Hoboken City Council 2/2/2011: Recap
2/3/2011 Council Meeting Recap:
What would have been a one-hour council meeting in any other town went on for four hours last night at Hoboken City Hall. Here’s the only recap that cuts through the BS:
Rent Control ordinance: pulled, again.
The Rent Control law revisions were on the agenda for First Reading, but new city Rent Leveling Board Attorney Victor Afanador needs more time – and $50,000 – to finish the thing off. This led to the usual screaming and yelling from advocates of tenants and landlords alike. Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s poor management of the City Attorney’s office (3 different Corporation Counsels so far!) continues to put a drag on progress.
Car towed? May have to leave town to get it back!
That’s not going to happen in the future, if car-hating city Traffic Director Ian Sacs has anything to do with it. Sacs’ Utopian view of Hoboken includes bike lanes everywhere and cars only available as rentals by the hour (only from his pals at Hertz, not the other guys at Zipcar).
After the city recently went out to bid for towing services, the current contract holder – Hoboken’s own Mile Square Towing – came in as the lowest bidder. Now Sacs wants to re-bid the towing contract so people are forced to travel up to five miles outside of Hoboken to get their towed cars back. 5th ward Councilman Peter Cunningham actually said he didn’t care if people had to go to New York City to retrieve their cars.
Occhipinti moves Mama Johnson Field forward
Just days after getting NJ Transit to stop their bus drivers from clogging one of the worst intersections in the city, 4th ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti is moving forward with yet another of his campaign promises.
Occhipinti secured council support for a feasibility study for improving Mama Johnson Field on the grounds of the Hoboken Housing Authority. The idea is to fix the field so it can be engineered and available for use by more people at more times of day, including some of the non-HHA sports teams that have been displaced from the crumbling fields the Zimmer Administration has failed to repair.
The HHA teams would get a better field, and the non-HHA teams would get a new place to play if the feasibility study is successful.
Zimmer: undermining Pay-to-Play law for political gain?
Any proposed change in the city’s Pay-to-Play laws are expected to be run by the people who wrote them at People For Open Government, as well as their partners at the Center for Civic Responsibility. The laws have been carefully written to withstand potential court challenges on First Amendment grounds. So far they’ve held up, but Mayor Dawn Zimmer is putting politics ahead of reform by attempting to muddy up Pay-to-Play laws with potentially unconstitutional campaign finance rules that could put the entire ordinance in legal jeopardy.
Why would she do this? If you guessed “politics” and “spring council elections,” you’d be right.
See much more on the truth behind this power grab, after the jump!
Just before the City Council meeting last night, Zimmer slapped 18 pages of proposed law down on the council, and had her henchmen – Cunningham and Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla – demanding an immediate vote.
Council President Beth Mason – a founding member of both Hoboken POG and the NJ Foundation for Open Government – objected to the last minute add-on. Mason noted there is a procedure for proposing new law, and the administration did not meet deadlines for presenting the final ordinance to the council for proper review. Later in the meeting POG President Alice Crozier also indicated her group was not given the opportunity to review the changes to the law they originally sponsored, and noted some of the additions were outside the scope of the original Pay-to-Play ordinance.
What is in the ordinance exactly?
Hoboken’s anti-Pay-to-Play ordinances restrict how much money certain groups who do business with the city can donate to candidates they are seeking contracts from.
If a law firm wants a contract, they are limited in what they can donate under the Public Contractor Pay-to-Play law. If a developer wants a Redevelopment Contract, they are also restricted. Pay-to-Play is restricted only to these groups seeking to do business with the city. As part of normal review of the ordinances, POG has advocated for minor language improvements and changes to keep in sync with the latest state laws. Nobody on this council is likely to oppose such changes after a normal review.
So what happened?
In her contrived and scripted “last-minute dash” to jam this ordinance through, Zimmer took a page out of the Mike Lenz school of political ambush.
The Mayor put a highly questionable – and possibly unconstitutional – new clause in the updated ordinance that has nothing to do with Pay-to-Play law. It was a kind of Trojan Horse designed to embarrass them. The idea was to create a false storyline for her most rabid supporters to claim that the five council members who do not support her in lock-step are against updating the Pay-to-Play law. In a nutshell, the new clause is specifically designed to make it difficult for her opponents to use 100% legal Hoboken Political Committees to raise money for the spring City Council Campaign.
Though Zimmer herself accepted several thousands of dollars from Political Committees in her runs for office, she’s now trying to stop her opponents from doing the same.
Zimmer & Cunningham: Concerned about May elections
The move to limit the amount of money fellow council members can raise for their colleagues from legal, NON-Pay-to-Play sources is seen as a sign Zimmer’s allies and handlers are very concerned about the upcoming election in May.
Zimmer was shocked at how badly she was beaten in her home ward as Mike Lenz lost not only in to overall total, but on the voting machines as well. He lost because there was enough money in the Occhipinti campaign to tell the truth about Michael Lenz to a public that had never elected him. Now with Zimmer’s public approval ratings at all-time lows, she’s trying to make it harder for her opponents to fund their campaigns.
Misusing the term (Wheeling) for political gain
The Zimmer line is her changes will stop “Wheeling” but she and Cunningham either don’t understand what Wheeling is, or hope you – the public – don’t really know what it is, but know that it’s bad and that she is supposedly trying to stop it.
“Wheeling” is when a lawyer with a contract to do business in Hoboken is precluded from making a large campaign contribution, so they “wheel” it by giving the money to a South Jersey political committee, which then turns around and gives the money to the Hoboken candidate. That’s wheeling. Wheeling is not when one Hoboken City Council member has a committee that gives a legal contribution to a candidate for Hoboken City Council.
If Zimmer and Cunningham really want to know how Wheeling works they should ask their ally Ravinder S. Bhalla, who has given several thousands of dollars to political committees that have been suspected of wheeling as part of his Pay-to-Play efforts to secure no-bid legal contracts in cities like Newark and Union City. More on that to come. The ordinance was tabled for discussion in committee.
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