Hoboken’s rough and tumble political scene has always drawn activists unafraid to speak their minds and promote their political agendas. Whether involved with actions of the City Council or mayoralty, the school district, or other political realms, outspoken residents and politicians rarely shy away from the spotlight, whether at the microphone in City Hall, or through the city’s media outlets or home-grown blogosphere.
The city’s transition from a bustling working class and immigrant river port to a more middle class commuter metropolis has paralleled the growth of a new era of politics, and many former activists and other “reformers” have since stepped away, faded away from, or abandoned the fray. Many of these individuals have since left town, while others have decided to devote their energies to other causes.
With so many former advocates completely leaving the political scene, the question remains: does the eternal friction of Hoboken politics eventually cause burn-out?
Former council members speak out
At 22 years of age, Angelo Valente was once the youngest councilman in Hoboken’s history. A big ally of the late Mayor Tom Vezzetti, Valente was a promising young politician.
For the past 15 years, however, Valente’s focus has shifted almost entirely away from politics.
“It’s really because of family,” said Valente. “I made a conscious decision to prioritize. I thought it was more important to be able to spend more time with [my family] than being involved in an elected position.”
According to Valente, there is a lot of division in the political scene.
“There seems to be a lot of division that exists,” said Valente, “and I think that is certainly something that is hurting our community in general. There always seems to be sides that [people] are taking on particular issues, and personally I think it’s important that the only side you’re taking as an elected official is the side of the public.”
“When I was involved [with the Hoboken Council], my feeling was that it takes a tremendous amount of effort and time to be able to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.”
After having three children, Valente admitted that his priorities changed. He has since become the Executive Director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey.
“You don’t have to be an elected official to have an impact and to make changes in the community,” said Valente.
Former councilwoman Helen Cunning once served the city at age 25. After losing her election in 1989, Cunning shifted focus to her position as founder and chair of the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Parade Committee. She also serves as Executive Director of Development for Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation.
“It was easy for me to move on,” said Cunning in an email. “I lost my election!”
Cunning, like Valente, served under Mayor Tom Vezzetti in 1985. Vezzetti’s death in 1988 and Cunning's failure to be reelected effectively ended her career as a councilwoman.
“When elected at the age of 25, nothing in my life could prepare me for the onslaught of Hoboken politics,” said Cunning, “but I survived, and learned to take the good with the bad when criticized.”
Cunning also said that when she was on the council, there was plenty of heated exchanges, but a “basic respect among the players.”
“I believe the advent of blogging and its inherent anonymity has raised the level of negativity and personal attacks,” said Cunning. “It solves nothing and only serves to deepen the rifts between political opponents.”
Cunning, who still keeps an eye on Hoboken politics, later said, “I have not gone to a council meeting since the day I left.”
“You don’t have to be an elected official to have an impact and to make changes in the community.” – Former Councilman Angelo Valente
“I have lived in this town my whole life,” said Cricco. “I love Hoboken and have always viewed public service as both an honor and a responsibility.”
So why did Cricco stop running for office?
“The current administration has caused a serious polarization within the community,” said Cricco, “thus making for a distasteful discourse on serious issues.”
“As long as the current administration looks at old Hoboken with such disdain, there is little reason to participate in the process,” added Cricco.
Cricco also said that there is a noticeable difference between the old Hoboken political scene and the new one.
“We [used to] work with cooperation,” said Cricco. “When you work with cooperation, amazing things can happen. During my first four year period, [we] pretty much devised the whole waterfront.”
“[For] the past 4 or 5 years,” continued Cricco, “all we’re really getting done is our lawsuits. The taxpayers are paying dearly. It’s indicative of a much more serious problem.”
Choice for Change
The City Council is not the only breeding ground for controversy; indeed, school board elections often inspire competitive political games.
Beth Welsh and Michael Vinocur, of the “Choice for Change” movement, were once very involved in their attempts to “reform” school boards.
Welsh has since moved to Summit with her family, although she admits she’s still “never given up.”
“It was really a shame,” said Welsh. “We had an opportunity to change things for the better.”
Welsh said that local leadership has an increasingly important role in education.
“The state – and ultimately, the nation – is all affected by the quality of the local leadership,” said Welsh. “It’s an issue that I was present to 20 years ago, but I think the whole country is getting present to it now.”
Vinocur, too, left Hoboken, and continues to read about the town on occasion.
“I moved on initially because of frustration with local politics in Hoboken,” said Vinocur in an email, “and other family obligations.”
“I’ve long since left Hoboken,” Vinocur continued, “though the occasional thing I see or read about the town makes it seem like nothing much has changed, other [than] some of the politicians went to jail.”
Stephen LaMarca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.