Dark clouds over Hoboken

This is not a political blog; you’ll have to go elsewhere for that. But I find this odd photo says a lot and I’m showing it. The very hour I saw it in the viewfinder, while relaxing on a bench on Washington Street, which is Hoboken’s main drag, the candidates for mayor in the upcoming special election were playing beat the clock in delivering their nominating petitions to the County Clerk’s Office in Jersey City. The deadline was 4 p.m.

A little background: Hoboken is having its third mayoral election of the year because the cute 32-year-old lawyer most recently elected mayor resigned after only a month in office. He was one of 44 people, three of them mayors of New Jersey municipalities, arrested on corruption charges in late July. Charged with accepting $30,000 from a “cooperating witness” secretly working a sting operation for the FBI, and having been caught on tape saying some very unbecoming things over dinner in a diner just before allegedly taking some cash in an envelope as he and the “cooperating witness” parted in the parking lot (New Jersey’s image to the rest of the world), the photogenic young mayor’s face was prominent in newspapers from coast to coast. The “reform” candidate he had beaten by a few hundred votes in the June runoff is now serving as acting mayor. Both were on the City Council, and as council president she stepped into the Mayor’s Office when he stepped out. She’s now running in the special election, as is another councilwoman whose “reform” credibility has been questioned because she allegedly forged a secret alliance in the May election with another council member, who’s considered to represent the old “business as usual” Hoboken. His father, who served as mayor for most of the Nineties, did prison time after an earlier scandal involving developers and bribes.

So did the two ladies meet the 4 p.m. filing deadline to quality for the November ballot? The county clerk has been saying yes, but another candidate — herself a former Hoboken municipal court judge – says no, that the acting mayor filed her petitions a few minutes after the hour and should be stricken from the ballot. This “is it a mountain or a molehill?” dispute, which involves time stamps on documents and disputes over notarized signatures, seems headed to court. Meanwhile, another candidate who’s been on the council and school board before, and has been serving on the local sewer authority board for 22 years, is also running, along with a few other contenders, and no one is talking, or being asked, about any real issues.

The current turmoil and fingerpointing is nothing new. Last year’s big news was that the City Council refused to pass the budget until way past the legal deadline, blaming the lame duck mayor for keeping the council in the dark as to its contents until the last minute, when his familiar budget balancing tricks were seen not to have worked. That mayor in turn blamed the council for not going along and doing their legal duty to pass it. So the state government stepped in and appointed a fiscal monitor, who found the budget had been being “underfunded” for several years and promptly raised Hoboken’s city taxes 47 percent, later adjusted down to 23. Ouch and groan!

Then came the May mayoral election, with a crowded field and all the candidates claiming to have “new answers” to “old problems.”  Then the June runoff with the narrow results, then the July corruption arrests and the mayor’s resignation, then a relative quiet August and now a September that’s awakened simmering ambitions all around. The special election is being held the same early November day New Jersey will elect its governor for the next four years, which means Republicans in Hoboken will be sure to vote, as the GOP candidate for governor actually appears to have a chance of unseating the millionaire Democrat (who lives in a Hoboken penthouse, built on the site of the old Maxwell House coffee plant) now winding up his first term. This means some Hoboken voters who couldn’t be bothered to vote in a city election may come out. And this GOP candiate is running on an anti-corruption platform, having sent scores of politicians to prison on corruption charges (including the above mentioned Hoboken councilman’s mayor daddy) during his tenure as the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney for New Jersey. Personally, I don’t think the state’s voters would be wise to hand over the governor’s job to someone who’s never had responsibility for running anything more complicated than an office full of prosecutors and assistant prosecutors, but despite having his own ethical lapses like being stopped speeding in an unregistered vehicle and giving a soon-to-be-former subordinate a $46,000 personal loan and not declaring the interest as income on his income taxes, having “corruption fighter” attached to his name may just do the trick.

My perennial questions: Can any of these people add? Can they balance municipal budgets without tricks like selling this or leasing that? Can they work together for what used to be called the common good?

The only thing I’m sure of is that there are clouds over Hoboken these days, and not the fluffy white kind.

Clouds Over Hoboken

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