Saturday, February 7, 2009

Death and the Maidens: Hoboken Reform and the '09 Mayorship

What dehumanizing torture will the citizenry of Hoboken have to endure this time around at the hands of green-eyed County career politicians and pop-eyed local virgins? The amorphous mayoral race in Hoboken, ever in the hands of shapeshifters, finds a new face in the race. With the advent of the once formally (but now formerly) 'not running' Fourth-Ward councilwoman Dawn Zimmer, this contest promises not only a grotesquely splayed field of fragile contenders, but also a harrowing array of self-serving elder politicos and bumptious political journeymen trying to recoup previous fecundity in Hoboken. It'll be the voter who is turned under.

The Hudson County Democratic Organiztion (HCDO) will brood, if half-distractedly, over the darwinistic self-triage of the Hoboken players going into the inevitable run-off. Then, no longer preoccupied with JC mayor/HCDO chairman Jerramiah Healy's own re-election run, county executive Tom DeGise, North Bergen boss Nick Sacco and Healy will loom Cerberus-like over whoever of the remnant is most viable and/or manipulable. Youngish mayor and state senator Brian Stack's Union City colt-and-puppy show will take side earlier (though probably not officially) and against HCDO's likely tack of Zimmer or at-large councilman Peter Cammarano, should either provide the unlikely event of surviving to the run-off. This begs consideration of the curious but abiding competitiveness of a third power axis overarching the actual candidates in the race.

Ward councilman Mike Russo and school-board member Frank Raia both achingly cozen the mayoralty from their largely Third-Ward bases yet are committed to sustaining an inherently competitive alliance, as alone either is too weak to even enter the race with a divided base. Raia has more money, Russo has better operations, together they have the best entree in the hunt to the steady Old Hoboken turn-out. Do they both have insuperable wills to faction power like the Reform faction leaders? The Third-Warders are not likely to be that politically callow. Though Raia's money might seem the decider here, he has other upward-mobility Russo does not: Raia can easily accede to Russo's Third Ward seat and simultaneously the de-facto presidency of the Board of Education to balance Russo as mayor. Such power-sharing dominance may be enough to keep them mutually gratified. Even this accommodation is not enough for likely victory - and both also have heavy and recent friction with both Stack and HCDO interests, though remain in contention for some liaison there simply by default and may well receive it ultimately.

This is where the pros and cons of callowness command the stage. First-time Second-Ward councilwoman Beth Mason, the seeming front-runner currently, can't be wed to HCDO in a run-off (their interactions get truly medieval) and is already being given informal Stack blessing - to the extent that matters in Hoboken as his influence in Hoboken is slighter than HCDO’s and as it somewhat handcuffs multi-hat assemblyman Ruben Ramos. HCDO’s next choice, though, isn't so simple.

First, formulaic weasel Cammarano's broad unlikability and lack of a native base trumps his flip-floppy pandering and cheesy grandstanding so palatable to HCDO. As Establishment-desirous as he profiles, he still can't get an established name to join his ticket and will try to pawn unvetted and unheard-of ‘reformers’ off on an incredulous Reform center . Even the ace up his sleeve, buddy and fellow at-large councilman Ramos, won't sign on fully - and is probably hoping for a Stack/HCDO compromise candidate to surface a la meat-puppet Anthony Romano in the freeholder race (possibly even himself, in a true taste of Hoboken).

Then, officeholding-virgin Zimmer's menage with handlers HCDO appointee Mike Lenz and HCDO vice-chair Carol Marsh has seemed more a case of harsh prima noctis than a honeymoon for the bulk of Hoboken voters. Even within her natural Reform base, Zimmer's political deflowering this past year or so has seen the bloom come off her rose, being untested-and-so-unsullied having been her only real political strength. With neither her nor Cammarano likely in the run-off, HCDO will only be left with the Old Hoboken Russo/Raia candidate, hacked from the same burlap as they are, to half-heartedly support against the Hudson Machine-loathing Mason.

What has Hoboken done to deserve so jumbled and broadly unhopeful a palette of choices in the midst of financial doom? Being such a wonderful little community of uniquely charming neighborhoods, obviously it is their happily wallowing in their own intense parochiality that has brought them to this dire point. So let's dispense from here on with any maudlin sympathies for this candidate or that. Regardless of the ubiquitous claims to the contrary, we all know each has cultivated a local subculture distinct from, resistant and unsavory to, every other - even where common interests abound. None distinguishes him/herself for, nor appeals broadly to, a citizenry as hungry for further extrapolation of the Obama algorithm as this one proved to be in November. Personal ambition alone - and nothing like ecumenical conciliation - has left this disfigured fetus of a race on our doorstep.

The pristine failure stillborn of all this is the gob-smacking inability of Reform to capitalize on the biggest political collapse of Hoboken's old-guard establishment in more than a generation. Advanced age and bloat, abandonment of all fiscal probity, divested city control, a universal zeitgeist of Change and an inchoate opposition potency had all been perched like Hitchcock's ravens to politically denude the old-boy regime's carcass - which now, unfortunately for every Hoboken school-child and shivering retiree, will probably continue to lurch zombie-like through City Hall for another four years. The cause of this opportunity is epitomized in the arrogant land and privilege abuses of ejectees like Lou Picardo; the cost of this opportunity is crystallized on the Reform family crest: two heads thrust out a windshield, sawing through their necks as they turn to blame each other for the crash.

Once again, Reform's own two old-guard camps are splitting on candidates - and not just for mayor, but very probably for school-board as well. This pre-emption of the greater Reform voting public's declared best interest also demoralizes that demographically ascendant base. And in turn, this has everything to do with both the future health of the city and, relatedly, Reform's own future political viability. It seems little was learned in the most recent freeholder and school-board campaigns where divided Reform interests lost the unprecedented gains of the prior year’s unified efforts that supercharged both Reform's activism and punch city-wide.

Though the dominant influence in the race is whether the Old Hoboken candidate in the run-off is heading an essentially unified ticket or not, whether Reform can muster an essentially unified face has everything to do with who the Old Hoboken candidate(s) will be in the run-off and whether Reform has a presence in the run-off. A full-tilt squaring-off between Mason and Zimmer drops the otherwise near-certainty of a Reform candidate in the run-off down dramatically. Scrambling for smallish portions of Reform credulity will decide whether the Russo/Raia alliance prevails over Cammarano and/or Ramos interests; a Mason-only race would have the Lenz/Marsh subfaction siding against their long-time objects of personal obsession, Russo and Mason.

It is here Hoboken comes full circle to the true salience of the Zimmer entry into the mayor’s race. Hoboken is not wafting heaven-ward on the winds of change; it is entrenching itself ever deeper into its historic mistakes. The gross political immaturity and strategic clumsiness of Zimmer’s dogging Mason’s heels into the race not only obliterates the hope of swift, salutary change for leaving Hoboken to the same Visigothic rapine that has nigh buried it already. This will also successfully re-brand Hoboken progressive reform as fecklessly disorganized and peevishly unempowered, as well as officeless in the longer term.

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