The candidates are seeking three seats on the nine-member council. The outcome of the election will determine who votes on issues related to development, parking, affordable housing, and taxes. The seats are council-at-large seats, meaning that the people filling them will represent the entire city.
Next week, the Reporter will profile the independent candidates on the ballot, as well as the three contestants on mayoral candidate Dan Tumpson's slate.
Three of those running for the seats are up for re-election. Two of them are backed by Mayor Russo, with whom they originally ran in 1993. They are Stephen Hudock, who is a regional business manager for a sewage and public works company, and current city council president and Central Parking employee Nellie Moyeno.
The other incumbent, Anthony Soares, is running on Roberts' United Hoboken Ticket. Soares, an art director in a New York advertising agency, won his seat in a special election in 1999. That seat was vacant because of James Fitzsimmons' resignation from the council in June of 1999.
Fitzsimmons, a police lieutenant, is resuming his political career by running for the council with Russo. Like Moyeno and Hudock, Fitzsimmons first came into office in 1993 with the mayor.
The two other candidates on David Roberts' slate are current 4th Ward Councilman and schoolteacher Ruben Ramos Jr., who wants to switch from his 4th Ward seat to an at-large seat, and a political newcomer, community activist Carol Marsh, who is a vice president at a Manhattan investment firm.
Over the last two weeks, each candidate was asked why he or she is qualified for council, what the major issues are in town, and how they will handle them.
Carol Marsh, 45, is running on the Hoboken United ticket headed by David Roberts. Marsh is a newcomer to Hoboken politics but not to Hoboken issues. She has been a Hoboken resident since 1984, and she says that since the late 1980s she has been a behind-the-scenes activist crusading against what she deemed inappropriate, out-of-scale development.
Marsh had not been very vocal on development issues in the late 1990s, but the planned 23-story building at 1600 Park Avenue brought her back into the spotlight as an activist. She helped organize and took a visible role in a team that opposed the project. As of today, the plans for that project are on hold.
Marsh believes that without a change in the make-up of the current administration, there will not be sensible development within the city. In 1999 she co-managed Phyllis Spinelli's campaign for 2nd Ward City Council. They forced a runoff, but ultimately were defeated by a Russo-backed candidate.
In addition to redirecting Hoboken's approach to development, Marsh hopes to support Hoboken's schools, make the city government more accessible to the public, and maintain the level and impact of diversity in the mile-square city.
Marsh works part time as a vice president at the international investment bank where she has worked for 13 years. She is married and had a 6-year-old son and two stepchildren.
"It's amazing how much energy I have now that I'm not working an 80 hour a week job," said Marsh in an interview last week. "I feel like I have a fresh attitude and [the city's government] may actually benefit from having a perspective about what goes on outside [the political sphere]. Sure, there is going to be a learning curve, but my ears are open and I'm ready to learn."
For Marsh it was the issue of development that drew her into city government, but it is the topic of open government that is her first concern. "Yes, development issues are very important to me," she said, "but I believe my number one priority is to bring government to the public."
"I want to get together with people and sit down and exchange ideas," Marsh said. "People shouldn't have to look at City Hall from the outside in. In the past I found it can be very intimidating."
Marsh said she wants all zoning variances to be published and all public meetings to be clearly posted and advertised. (Actually, by state law, all public meetings already must be published and advertised. The law does, however, allow the public notice to be in small print and in out-of-town newspapers.)
In addition to having an open flow of ideas, Marsh wants the city's master plan to be updated and enforced. "The city has a master plan," she said. "But it seems to me that variances [which are Zoning board-determined allowances to deviate from zoning guidelines] are happening daily. If you are going to have variances on every project, why do you even need a master plan? [Variances] really should be a rarity."
According to Marsh, the master plan needs to be updated. "If were not careful," she said, "we are going to overbuild. Right now there are times of the day you just can't drive around the city. It's just not safe for pedestrians. There are all of these children walking to school every morning and it's dangerous."
She went on to say that the best way to improve the city plan is to undertake a comprehensive capacity study. David Roberts had brought up that issue at a recent council meeting, but some of the other council members said he needed to explain how it would be handled and funded first, so they did not approve the idea.
When asked if the Hoboken Parking Authority's recent traffic study would suffice, Marsh said that in her opinion, it is not adequate. "How can you have a complete traffic study without taking into account pedestrian and bicycle traffic?" she asked. "There is more to it than just motorized traffic."
Another issue that concerns Marsh is the maintaining of Hoboken diversity.
"The one thing that I didn't expect when I started this campaign was how many new and different people I would get to work with," said Marsh. "It's a lot of fun to live here. You walk down the street and you can smell all the different types of food coming out of the windows. Hoboken has the history of being one of the most diverse communities in the country. We need to make sure that we preserve that. We need to keep families here."
Marsh said the way to do that is to entice developers to provide more affordable housing while maintaining the highest quality of existing units. "I have moved 17 different times, and I have to say that [Hoboken] is one of my favorites," she said. "I want to help make sure to that keep it that way."
Ruben Ramos, Jr.
Ruben Ramos, Jr. the current 4th Ward councilman, wants to open up city government, improve the conditions in the Hoboken Housing Authority buildings, control development, and deal with traffic.
"I've watched the city change," Ramos, 27, said in an interview last week. "We need to win this election and get a new administration into office for all of the people in Hoboken. Just look at the conditions at the Housing Authority: the landscaping is it poor shape and the elevators still don't work. The city needs to start caring about people other than developers."
The Hoboken Housing Authority is not run by the city or the City Council, but by a local board and an administration that ultimately answers to the federal government. But Ramos believes that the council members need the push the HHA to provide more services.
"It's our responsibility fight for the highest possible quality of life for the people that live in the Housing Authority, and all Hoboken citizens for that matter," he said. "We need to make sure that the people that deserve to be living [in the Housing Authority] are actually living there." The HHA buildings are federally-subsidized and are for low-income residents.
Ramos has worked to maintain rents in the HHA. "Over the past two years I have worked had to make sure the flat rent law in enforced," he said. "There were families that are qualified to live [in the Housing Authority] but are paying a disproportionate amount for rent. Flat rents fix that problem." The U.S. Congress passed a law on October 1, 1999 mandating that all federally subsidized housing authorities give their tenants a flat rent option. Before it was enacted, tenants were expected to pay 30 percent of their income on rent. But according to Ramos, some tenants at the high end of the low-income scale found that this was a hardship. The law gave these families the option to pay a much lower flat rent every month. The HHA Board of Commissioners finally approved flat rents in October of 2000.
Ramos grew up in Hoboken and graduated for Hudson Catholic High School in 1991. He got a degree in political science from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1995 an then went on to get a teaching certificate. He is now teaching at Public School 15 in Paterson and is working on a master's degree in multicultural education at New Jersey City University.
Ramos has also worked and volunteered at the Hoboken Boys' and Girls' club. He is engaged and will be married later this year.
If elected, one of Ramos' focuses will be to open up government. "We need to change the intimidation tactics," he said. "Right now the mayor runs that city as if the people are here to serve him, when really it needs to be the other way around. Right now the mayor calls all the shots, and his councilmen are nothing more than puppets on strings. We need to get the people involved."
When asked what his solutions are to making civic government more public, Ramos said that he would create a satellite office outside of City Hall where citizens could voice concerns. He is also in favor of broadcasting public meetings and making the minutes of these meetings available on the Internet. (The city of Hoboken has been promising for more than five years that public meetings would be televised, but it still has not happened.) "They want to keep [government] confidential," Ramos said. "We want to bring government to the people."
Ramos feels that traffic tie-ups in the city are caused by the new development in town. "The census says that there are 5,000 more people in town than 10 years ago," he said. "Also, there are less children today; that means there are more adults with cars. That's where the traffic is coming from."
Ramos that he is committed to finding perimeter parking and is willing to look into a west side by-pass, but does have concerns as to what effect a by-pass will have on the residents of the 4th Ward, which is in the southwest part of town.
"I have some concerns about dumping all these cars [into the 4th Ward]," he said. "There are a lot of kids there, plus there are a lot of kids with asthma. I have definite safety concerns."
As for development, Ramos is pushing for less dense units. "I don't know how much more we can handle," he said. "That's why I'm pushing for a capacity study and for new development consisting of sparse three- and four-story brownstones. We need more open space, and whatever happens, I will make sure that the public is well informed as to what is going on."
Tony Soares, 37, is running for re-election on the Hoboken United ticket. He was first elected to the Hoboken City Council in a 1999 special election. Before running for office, he was a hard-charging community activist. In, 1990, he was appointed to be the national spokesman for the "Little People of America" a support group for people with Dwarfism. The 4' 2" Soares was born with a form of dwarfism known as Achondroplasia.
After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Soares co-founded "The Concerned Citizens of Kearny," a local activist group concerned with over development. There he became a strong advocate for Mt. Laurel (affordable) housing.
When he moved to Hoboken in 1991, he became a Member of The Coalition for a Better Waterfront. He later joined the Quality of Life Coalition.
"[Everyone on Hoboken United ticket] were activists before we got into politics," said Soares in an interview last week. "I have a long history of working for the underdog and those who have been overlooked by the current administration."
Soares said that his number one priority would be to maintain sensible development and provide more open space. "We should do more on the west side of town," he said. "We need more parks." He added, "I'm not anti-development. In fact, It has been exciting to see some of the good projects that have started to go up. But high rents have started to push out some of the long-term residents. We are losing some of our diversity. Delis and clothing stores are being replaced by knick-knack stores."
Soares went on to say that he believes that too much of the development is focused on the residential market. "To me it seems like all we are building is dormitory-style housing," he said. "People are using Hoboken as a bedroom community. The only job that seems to be opening up is for doormen. I'm a proponent for some light industrial growth. It will cause less traffic than a residential building and it will create jobs so that people can afford to stay here."
Soares also feels that there is a distinct difference between good development and overdevelopment.
"There are a lot of good projects, but it a shame that so many high rises are being built," said Soares, who nevertheless lives in a high rise that was built in the 1980s. "It upsets me and that is why I have been an ardent opponent of projects like Millennium Towers. I'm not an expert and I don't know how much more the city can take and that is why we need a capacity study. Everywhere I go, I see traffic sitting still and the sewers backing up."
Soares believes that traffic problems in the mile-square city are caused by the new development. "We have all of this new development but no new infrastructure," he said. "The current administration has not taken into account the effect that new buildings would have on our roads and our sewers."
He suggests the perimeter parking should be built and electric buses should be routed onto interior street. He is also cautiously optimistic about the prospects of a west side by-pass.
"I'm in favor [of a by-pass] of some sort," he said. "But I don't want FDR drive on the back of Hoboken. Right now the traffic plan would dump all of this new traffic into 4th Ward. I am very worried about the health of the children there."
Another one of Soares' goals is to get the public more involved in government. "We need to put to broadcast all public meetings," Soares said. "We need to use the city's Internet site for other things than just posting the mayor's picture. Utilize [the Internet] to pass on really useful information like the minutes from all the public meetings. Right now, the way that people are treated at public meetings is a joke."
The Russo team has complained that the members of the Roberts ticket only criticize but that they don't offer solutions to problems. Criticism is easy; finding a new way to do something is difficult. When asked about this, Soares said that his team does have ideas and has had ideas in the past, but they have been hard to implement because they have to fight the Russo majority.
"It's very hard to get anything approved," Soares said. "We have great ideas, but right now it is like fighting on the beaches of Normandy. Right now we are just digging in and holding our place. We have to get these people out of office so we can get something done. [The non-Hoboken United council members] vote yes across the board in a canned response that come directly from the mayor. They don't invite us to [committee] meetings and in effect completely ignore three members of the City Council."
When asked about how the ideas the Roberts team has proposed - like perimeter parking - would be funded, Soares said that they would find the funding.
"We will work hard and we do have solutions that will be successful," Soares said. "The people just need to give us a chance to improve Hoboken."
James Fitzsimmons, 45, is returning to Hoboken politics. The former at-large councilman and council president resigned from the council in 1999 in order to spend more time with his family and to take a job as a lieutenant for the Hoboken Police Department.
Fitzsimmons first came into office in 1993 with Mayor Anthony Russo, having been a part of the mayor's at-large council ticket. He became council president that year. Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, Fitzsimmons actually became part of a faction opposing the mayor for a time. As council president, he earned praise for staying calm and considering both sides.
"I'll always speak my mind," said Fitzsimmons last week. "I'm not going to go along with something that I do not believe in, so sometime you might wonder what side I'm on, but I'm always going to do what I think is right."
When asked for individual accomplishments on the council, he didn't cite anything from beyond his first term in office. Fitzsimmons did talk about spearheading the administration's quality-of-life effort in 1994. That year, he worked hard to improve conditions in town, attacking bar rowdiness and helping to instate a one-way door policy in bars after 2 a.m. That policy remains in effect today.
Fitzsimmons was also instrumental in bringing to light a controversy that still affects the city. In 1995, the City Council voted late at night to give large retroactive raises to several high-ranking city officials. Fitzsimmons seemed visibly riled by the proposal and asked many questions during the meeting about it but did not get answers. He also was vocal afterward in opposing the raises, even though he, as a councilperson, would have benefited financially from them. A week later, the mayor and his allies who had voted for the raises (including David Roberts) held a press conference and said that they hadn't fully understood them and that they would repeal them.
Over time, Fitzsimmons became less vocal on the council. By 1995, he also had given up his council presidency and made his peace with Russo, on whose ticket he is running this year.
"My dream is to see Hoboken become a safe place where people can raise a family and have a sense of community," Fitzsimmons said last week. "Since , Hoboken has seen a revitalization. It is a place that people want to come to, a point that people circle on their maps, and that makes me proud."
He said there are several reasons for what he termed Hoboken's renaissance. First, he pointed out the decrease in the crime rate. "Our streets are safer now," he said. "Our police have the top-of-the-line equipment, and the Fire Department has a high quality rating. There aren't many around that are better."
Fitzsimmons went on to say that the city had been effective in dealing with quality-of-life issues. He pointed to large amount of new recreational facilities and open space the city has helped to free up. "We've helped provide a beautiful park on Pier A on land that very easily could have been a high rise tower," he noted.
Other open spaces and facilities that he mentioned by name were the new multi service rink, Sinatra Park and its soccer fields, and the renovations of interior park which were fitted with such amenities as dog parks.
Fitzsimmons also defended the mayor's new traffic diversion plan by saying that it is another in a line of efforts by City Hall to improve the quality of life of its residents.
"While we do need to work with the plan 'til it makes everyone happy, it is still something that needs to be done," he said. "[Russo] is taking steps to fix the problem while others only complain. The mayor is undertaking this to protect the children that walk to school in the morning and to make the life of every resident just a little easier."
Fitzsimmons also addressed that parking situation in the city. While he feels that parking has always been an issue, he thinks that some of the problem could be alleviated by creating some spaces on the outskirts of town and in the future providing some sort of cross-town shuttle service.
When asked about development, he replied that he has observed sensible development throughout the city. "Yes, there is a lot of building, but that is because we have made the city a place that people what to live," he said. "I want to encourage developers to construct larger apartments so that so that more families move in."
When asked about his motivation to return to the council, Fitzsimmons replied, "I had to resolve some very personal issues at home. But now I am ready to turn the page and begin my next chapter. I have always enjoyed serving my community and I love my city and have a lot to offer."
Council incumbent Stephen Hudock, 42, lives on Bloomfield Street with is wife, two daughters, and 4-year-old son. Currently he is employed as a regional business manager at Operation Management International (OMI). OMI is a private management company that enters into public/private partnerships to manage water and wastewater, including public works.
Hudock has lived in Hoboken all his life and graduated from St. Mary High school in Jersey City and from Jersey City State with a major in finance and management.
Outside of City Hall, Hudock is active in the Hoboken Elks, the St. Peters & Paul Holy Name Society, the St. Ann's Festival Committee and the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Council. He also volunteers is time to coach children's basketball.
In government, he is seeking his third term. He was City Council President for 1995-1996 and vice president from 1994-1995 and 1996-1997. He has been chairman of the Finance Committee, and the Park and Recreation Committee. He has also been on the board of the Administration, Developer Selection, Quality of Life, Human Services and Education committees. Hudock has served and a member of the NJ Transit advisory board and vice chair of the Housing Committee. As far as council members go, Hudock has been the most loyal to Russo in terms of voting.
When Hudock was asked which individual accomplishments on the council he is proud of, Hudock said he's proud of how he dealt with issues related to handicapped parking and rent control. Back in 1994, he was instrumental in getting a panel of disabled citizens formed to review applications for handicapped parking to make sure that only people who need special spots received them.
Six years ago, Hudock and other council members passed a law allowing for a one-time rent decontrol measure for smalltime landlords. But community activists who thought the proposal might hurt tenants garnered enough backing to sink it. Hudock subsequently formed a Rent Control Task Force to study the issue. The Task Force eventually issued a comprehensive report with many recommendations, although with rent control changes being a thorny issue, no major changes came before the council.
More recently, Hudock supported a new proposal that pertained to rent regulation for low- and moderate-income housing that was coming off federal control. After months of wrangling, the council and the tenant activists eventually agreed to a compromise measure.
Hudock also said he is proud of the city's improvements as they relate to recreational options. "Look at the city now and compare it to '93," he said. "Just a couple of weeks ago a new roller rink opened. We have a history of providing new open space. There is Sinatra Park, plans for a Little League field in the northwest quadrant; couple that with the new pool on Pier C [announced by the mayor a few months ago and scheduled to open in 2002] and we've done a lot to improve our parks and facilities. As a council we have proven results. In a city of this size sometimes it is tough to find room, but that why you have to be innovative. Who would have thought to bring in a barge and make it a pool? Now, that's innovation." The city also has gotten a commitment from a national foundation to fund the pool.
Hudock also addressed the traffic issue. Mayor Russo recently tried to implement a proposal that would direct out-of-towners up the Viaduct during morning rush hour so they wouldn't pass through Hoboken. However, Russo was criticized for trying to start it without telling officials from neighboring towns or considering their input first. Hudock said he is glad that the city is taking proactive stance and is "getting the ball" rolling on what he considers to be a regional problem. He supports the idea of traffic diversion. "You have to start somewhere," Hudock said. "If you never act, then nothing is ever going to get done. The congestion and commuter traffic are a serious threat to the safety of our children in the morning and something has to be done about it."
Hudock is also feels that a Hoboken is in need of a permanent west-side bypass.
Hudock said that the administration has been effective in adding more parking spaces to the community. He said that the Russo administration has added or has plans for 3,250 spaces. He said the figures include the 123 free parking spaces on Observer highway, the St. Mary Garage that is under construction, the automated garage at 916 Garden St., the privately-owned garage on 14th Street and Park Avenue, and three proposed privately-built garages that are in the Northwest Redevelopment Plan.
In addition to building new spaces, Hudock said, it is important that Hoboken residents get the first preference in choosing parking.
Hudock noted that the parking problems just show that Hoboken is the victim of its own success.
"We have gotten too successful," Hudock said, leading into a discussion about development. "Hoboken is the most popular city in New Jersey." He said that because of this, new development has all occurred around the same time, but he believes that it is going to slow down in the near future.
Hudock did not see the fact that all of his votes have been loyal to Russo as a negative.
"Political stability brings economic stability," he said. "I'm proud to be a part of this team. This is my town. This is our town. We have to work together. There is no 'I' in team, but there is an 'us' in Russo."
Nellie Moyeno, 46, is the current city council president and is running for her third term on the council. She was the city's first Hispanic and Minority Affairs Officer from 1987 to 1989. She was the first woman and first Hispanic to become City Council President.
Moyeno works as a manager for Central Parking Systems. She lives downtown on Jefferson Street and has two children. She has lived in Hoboken her entire life and graduated from Hoboken high school.
Moyeno was on the HOPES board in Hoboken and the PACO board in Jersey City, both of which run poverty programs. She presently is on the committee to organize the city's Puerto Rican festival, and has served on other boards in the city.
In her first term on the council, Moyeno took a stand by fighting against proposed amendments to rent control laws because she thought they would not provide enough protection for tenants. Most of the council members, including Stephen Hudock, disagreed with Moyeno, but many tenants and community activists decried the amendments. They eventually were struck down.
Last year, Moyeno became a commissioner on the Hoboken Housing Authority. Earlier this year, Moyeno spearheaded the efforts to create a resident survey to rate the performance of embattled HHA director E. Troy Washington.
Moyeno said she feels the current administration has been successful in stabilizing taxes. "I bring eight years of experience to the council," Moyeno said. "When we got into office in '93 the city was $23 million in default. We made some tough decisions and since then we were able to move the city forward by stabilizing taxes and improving services."
When asked if Moyeno believes that government is user-friendly and open to all of the residents of Hoboken, she replied, "We always go out and actively search out input from the public. We are a 100 percent approachable and welcome any remarks that the public might have."
Moyeno rarely disagrees with Russo these days, even though the two had political differences during her first term and for a time became bitter enemies. These days, Moyeno said, she does make her own decisions, but at the same time respects Russo's accomplishments and realizes how important it is to work as a team.
"Whenever we try to do anything, our critics just criticize," she said. "They don't have any plans or solutions. We are working as a team and we will continue to work as a team. It the way in which we have been so successful in getting things done."
That led to a discussion of the current traffic controversy.
"We are trying to do something about the traffic here in Hoboken," Moyeno said. "Out-of-towers invade our city every morning and action had to be taken. Eventually we need a by-pass road but we need action now, and that is what the mayor did."
Moyeno also noted that the current administration has been successful in creating new parking spaces. Some of the projects that she pointed to were the St. Mary garage, which is currently under construction, and the spaces along Observer Highway. Moyeno also noted that the city's Northwest Redevelopment plan, which will allow the city to redevelop a formerly-blighted area of town, was devised with residents' parking needs in mind.
In the latest census, the number of minorities in town has decreased in the last 10 years, but Moyeno said this administration had done everything possible to keep Hoboken's much cherished diversity. She pointed to the hiring of minorities to police and school jobs. She added that in the last couple years the police department has hired three minority captains, one African American and two Latinos. There have also been the hirings of a Latino principal and Latino vice-principal for the schools, she said. "This administration has been very good to Latinos, minorities, and women," she said.
Moyeno said that if she is reelected, she will focus on maintaining stable taxes, continuing sensible development, and work for more affordable housing and more open space.
"The town has come a long way [since we took office]," said Moyeno. "Hoboken is a wonderful place to live but there is still more to be done, and we will make sure that we take action and get things done."