward is another blow against pro-Zimmer people. Since Russo will not have to defend his seat he can help other anti-Zimmer candidates. This raises questions about whether or not Zimmer made some kind of deal with Raia, since Zimmer chose not to run a candidate against Russo. If so, how were anti-Zimmer forces able to convince Raia to renege on the deal with Zimmer?
In the 4th Ward, former Assemblyman Ruben Ramos hopes to unseat Tim Occhipinti in a three-way race that includes Zimmer ally Dana Wefer. The presumption is that Occhipinti will take votes away from Ramos as he did in the mayoral election in 2013, allowing Wefer to win. But people aligned with Ramos believe Ramos has enough votes to win anyway.
Anti-Zimmer people have always seen incumbent Peter Cunningham as vulnerable in the 5th Ward, and are pinning hopes that Eduardo Gonzalez can steal back this seat.
The most interesting race is in the 6th Ward, where outgoing Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia has taken aim at incumbent Jen Giattino. Garcia is sitting on a bankroll of just shy of $50,000, which, sources say, is being used to flood the ward with anti-Giattino literature. But Garcia’s campaign really isn’t focused on Giattino, turning the election instead into an evaluation of the Zimmer administration. Garcia hopes to tap disaffection with the mayor.
War of words in 31st Assembly district
Republican Matt Kopko, one of the two Republican candidates for the state Assembly in the 31st District, continues his attack on Democrat Nicholas Chiaravalloti. Chiaravalloti and Angela McKnight are running on the Hudson County Democratic ticket in the Nov. 3 election. Kopko and Herminio Mendoza are runningmates on the Republican slate. In addition, Anthony Zanowic and Alex Rodriguez are independent candidates for the two open Assembly seats.
Kopko held a press conference on the steps of Bayonne City Hall last week to point out that Chiaravalloti was among more than 900 attorneys statewide listed as administratively ineligible from October 2014 to May 2015 regarding the New Jersey Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account program, which provides legal services to the poor.
This arose mostly from a technical glitch. Chiaravalloti failed to file necessary paperwork on time, and was not allowed to practice law until he did. In fact, he made the list twice, once during a period when he served as a legislative aide to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, and most recently as practicing attorney for a Union County law firm.
As aide to the senator, Chiaravalloti was not at the time working as an attorney, and apparently assumed the firm he worked for would file the paperwork, but they did not.
Kopko, however, pressed the point that Chiaravalloti should not have been practicing law if he was on the list.
More pertinent to the campaign is the question of whether Chiaravalloti did any legal work regarding his campaign. If so, this might be grounds to disqualify him as a candidate, but it’s something no one has proven.
Kopko took issue with some observations made in this column previously about the altered tone of his campaign. Prior to the primary in June, Kopko had run a largely positive campaign. After the primary, he appears to have taken up many of the more negative themes of Bruce Alston, Chiaravolliti’s defeated Democratic primary challenger.
Kopko maintains his campaign has been about issues, and points to his education and anti-corruption platform as well as plans to deal with jobs and anti-violence.
“Not just talking points, like my opponents, but actual policy proposals,” Kopko said.
Victory in WNY?
West New York Mayor Felix Roque is so confident in his support for his ticket of school board candidates he’s already sent out an invitation for the victory party to follow the election in November.
Although Pablo Fosenca has ceased working as the spokesperson for the city, he continues to work his magic behind the scenes in the school board election. Fosenca is also working on the campaign of Peter Biancamano in Hoboken.
“He’s all over the place in the 2nd Ward [in Hoboken],” said one political observer.
Fonseca said he felt very positive about the Hoboken campaign.
“Peter is the ultimate candidate and [has] an incredible work ethic,” Fonseca said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.