May the force be with you

The Hoboken City Council reorganization meeting was so saccharine some people might have needed a dose of insulin just to get through it.
To begin with, you had Councilman David Mello nominating Councilwoman Jennifer Giattino for council president – the sole nominee. This comes at a time when Mello has yet again been passed over as council president, after serving last year as vice president.
Rumor suggests Mello has ambitions to become mayor some day. Being council president is a huge leap toward that goal, since it provides some experience in a leadership position. But year after year, Mello has been passed over in favor of other council members. Some, like Giattino and Councilman Ravi Bhalla, have served several times. So to nominate Giattino must have come with mixed emotions for Mello.
At the same meeting, Mello was nominated to serve as vice president of the council for the second year in a row – and shockingly, it was Councilman Michael Russo who seconded Mello’s nomination.
You have to wonder if perhaps Russo may be trying to lure Mello out of the camp of Mayor Dawn Zimmer to what Zimmer supporters consider the “dark side.”
Mello and newly-elected Councilman Michael DeFusco seem to have bonded, at least on the issue of diversity on the boards (or the lack thereof), something that seems to have become an issue under the Zimmer administration.
On top of all of this, Bhalla beamed about what a nice man newly elected Councilman Ruben Ramos is, suggesting that the Zimmer camp might want to bring him over to their side, as rumored after Ramos successfully defeated both incumbent Tim Occhipinti and Zimmer-supported Dana Wefer.
With the Zimmer administration firmly in control of the City Council with a 7 to 2 majority, you have to wonder why all these nice things are being said. Some people unconnected with Zimmer bring up the Hoboken curse, suggesting that like former mayors Anthony Russo and Dave Roberts, Zimmer may not have the support to win a third term as mayor. Part of this may be the impatience of Zimmer council members such as Bhalla, Giattino, and even Mello, who have already had to wait years for their chance to run for mayor.
Some of Zimmer’s critics, perhaps only in the mood for sour grapes, believe that Zimmer’s ultimate success will be her undoing. Projects like the reconstruction of Observer Highway and Washington Street will create animosity among residents who are inconvenienced. Increasing property values in Hoboken may also increase the county tax burden, further aggravating an already existing issue.
As in the movies, Zimmer may have “the force” behind her, but it may do her little good.

Lyles is the issue on Jersey City school board

Last January, opponents of schools Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles were thrilled to have Vidya Gangadin, an unknown political quantity at the time, become president of the Board of Education. At this year’s reorganization meeting on Jan.5, they tried unsuccessfully to keep Gangadin from being reappointed.
Last year, Gangadin was a compromise choice for board president after Mayor Steven Fulop, a Lyles supporter, abandoned the board members he previously helped get elected, allowing three anti-Lyles candidates to win seats. Throughout 2015, the board was split between four pro-Lyles members and four opponents, leaving Gangadin as the deciding vote.
In last November’s board election, the anti-Lyles members hoped to swing the majority into their camp, but Gina Verdibello, an ally to the anti-Lyles side, lost to John Reichart, a Lyles supporter.
As apparent reward for his support for Lyles, Reichart was appointed vice chair on Jan. 5 in another vote that divided the board along pro and anti-Lyles lines. Reichart hasn’t even taken his required board courses, and has no governmental experience, and yet he will hold one of the key leadership positions.
Since Fulop was instrumental in getting Gangadin appointed as board president last year, it would appear that he supports this power shift that is likely to result in support for Lyles’ reappointment.
Ironically, Gangadin and Reichart had the support of the anti-Lyles teachers’ union in the November election.
Worse still for the anti-Lyles side, some members under a change of state law will not be able to vote on Lyles at all because these members have family members who are either teachers or hold some other position in the school district overseen by Lyles.
While the reorganization meeting was filled with positive rhetoric about working together, the undertones of the meeting showed significant potential hostility for Lyles’ future.

Discrimination and history

Opposition to the construction of an Islamic mosque in Bayonne is growing.
A protest march is being planned for the near future in an attempt to get the city’s Planning Board to be more stringent toward the proposed project.
Some people feel the board has not forced the mosque builders to follow the same rules that similar projects might require, such as providing traffic and parking impact studies for the area.
While opposition to the project appears to be partly generated by national anti-Muslim sentiment, the issue will be a test of Mayor James Davis’ ability to retain the historic diversity of Bayonne – a city that was often the first stop for many immigrants after Ellis Island.
While other communities in the nation in the past objected to immigrants from places like Ireland and Italy, Bayonne tended to welcome them. Bayonne was also a center of opposition to policies of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Over the last decade, Latino and Middle Eastern immigrants have found homes in Bayonne. Some of those from Egypt were Coptic Christian, but many were Muslim.
With the current outcry by some national political people against refugees from Syria, a hateful mood towards Muslims has emerged. One of the challenges Davis will face in the upcoming years will involve tamping down this rhetoric and finding a way to embrace new immigrants as Bayonne always has in the past.

Al Sullivan may be reached at

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