City Council Meeting 7/1/2007
Here’s a recap from yesterdays meeting and inauguration.
A standing room only crowd turned out to see the first meeting of the new Hoboken City Council. Large crowds of friends, family, and supporters were on hand to cheer on the three new faces behind the big table: 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer, and 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham. Just hearing the new members officially addressed by their new titles was enough to make many people in the audience smile. Here’s how it went down…
The Meeting Begins at High Noon
Mayor David Roberts surprised the crowd by showing up. The Mayor was a popular campaign target for the successful council candidates, but that didn’t stop Roberts from acknowledging that this was a “wonderful day for our city” and that it was “wonderful to feel the spirit in the room.” After brief comments the Mayor took a seat to the right of the Council near the City Attorney and Business Administrator.
I, (Your Name), Solemnly Swear
The clerk called 1st Ward Councilwoman Terry Castellano up to be sworn in first. Entering her thirteenth year in office, Castellano is now the longest serving member of the board. Despite her tenure, the councilwoman raised her left hand and put her right on a bible, prompting City Clerk Jimmy Farina to playfully tease her by saying “Raise your right hand. How many times have you done this?”
Beth Mason was called up next, and as her name was announced the room erupted into loud cheers and sustained applause. There was joy in the room as the first of the three newly elected candidates rose to take the oath of office. The cheering and sustained applause resumed as Dawn Zimmer rose to take the oath, and again when Peter Cunningham took his turn. All three received an outpouring of happiness mixed with more than a dash of relief after long, hard campaigns.
Mason, Zimmer, Cunningham and Giacchi brought multiple children up to stand beside them as they each took the oath. That prompted Farina to yell, “Hey Mayor… with all these children we are going to need a lot more open space!” The crowd roared again, especially after Mason, Zimmer, and Cunningham made Dave Roberts’ inability to follow through on parks promises one of the cornerstones of their campaigns. Roberts tried to look amused, but turned a deeper shade of red as the meeting continued.
Time To Get Organized
With the oaths out of the way, the naming of a new Council President was next. 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo nominated his cousin Terry Castellano. Ruben Ramos seconded the nomination, and Terry LaBruno moved to close nominations. The vote was unanimous for Castellano.
Next Castellano nominated 6th Ward Councilman Nino Giacchi for Vice President. Peter Cammarano seconded the nomination, and LaBruno again moved to close nominations. Again, the vote was unanimous.
The new president thanked the council for their support, but said “titles are just titles” and nothing gets done without consensus and negotiation. Castellano said she wanted to bring the council committees into focus, and would continue to consult with former President Richard DelBoccio for guidance. She said she has a soft voice, but also carries a big stick that she is not afraid to use. This was directed at a clearly agitated Dave Roberts, who remained in the room because Castellano refused to take a break before getting down to the business of the meeting, denying the Mayor his opportunity to bolt from the room.
Time To Spend Some Money
The Council met on Sunday because July 1st is the first day of the fiscal year. The first resolution on the agenda authorized temporary appropriations for the Fiscal 2008 Municipal Budget. Beth Mason recused herself because one of the temporary appropriations was to pay lawyers hired by the city to fight her open public records requests. Critics charge, rather than hand over the records, the Mayor has chosen to let her sue so he can hand over more business to politically connected attorneys, including State Senator Bernard Kenny’s firm, which has taken in millions in fees from the City and School Board.
Taxpayer John Gordon implored the council to start cutting the budget now and not wait for the Mayor to put his proposal together. Cunningham and Zimmer voted against the appropriations, the others voted yes with the exception of Mason – who couldn’t vote on the item. With his financial background Cunningham seemed very anxious to get to work on the budget.
How Many Bank Accounts Do We Need ?
John Gordon rose again to ask the council why the administration was asking to name 19 banks as depositories of the city’s money when far fewer would do. Gordon also pointed out several problems with the list, including misspellings and the names of banks that no longer exist after being swallowed up in mergers and acquisitions. There was some back and forth on this, and Cunningham – who works for a bank in municipal finance – made points about how the city should proceed in the future before ultimately abstaining from the vote because of his employer.
Who Gets The Planning Board ?
The final item on the agenda was among the most controversial. Who should be appointed the City Council’s Representative on the Planning Board for the next year? For the last two years Peter Cammarano has been in that seat greasing the wheels for every developer-led high-rise redevelopment area that Mayor Roberts has proposed, including the Southwest Redevelopment Zone. Cammarano has also recently come under fire for the legal conflicts that have been keeping him from voting on key issues (see more on that HERE).
Even so, Ruben Ramos nominated Cammarano to return to the Planning Board, and Michael Russo seconded it. Unlike the single nomination unanimous votes for President and Vice President, the Planning Board seat was subject to a second nomination. Peter Cunningham nominated Beth Mason and Dawn Zimmer seconded it.
Now the council members would have to choose between the guy who critics say votes against the public will on redevelopment issues, or the woman who led the Planning Board effort to update the Master Plan to include more parks, parking, and traffic alleviation strategies. A choice between the man who stood side-by-side with Chris Campos in favor of the high-rise/small-park version of the Southwest Redevelopment Plan, or the woman who would work with Dawn Zimmer on a southwest plan based on the Master Plan vision for a substantial park and changes to the street grid.
When it came time to take a vote, no debate or discussion was allowed. The clerk simply asked each council member to say the name of the person that they were voting for. The crowd was silent waiting to hear what Nino Giacchi and Terry LaBruno would say, as their votes would be the ones to make the difference. LaBruno hesitated and said she was “conflicted” about it, before voting for Cammarano. Giacchi’s voice had a tinge of resignation when he also said “Cammarano”. The final tally was Mason 3, Cammarano 6.
Helen Hirsch Wraps It Up
Appropriately, the last speaker of the meeting was council watchdog Helen Hirsch, who said, “As one who has attended many performances in this theater, I hope you adopt a new playbook” before wishing the council sincere wishes for good luck.
The earlier efforts of former 5th Ward candidates Helen Manogue, John Branciforte, and Ines Garcia-Keim helped to pave the way for Peter Cunningham’s victory, and each was on hand in the room to cheer him on. Garcia-Keim has since moved to the 2nd ward, and was instrumental in Beth Mason’s successful campaign. Dawn Zimmer’s cheering section included several green-shirted volunteers, and a man who got there early enough to get a front-row seat: former 4th Ward Councilman Andrew Amato.
Several candidates who lost their council races this year were also on hand to wish the new council well, including Frank Raia, Richard Tremitiedi, Billy Noonan and Freddie Frazier. Chris Campos did not come to the meeting.
Missed the meeting? It will be on Cablevision channel 78. The next City Council meeting is Wednesday, July 18th with the caucus at 6pm and the regular meeting at 7pm.