The pending reappointment of Frank Raia to the North Hudson Sewerage Authority went off the rails in Hoboken on Wednesday night.
Among City Council members loyal to Mayor Dawn Zimmer, the Raia reappointment apparently caused a lot of panic behind the scenes as they scrambled to keep from being embarrassed. A deal was in the works to support Raia over a Zimmer “reform” ally.
At this past Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, the majority of Zimmer allies (but not all) voted to replace Raia on the authority with Kurt Gardiner. Gardiner had run unsuccessfully for freeholder in the past. As Gardiner accepted the position, he denied that he had the advanced support of Zimmer as detailed in this column last week.
In truth, he may have been right. Behind the scenes, some Zimmer loyalists on the council wanted to name Brian Assadourian, a current member with two years on his term, to replace Raia in his five-year seat.
According to several sources, the council was supposed to vote Raia into the unexpired Assadourian term.
But the whole scheme fell to pieces when it became clear that the council could not come up with the five votes necessary to get Raia appointed. So the council opted for Gardiner instead.
However, Raia was nominated by Zimmer loyalist Councilman David Mello and seconded by Councilman Peter Cunningham.
Yet, Mello eventually voted for Gardiner, while Cunningham voted against Gardiner. The vote was ultimately 8-1, with two Zimmer opponents actually backing Gardiner.
Councilman Ruben Ramos emerged the clear winner Wednesday night, possibly spoiling a deal between Raia and Mayor Dawn Zimmer that would have allowed Raia to return as Hoboken’s representative.
Sources say, however, that Raia – who had served on the sewerage board for 25 years – may just get appointed back onto the board by West New York Mayor Felix Roque.
Ramos, still stinging from a nasty municipal election in 2013 in which Raia funded a third ticket that allowed Zimmer to beat Ramos for mayor, had refused to be the deciding vote that would have guaranteed Raia the appointment.
The council people closest to Mayor Zimmer apparently were willing at first to put together the votes for Raia even though Gardiner, a Zimmer ally, had been lobbying for the appointment.
Raia, a developer, has a lot of money and thus a lot of influence over elections.
Anti-Zimmer forces believed that the appointment was intended to reward Raia for his support of the 2013 third ticket. They also believed that Zimmer’s council allies intended to give Raia the Assadourian two-year term, dangling a reappointment for him if he mounted yet another third ticket in 2017 to once more help Zimmer win reelection.
Raia’s rumored reappointment had upset some of the local “reform” bloggers, who had railed against Raia during the 2013 election. Although the bloggers are ardent Zimmer supporters, they apparently were not in on the political fix, and now feel just a little betrayed.
Some anti-Zimmer voters are touting this sudden unexpected Zimmer support for Raia as proof that Raia has been working against the so-called “Old Guard” Hoboken faction for years. While Zimmer had not endorsed anyone for the seat, leaving it up to the council to decide, her closest allies, including Councilman Ravi Bhalla, had appeared willing to support Raia. Since Bhalla rarely takes positions contrary to Zimmer’s wishes, his offer to support Raia appeared to have some validity. In the end, Bhalla said he wanted to give Assadourian the five-year term. But Bhalla stopped short of actually nominating him for the position.
Could enough arms be twisted to get the right number of votes?
The vote on Wednesday night had a lot of people guessing. The question was how many other Zimmer council people would chance a backlash to support Raia, when such support could offer evidence to support the theory that Raia helped Zimmer’s election in 2013.
Even though pro-Zimmer council members had a 7 to 2 majority on the council, not all the Zimmer people in the lead up to the vote appeared to be on board with the reappointment.
Bhalla, David Mello, Peter Cunningham, and Jim Doyle were expected to go along with the Zimmer agenda, but the more independent Zimmer council members such as Tiffanie Fisher, Michael DeFusco, and Council President Jen Giattino were less predictable. Some political observers believed that Zimmer people were heavily lobbying DeFusco to avoid the need to seek one of the two “old Hoboken” votes: Ramos or Michael Russo.
Zimmer people in lobbying Fisher have likely reminded her that Raia betrayed his former running mate Peter Biancamano in the 2nd Ward election last November, refusing to bankroll him in order to allow Fisher to win – one more sign of a possible close relationship between Raia and Zimmer.
The bloggers aren’t the only ones who might feel betrayed by any Zimmer/Raia alliance. Kurt Gardiner, who is seen as a reformer, announced last week that he wanted the seat, but some in town said Phil Cohen, a strong Zimmer supporter, might have been a better pick.
Cunningham’s vote had the potential to put him in a bad light among reformers.
Is Giattino a future mayor of Hoboken?
Although Zimmer apparently intends to run for a third term next year, there are others who would like to become mayor as well.
During the last ward elections last November, former state Sen. Bernard Kenny made appearances with Giattino several times. This caused some talk around the county since Kenny is a Democrat and Giattino a registered Republican. Kenny, of course, has been behind the scenes in a number of administrations including those of mayors Anthony Russo, Dave Roberts, and Zimmer. So his appearance with Giattino suggests that he might see her as a potential mayor if and when Zimmer decides she’s had enough.
Fulop needs the municipal elections in November
With the Jersey City Council adopting an ordinance that will ask voters if they want to move municipal elections from May to November, Mayor Steven Fulop appears to have lined up everything for his gubernatorial campaign.
Voters narrowly approved a non-binding resolution last November to move future mayoral elections. But critics blasted it, saying it was too slim a margin to truly reflect the will of the people. So the council decided to do it again. This time, the results — slim or not — will be binding if voters so choose.
Critics have asked the council to delay the implementation of the change until the 2021 election, saying that as proposed, the November election for mayor will allow Fulop to run for governor in the primary in June – and if he loses that – run for reelection as mayor in November.
But the change will benefit Fulop’s gubernatorial run as well if he becomes the Democratic candidate. His goal is to increase the number of voters going to the polls. By holding municipal elections along with his gubernatorial election, Fulop can piggyback on his local campaign organization and guarantee a strong Jersey City turnout.
If voters reject the move, Fulop will then have to choose between running for mayor or governor. Worse, if he chooses to run for governor, he will have to gear up his political machine a number of times, once or more in the spring for the municipal election and its possible runoff, and again in the fall for when he runs for governor against a yet undetermined Republican candidate.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.