The shadow of Hackensack’s once-powerful Zisa family is looming over the municipal election scheduled for Tuesday, pitting the slate fronted by Mayor John Labrosse against a ticket called Hackensack United for Progress.
Since the inception of the race, Labrosse and his allies have been bashing Hackensack United for Progress — fronted by Lara Rodriguez — for their connections to the family that controlled Hackensack politics for years. The Zisas began to fall from grace in 2005 after former Mayor Jack Zisa decided not to run for re-election. In 2008, Ken Zisa, aformer Hackensack police chief and state assemblyman, faced misconduct charges. While those charges were later overturned, the debacle marked the end of the Zisa family’s strength in Hackensack.
The family says their reign is still very much a thing of the past. But the Labrosse team has alleged throughout the campaign that Hackensack United for Progress is in the pocket of the Zisas and a victory for the ticket on Tuesday would mean a return to the power structure of the past. Both the Zisas and Hackensack United for Progress members have denied any affiliation, although the now-private-citizen Zisas are supporting the slate.
“Our team is very confident that Hackensack voters are going to reject the Zisa machine once and for all and vote to move the city forward with the Labrosse team,” said Labrosse spokesman Phil Swibinski. “Our candidates and volunteers have been hard at work knocking on thousands of doors and meeting voters over the past months and we have run a strong campaign. We believe that tomorrow’s election will mark a new era for Hackensack and the final defeat of the Zisa machine.”
The race for Hackensack, the Bergen County seat, gets a bit more complicated. The Labrosse team has charged that HUP spokesman Caseen Gaines, a Hackensack High School teacher, defied campaign regulations by doing work for the ticket on school time. Those claims were deemed baseless by the superintendent and department of education.
There’s also a third slate, called Hackensack Strong. It’s fronted by Councilwoman Deborah Keeling Geddis — a former Labrosse ally — and they, in turn, accused the Labrosse team of using taxpayer funds for a political campaign brochure.
Labrosse’s team denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the mailer, which discussed the revitalization of downtown Hackensack, was not political in nature and provided taxpayers with useful information. Meanwhile, HUP criticized the Labrosse team’s use of the political messaging shop Vision Media to conduct work on the flier before the campaign’s start, and then later jumping from working for the town to working for the Labrosse campaign.
“Tomorrow, Hackensack voters are poised to turn the page on the Labrosse team’s historic mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility,” Gaines said. “Despite their best efforts to cling to power by air-lifting in an out-of-town political consulting firm that doesn’t understand the city, we are confident that their negative campaigning and desperate attempts to deflect from their embarrassing record will be rejected resoundingly by voters.”
Labrosse has served as mayor since 2013 and served on the town council starting in 2009. Municipal races such as Hackensack’s normally have low voter turnout. A number of building trades unions have backed HUP, something that could help swing the election away from Labrosse, especially due to Hackensack’s deeply Democratic electorate.