Hoboken City Council Recap – 9/17/2008
Housing Authority vacancy pulled from agenda
Hoboken411 received an email from 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer – advising that this weeks nominations for the vacant seat on the Hoboken Housing Authority will be pulled from this weeks council meeting. She inquired with Corporation Counsel Steve Kleinman, as she felt the path the council was taking to fill the vacant spot was not following the law.
The city will now accept applications for the seat for the next 30 days – and forwarded to the council for review. Applicants will be able to attend the November 5th meeting – and the council can interview them or make future appointments if they feel necessary.
Zimmer said “I believe Hector Claveria brings a very strong financial background that would be an asset to the Housing Authority Board and Housing Authority residents. I look forward to reviewing and considering all applicants’ credentials for the position before making my final decision.” She added “The vacancy on the Housing Authority board is supposed to be published on the City’s web site by the end of today, on the City Clerk’s bulletin board, and the City Clerk should have applications available for members of the public to complete.”
The Battle for the HHA Board
What was supposed to be the quickest City Council meeting in years turned into high political drama over the proposed re-appointment of Angel Alicea to the Hoboken Housing Authority board.
The HHA controls housing for thousands of people. The biggest concentration is in the 4th ward, where Election Day is also “payday” for hundreds of people compensated for their “time” when the political machine needs them to “get out the vote.” Ruben Ramos first tapped into that voter pool when he became the 4th ward Councilman in 1999. He used it again to run for Council-at-Large with David Roberts in 2001 and 2005, and for Assembly in 2007.
READ THE REST AFTER THE JUMP…
In Hoboken, to those who can deliver the HHA vote go the spoils. Ramos has built his political career around it. Roberts hired Ramos’ mother shortly after they helped him get elected Mayor. Ramos’ father is one of the highest paid employees of the HHA, which has about 75 people on its payroll. There is a lot at stake in the HHA for Ruben Ramos, and Angel Alicea is one of his strongest allies.
It all started two weeks ago…
That’s when the council unanimously passed an ordinance to institute a new public process for inviting people to offer their names for appointment to the many boards appointed by the Mayor and Council. The law sponsored by 2nd ward Councilwoman Beth Mason calls for open positions to be advertised and applications accepted. The re-appointment of Alicea was pulled from the agenda for two weeks so council members could have time to think it over.
A new voice speaks up
Hector Claveria watched that council meeting on Channel 78.
He was inspired by the council’s new appointments ordinance to reach out to 4th ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer and offer his resume for consideration for the HHA board seat.
With little time before the meeting, Zimmer suggested Claveria be given a shot at the 5-year term up for a vote.
Ramos pushed forward with his resolution to reappoint Alicea, but Council President Nino Giacchi indicated Claveria would be given a chance to address the council.
(Hoboken City Council Recap – 9/17/2008, continued…)
Public Comments on Alicea
Two speakers urged the reappointment of Alicea. One was HHA resident Margie Biart, who is also a 4th ward Democratic Committeewoman aligned with Ramos. She said “on behalf of our people” that Alicea “stood up for us” during rough times in the HHA. Biart said the previous administration at the HHA “ran it like a plantation,” and “Now that we are doing OK, everybody wants to interfere.” She also spoke highly of HHA commisioner Perry Belfiore, who was the second to speak in favor of Alicea. Belfiore solicited some snickers when he declared “There’s no patronage at the Housing Authority.”
The council opens fire
Councilwoman Terry LaBruno said, “There will always be people with better resumes and degrees,” but that Alicea has offered “21 years of service” to the HHA. Zimmer said she recognized Alicea has been dedicated, but that she believed Claveria’s ”strong financial background” would help with the many challenges the board is facing, and urged the council to consider him. 5th ward Councilman Peter Cunningham complimented Alicea, but said it’s time to make a change. He noted the HHA still faces federal monitoring and financial questions that should make the council seriously consider Claveria.
Though it was never mentioned, many are also concerned with the recent installation of Ramos/Alicea ally Carmelo Garcia as Deputy Executive Director of the HHA. He is now in line to take the helm of the agency, and there are people who don’t think that would be such a great idea.
Whether he ends up running for Mayor or just struggling to save his council-at-large seat on someone else’s ticket, Peter Cammarano can’t win anything without the Housing Authority vote behind him.
Ramos and Alicea delivered that vote for him in 2005. Perhaps sensing imminent defeat of the resolution, the junior councilman-at-large began a tirade saying he was ready to vote, that Alicea was “more than qualified” and that the council was “table happy.”
He also described the eleventh hour offering of Claveria’s name for consideration “dastardly.”
Beth Mason’s position
2nd ward Councilwoman Beth Mason told Cammarano she has been following developments at the HHA and “I don’t see it the same way you do.” Mason said she had serious concerns about how the HHA is being run, and noted the council was about to appoint someone to a five-year term to the board. When Mason noted she had to go to court for access to public records that the HHA was hiding from the public. An agitated Ramos then interrupted her in a mocking tone about the suits. Mason said people should have access to the body that governs them, including minutes from meetings and public access to the “wait list” for HHA housing. There have long been stories of people using their access to decision makers to “jump” lists for better housing.
Claveria appeals to the council
At the the behest of Zimmer and Cunningham and with the permission of Giacchi, Claveria introduced himself to the council. He said his wife grew up in town, and his sincere purpose is to serve, noting his 15 years in finance dealing with efficiencies and processes. Claveria also said his friends and family in the HHA have told him of the challenges they face, and he wants to help.
Mike Russo stirs the pot
3rd ward Councilman Michael Russo then suggested that they make a change to the voting process.
He said members should vote by saying the name of the candidate they preferred. Council President Giacchi said no, but instead entertained a motion to consider a vote on Claveria after a vote was taken on Alicea.
Zimmer made the motion and Cunningham seconded it, joined in the vote to consider by Castellano, Mason, and Russo. Cammarano, LaBruno, Ramos and Giacchi opposed it, and failed.
Alicea’s name finally goes to a vote
Ramos and Cammarano were visibly shaken as the vote was taken on Alicea’s reappointment. It failed by a vote of 5-4 with Castellano, Cunningham, Mason, Russo and Zimmer in the majority.
The vote on whether to appoint Claveria also failed 5-4 as Mason voted no for a second time while Cunningham and Zimmer voted with Russo and Castellano in the minority. Mason said she could not vote for someone whose resume she had just received with no time for her to do a proper review, and that an open process should determine who should best be in that position. Later in the meeting when things cooled down, Zimmer apologized to her council colleagues for putting them in the position of voting up or down on someone they had little information about.
The bottom line
A majority of the council wants to make a change on the HHA board, but they don’t have a consensus yet on who will represent that change. The votes taken give the council time to solicit resumes and do its due diligence before appointing someone to this powerful position for five long years. Maybe that person is Mr. Claveria, or maybe someone else will step up to the plate with an even better resume. Now at least there will be time to figure it out.
If you’re interested, get your resume together and call your councilperson, because the seat is open.