City Council – 11/7/2007 Recap
The Hoboken City Council got back to work at full strength last night as Dawn Zimmer once again took the oath of office. Talk ranged from voter fraud investigations to the budget and potential layoffs. Bonding for Pier C was on the agenda along side yet another tax abatement for a big developer, and much more. Here is the recap:
Dawn Zimmer Returns
The room was full because of a large number of supporters who came to see Dawn Zimmer return to the fourth ward council seat. Along with many of the young professionals who were the core of her support, the two men who were her strongest bridges to the born-and-raised and senior citizen populations were also there to bask in their success. Former fourth ward Councilman Andrew Amato sat in the front row holding court, while Frank “Pupie” Raia worked the room with a smile.
Also cheering Zimmer on were a number of political opponents of Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who saw the victory as another battle in their war. Zimmer was sworn in with her husband and campaign manager Jenny Davis by her side.
Voter Fraud Investigation Follow-up
Following up on the allegations of voter intimidation, fraud, forgery, and other abuses in the spring elections, 2nd ward councilwoman Beth Mason offered a resolution at the October 17th meeting for the council to call on the State Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate all allegations of voter fraud in Hoboken. The council agreed to have city attorney Steve Kleinman write up a formal letter on council letterhead to request the investigation, and drafts went back and forth for council member approval in between meetings.
Last night during new business, Mason brought the request up again since the letter had not yet been sent. Mason congratulated Zimmer on her victory, and invited her to join the council by joining the council’s call for an investigation, noting the most serious charges were made in the fourth ward, with another highly publicized incident in the fifth ward. Mason noted the incidents were not isolated, and there were questionable incidents in her ward as well. Some Hoboken411 posters have noted issues in the sixth ward runoff as well. Mason said:
The residents of our city have a right to believe that all our elections are fair and clean. Councilwoman Zimmer and the rest of the City Council should ensure that the claims made are fully exposed for whatever they may be, not swept under the rug.
The City Council in its last meeting agreed to send a letter requesting the investigation of the recent elections, to both the US Attorney’s office and the New Jersey Attorney General.
I hope Councilwoman-elect Zimmer will concur in an effort to show the citizens of Hoboken that business as usual will not be tolerated.
A copy of the updated letter was then passed to Zimmer for her review and response.
Zimmer’s surprising response
When the question of inviting an investigation first came up at the last meeting, all council members signed on to the effort. After all, what council member is going to be on channel 78 as being against calling for an investigation of voter fraud charges?
After Zimmer was given the letter, other members went through their new business. When it came back to Zimmer, she responded to the call for an investigation of all fraud allegations by saying she would rather “focus on moving forward and healing wounds after a very divisive race.” Zimmer said she “needed to digest this” before signing on to the letter, saying she wanted to “focus on bringing the fourth ward together.”
Mason said she was “a little disappointed” by Zimmer’s response, and by the tone of her voice she may have been a little annoyed as well. Mason said investigating voter fraud throughout the city is not about “bridging a divide”, but is about making sure the citizens of Hoboken can trust the election system, noting as elected officials they should “make sure elections are clean.”
This is not a new issue for Mason, who has been documenting and following up on suspected incidents of Hoboken voter fraud, including during the HCDO’s campaign to re-elect Mayor David Roberts in 2005. Regardless of whether or not Zimmer signs on, the council’s letter is likely to be sent to the State Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s office for consideration.
READ THE REST OF THE RECAP AFTER THE JUMP.
Ursa/Tarragon Tax Abatement
A public hearing and final vote was held to award 999 Madison Street Urban Renewal LLC a 25 year tax exemption for 217 market rate residential rental units at 10th and Jefferson. Originally Ursa/Tarragon planned to sell these as condos, but because “the market has changed” they’ve decided to rent out the units.
Several speakers opposed the abatement, including council watchdogs Helen Hirsch and Mo DeGenarro. Ines Garcia-Keim pointed out a big developer was asking the city for a 25-year tax break for a building that won’t be subject to the city’s rent control laws. She noted the smaller landlords who abide by the city’s rent control laws in town will face tax increases year after year while this developer gets the benefit of a tax abatement with carte blanche to raise rents as high as the market will allow. Garcia-Keim also noted as a mother with children in the schools it troubled her that “we are only concerned with the municipal portion of taxes, and not the schools”. The school district and Hudson County don’t get taxes from buildings the city decides to abate with Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (aka PILOTS).
Aaron Lewitt also noted how the developer was apparently not including any affordable rental units in the building, instead deciding to build their mandated affordable units elsewhere. He said racial and economic integration should be the goal, not segregation, saying he thought the developer didn’t want poor people in this new building.
Fifth ward councilman Peter Cunningham noted the developer was coming to the city for another tax abatement, but the city is still waiting for the community center and pool promised years ago as part of the Northwest Redevelopment plan. Cunningham asked “what happens if there is a reval?” The answer: other people will see their taxes go up while buildings with PILOTS will remain steady. Cunningham and Mason voted against the abatement, Zimmer abstained because she did not have time to review it during the election, while the rest of the council voted to approve it.
Bonding for Pier C
At long last, with all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted, the bond guarantee of twenty million dollars for Pier C Park was approved last night after a public hearing where no one spoke, and the council took a unanimous vote. Still, yet another construction season has gone by without a single pile in the water for the park.
Stop Sign Cameras Coming
After a discussion about how little they know about the plan for the Police Department to post cameras to catch stop-sign runners in a pilot program, the council voted to approve the ordinance that would allow it to have the force of law. Cameras will soon be mounted at “undisclosed locations” and tickets will be issued by mail. Something to think about the next time you “roll through”. Don’t be surprised to find a Google map of all locations here on 411 shortly after they’re installed.
Stevens Parking Garage Proposal
For the last six or seven years the Fund for a Better Waterfront has been at odds with Stevens Institute of Technology over the college’s plans to build a giant, open parking lot on the riverfront. That proposal was hampered by lawsuits, and later by Stevens’ inability to pay for the garage on its own dime. Now Stevens wants the city to bond to help pay for their garage in an arrangement yet to be determined.
Parking Utility chief John Corea introduced city parking consultant B, who showed sketches of a proposal to build a 535 spot garage that would include graduate student housing facing Sinatra Drive and the Waterfront Walkway. The proposal is similar in concept to one that FBW had proposed to Stevens years ago.
Sixth ward councilman Nino Giacchi suggested to Corea that a community advisory group be formed to work on the final proposal, and that FBW should be included in that group. Giacchi said there should be a community consensus on the design of the garage. FBW’s Ron Hine agreed, and expressed optimism that a consensus could be reached.
Parking Permit Fees Rising?
A resolution to raise the cost of an annual resident parking permit from $15 to $20 was tabled at the request of third ward councilman Michael Russo. Three contracts for services were also left without sponsors due to the lack of a budget proposal from Mayor David Roberts, who canceled a Halloween Night special meeting to drop the budget in the council’s lap, and then went to Italy on vacation. The proposed contract for Police Chief LaBruno was also tabled.
Response to Layoff Notices
While the Mayor was away on vacation, he had his office send layoff notices to employees. Russo said not one person that lives in Hoboken and respects the city’s residency requirement for non-public safety employees should be laid off before people who don’t live in Hoboken get laid off. Mayor Roberts has allowed several people to work for the city despite the residency requirement, including his public relations guy who lives in Union City.
Tributes and Congratulations
Council President Theresa Castellano asked for moments of silence for Regina LiCalsi, who she called the “Heart and soul of the recreation department”, and Vinnie Barbo, who was the longtime senior citizen and multi-service center program director. The council also congratulated Ruben Ramos on his election to the state assembly. Ruben stressed that he was “here for everyone” and looked forward to bringing Hoboken’s concerns to Trenton. Councilwoman Terry LaBruno took time to thank Chris Campos for 6 years of service on the council. LaBruno served as Campos’ campaign treasurer. Campos did not attend the meeting, and neither did Gerry McCann or Arnold Williams.
You can watch the whole 3+ hour meeting on Cablevision channel 78. The next council meeting is scheduled for the night before Thanksgiving, though it’s possible the Mayor will call for a special meeting to unveil his budget.
News from Dawn Zimmer, Councilwoman Elect:
“I am thrilled to announce that I will be sworn in tonight at 7:00 at City Hall at the start of the City Council meeting. Since the provisionals will not change the results, and the 4th Ward has been without representation, Jimmy Farina, Hoboken’s City Clerk, has decided to certify the results, and swear me in tonight.
I am exhausted, but very excited to get back to representing the people of the 4th Ward and Hoboken. The people of the 4th Ward have made a clear choice, and now I want to begin the process of bringing the community back together again. I cannot thank all of my supporters enough for their incredible dedication, hard work, and perseverance.
Thank you all for your support, especially to those that stood in line for 1 1/2 hours last night waiting to cast their votes!”
Council back to “full capacity”
Council chambers should to be packed to the gills tonight with supporters of victorious 4th ward candidate Dawn Zimmer, cheering for her when she returns to her vacated council seat.
In brief, some of the items on the agenda are:
- The amended $20 million dollar Pier C ordinance, which was off by 1.2 million dollars originally, and created some friction between council members Cammarano and Mason.
- Stop sign & red light “photographic system” to bust blatant violators.
- A 25 year tax abatement for a developer.
- 33% increase: Raising the parking decal permit from $15 to $20 per year.
- Parking meters near the Monroe Center.
- and more…
You can catch the taped meeting on Cablevision Channel 78 a couple days from now.