A change of wind in Hudson County?

Those who know Pamela Gardner best know just how good she has been as Hudson County Register since being elected to that post in 2011. But for jobs that are considered political patronage, doing a good job doesn’t always mean keeping the post.
With the political winds changing, the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) that helped get Gardner the nomination appears to be looking elsewhere.
With Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop seen as the up and coming power broker in Hudson County, choices on the county level may well be his to make.
So it appears that Councilwoman Diane Coleman may get the HCDO nod instead, allowing her to give up her seat as Ward F council person.
Coleman came under heavy criticism last year when Fulop and former Gov. Jim McGreevey attempted to open another reentry center for ex-prisoners in Ward F.
The attack on the program reeked of political opportunism by members of Fulop’s political opposition, seeking something on which to hang a future campaign.
Although Coleman isn’t saying exactly why she is giving up her seat on the City Council, the attacks stung, and clearly made her realize just how nasty a reelection campaign could get next year.
Fulop owes Coleman a lot. Her election to the council in 2009 gave him the swing vote he needed to take control of the governing body. This set the stage for his successful mayoral run in 2013.
But Coleman’s move to oust Gardner has broader implications. Gardner is seen as a strong supporter of state Senator Sandra Cunningham. A move against Gardner is seen as a move against Cunningham. This may have something to do with Cunningham’s support of state Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s bid for governor.
Sweeney is one of a handful of people who may oppose Fulop in the June 2017 Democratic primary for governor.
But the removal of a Cunningham supporter also suggests a perceived weakening of Cunningham’s influence in Jersey City and Hudson County.
The replacement of Assemblyman Charles Mainor – a one-time Cunningham ally – may have been the first of a series of moves made to eventually unseat Cunningham and possibly replace her with Jersey City Councilwoman Joyce Watterman.

A vacuum at the top

But even Fulop loyalists fear a mayoral vacuum if Fulop wins the primary for governor next year.
Moving the local election to November and doing away with a run off would give Fulop an opportunity to run for reelection if his June bid for the gubernatorial nomination fails. But it is also hindering any potential replacement.
Those who are seen as Fulop supporters won’t start building a campaign early if Fulop’s running for reelection would derail the effort.
But the issue becomes dire if he successfully gets the nomination. Who is his heir apparent?
Most believe Bill O’Dea won’t win citywide. Some see McGreevey as a potential candidate. But others believe that Fulop’s heir needs to be someone of color. Council President Rolando Lavaro apparently would like to run, and has a mayoral air about him.
Fulop’s opposition could well take advantage of the lack of a runoff to sneak someone else in since a simple majority would win mayor and council seats similarly to the way Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer won in a three way race in 2013. The list of mayoral wannabes is long, but could include former City Attorney Bill Matsikoudis who has been in the forefront of opposition to Fulop.

Bike battle has broader implications

The recent bicycle war between Hoboken and Jersey City has larger implications than merely a territorial dispute between two municipalities.
Although denied by the Zimmer administration, Hoboken appears to have delivered its bicycles to racks in Jersey City that are designed for public use.
Jersey City and Hoboken originally agreed to establish a joint system that would have included Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken. But Fulop opted to go with Citi Bike when he learned that most Jersey City riders access the PATH and ferries to New York City where they eventually hook up with Citi Bike there.
Citi Bike JC has proven so successful over its first six months that the program is being expanded this spring.
Zimmer may have felt betrayed since a significant amount of the funding for her bike share program relied on Jersey City. But she also opted for a less cumbersome system, one that did not depend upon docking stations, and thus Hoboken riders could wheel their way any place they wanted, and not be tied to going from one docking station to another. Some Hoboken riders apparently still go to Jersey City via the Hoboken program.
While Jersey City offered to provide Hoboken with racks in Jersey City in exchange for Citi Bike racks in Hoboken, Hoboken declined. Now Jersey City is moving to make it illegal for Hoboken to install its bikes in Jersey City.
This only adds fuel to a political fire between the two towns since Zimmer seems to be supporting Phil Murphy in the Democratic primary for governor. Relations between Fulop and Zimmer have soured over a number of issues. Fulop actually supported Zimmer’s reelection three years ago partly because of Zimmer’s anti-development stance.
“The more she says no to development, the more Jersey City gets,” said one Fulop advisor.
Once seen as the two next-generation mayors in Hudson County, Zimmer and Fulop appear to be heading in opposite directions. This may play out in the next freeholder primary where Freeholder Anthony Romano of Hoboken is running for reelection.
Three years ago, Fulop and the HDCO ran a Zimmer candidate against Romano and were embarrassed when the candidate ran a campaign bashing the county. Romano won as a result. Next year, Romano will likely retain HCDO support regardless of who Zimmer puts up. Indeed, Romano’s fundraiser earlier this month drew Hudson County’s political elite, sending a message to Zimmer.
Zimmer, who has announced her intention to run for a third term next year, may not be able to rely on Fulop or HCDO support. If Romano runs for mayor as expected, the HCDO and Fulop may well back him.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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