At a news conference today held at the corner of 6th and Jackson, former Hoboken Councilman Chris Campos wanted to make sure that he had his own ward appear behind him – a housing project, not the relatively new and up-market apartment building across the street in the neighboring ward.
“That’s my ward, that’s what I represent,” he told the cameraman, pointing to the drab brick building.
The point was obvious. Campos, who grew up in a housing project nearby, was a home town guy. Now, after losing a runoff election against Hoboken newcomer Dawn Zimmer, who moved here five years ago, he’s facing her for a third time after she agreed to step aside and run again rather than battle Campos’s in court. Now Campos is clawing his way back to the seat that he thinks is rightfully his.
“This is the ward that has the most economic and cultural diversity,” said Campos. “Is Hoboken going to be a community that’s welcoming of diversity, or is Hoboken going to be a community of just the affluent?”
This Hoboken City Council race is a Hudson County anomaly in that it takes place in November, rather than in June as is customary in this Democratic bastion. But what this race boils down to is a proxy war between Campos (and his fellow Hoboken Council Stack allies, who hold a 4-3 majority) and Zimmer, who they insist is an HCDO stooge.
To Campos, Zimmer’s decision not to take him on in court was no magnanimous gesture. Rather, he said, it showed that Zimmer did not want to face his multiple charges of electoral misconduct. Zimmer, in turn, said that Campos has been going door-to-door with former Jersey City Mayor Gerry McCann to “take this election through intimidation.”
Councilman Peter Cammarano, a Campos ally and election lawyer, called Zimmer’s agreement to drop the runoff election results “bizarre,” saying he could only identify two cases in the history of the state where an incumbent agreed to give up his or her post and hold another election.
“The fact of the matter is innocent people don’t plea bargain,” said Cammarano. Cammarano also charged that Zimmer bribed senior citizens by handing out lottery tickets attached to campaign flyers, and implied that Zimmer left the purchases off of her ELEC reports because she “knew that it was wrong.”
But Zimmer said that with Campos planning to call about 150 witnesses at the trial – she was planning to call about thirty — one last election would be far better for fourth ward residents than a long legal battle.
“I think part of (the situation) is they can’t understand me because I’m not a traditional politician,” said Zimmer. “I want to resolve this as quickly as possible for my community and family, and I want to go back to the people of the fourth ward and ask them to vote for me one more time.”
There was no mention of Campos's pending DUI trial in New York City, which has been delayed. Zimmer did not mention it either.
Zimmer readily admits attaching lottery tickets to campaign literature but scoffs at the charge of bribery, and points out that Campos organized bus trips to Atlantic City for his constituents.
“It’s a marketing tool,” said Zimmer. “Chris went around with plants, trips for people to Atlantic City, has block parties and buys hot dogs. Is that buying votes?”
Zimmer ran her campaign as an independent reformer, not beholden to the complicated web of alliances that make up Hudson County Politics. Campos and Cammarano sought to portray her as a pawn of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, noting political donations from Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy.
But Zimmer says she has nothing to do with the HCDO, and pointed out that former Jersey City Mayor Gerry McCann, who recently won a challenge to his school board candidacy after he handed out absentee ballots at a nursing home, was helping out the Campos campaign. Sure, Tom DeGise showed up to her campaign headquarters on the night of the run off election, and the HCDO voiced support for her. But ultimately, it comes down to that old maxim: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
“You don’t know how many times I’ve heard that phrase,” said Zimmer.