Standing room only

You would think someone was giving out free popcorn, considering the number of political bigwigs standing in line to throw their support to Phil Murphy, particularly now that Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop has dropped out of the 2017 gubernatorial race.

Of course, for those politicians who will seek to collect favors from Murphy, those who get the best payback will be those who invested first.

This dynamic could figure seriously in next year’s local races, too, where Murphy’s money could help or hurt candidates in municipal or even freeholder races.

One of the big winners in Hudson County could be Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer. She made an early connection with Murphy, although her supporters later tried to deny it, apparently to keep Zimmer out of trouble with the serious state powerbrokers like Southern Jersey political boss George Norcross and his number one chess piece, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney.

Zimmer’s early connection to Murphy may well have explained the bad vibes between her and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

But now that Sweeney, Norcross, Fulop, state Senator Sandra Cunningham and a host of other powerful politicos have since thrown their support behind Murphy, it may be safe for Zimmer to come out of the closet and, in exchange, get serious help from Murphy in her reelection bid in 2017.

This could pose a real problem for Hoboken Freeholder Anthony Romano, who is already looking over his shoulder to see if Zimmer will put up a challenger. Rumors suggest that Phil Cohen might make another run to unseat Romano in the June primary. Other possible names being floated are Housing Authority board chairwoman Dana Wefer and former Councilman Tim Occhipinti.

A lot will depend on whom the Hudson County Democratic Organization supports. Three years ago, Cohen was allowed to run on a ballot with other Democrats or on-the-line, giving him a huge boost. Romano was able to win largely with strong union support. Usually, the Democratic county chairman, in this case, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, honors the wishes of the sitting mayor.

This move to support Murphy by Mayor Fulop may well save the political career of Freeholder Gerald Balmir, who apparently crossed swords with Fulop by becoming too well connected with Sweeney when Fulop and Sweeney were seen as competitors for the Democratic nomination for governor. Both have since bowed out of the race.

Hamilton Park Association school board forum

Questions at the Hamilton Park Association candidates’ forum clearly showed which side they are on in the battle for control of the Board of Education. Designed to highlight some of the most controversial moments in the last year’s battle between factions on the board, the questions became a kind of litmus test for new candidates from the various slates running for office.

The Board of Education has been rife with bad feelings over the last two years, especially in regards to the reappointment of School’s Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles last year, when outgoing board members managed to give her a four-year term without having to conduct a vote.

But with 10 candidates on three tickets and two independents to choose from, voters will likely pick and choose, despite heavy endorsements for one ticket from teacher, fire, and police unions and support from Mayor Fulop.

Although the questions appeared give an endorsement to the Jersey City United and candidate Matt Schapiro – highlighting many of the complaints he has raised in public sessions over the last year – the forum forced candidates to take positions on issues such as ethics, Lyles, charter schools and such. All 10 candidates tended to agree more than disagree, a refreshing change from the current mix of board members.

Shakeup in Secaucus

As pointed out in last week’s column, Secaucus apparently has moved to fill the vacated seat of town administrator with 1st Ward Councilman Gary Jeffas, and fill Jeffas’ council seat with Board of Education President John Gerbasio.

This would force Gerbasio – who is running for reelection to the Board of Education – off the ballot, leaving four candidates for three seats.

The problem is that Board of Education candidate Tom Troyer is apparently poised to challenge the legality of the Jeffas move, citing a possible violation of state law. It appears a sitting elected official must wait a year to take a job in the municipality where he has been elected – unless the municipality has established a local ethics board to review possible conflicts of interest.

Jaime Vazquez seen as a champion

Jaime Vazquez, former Ward E councilman in Jersey City and voice for the Veterans and Latino communities, died of a massive heart attack at age 67 this week. His passing has left a void in the community and has brought out comments of regret from nearly every part of the community.

He served as downtown councilman from 1985 to 1997, but was a leader in the community long before that.

In 1988, while traveling in Peru, Vazquez witnessed the death of Anna Cucci, the wife of then Jersey City Mayor Anthony Cucci, after terrorists attacked the train they were on.

A U.S. Marine who fought in Vietnam, he was wounded at Khe Sanh, one of the most savage battles in the 10-year history of the war. He often wore his uniform to public meetings and perpetually advocated for veterans rights.

He briefly served as deputy mayor under Jersey City Bret Schundler, but resigned in 1999 over apparent philosophical differences.

Vazquez also challenged local white supremacist Hal Turner, but charges filed by both men were later dismissed, despite Vazquez suffering an injury.

Nearly all the comments in regard to Vazquez celebrate him as a hero and a champion of his community. All say his voice will be missed.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com