With ’09 mayor’s race on horizon, Hoboken’s Cammarano and Mason wage political war

HOBOKEN – Even members of his inner circle swear that they don’t yet know whether Mayor Dave Roberts plans to run for a third term in 2009.

Whatever his intentions, other Hoboken diehards are surfacing. No one’s announced yet, but fierce political battles now will undoubtedly have political consequences next year in this city stung by the embarrassment of a state takeover of its finances.

There are all of the usual speculations surrounding possible candidates. A sighting of former Councilwoman Carol Marsh at a municipal meeting provokes the conclusion in come corners that she’s definitely running. A recent inundation of photos of Mayor Roberts on the Hoboken website prompts someone else to opine that Roberts is running – bet on it.

Businessman and neighborhood kid made good Frank “Pupie” Raia?

Of course, he’s running, say Hoboken insiders. He always runs, and no doubt he will perpetuate his longstanding animus this year with Councilman Michael Russo, who clubbed him last year in their 3rd ward showdown.

In the meantime, two council people continue to throw and absorb a barrage of verbal punches across the divide of a changing political landscape, and they are 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason and At-Large Councilman Peter Cammarano.

If Raia and Russo embody a Frank Sinatra era of born and raised waterfront rivalries, Cammarano and Mason are positioning themselves – each to the irritation of the other – as the next chapter, the new era of Hoboken politics.

President of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government with a professional background in management consulting, 25-year Hoboken resident Mason won elected office last year when she nudged a Russo ally – and former longshoreman and fireman – out of contention.

“I’m not into labels, but if you call me a reformer, it’s shorthand for people to understand what you’re talking about,” says Mason, who last month won a lawsuit againstthe Hoboken Muncipal Hospital Authorityconcerning government transparency, and now is floating legislation that would prevent

council people from taking more than a $1 salary if they already receive a public salary.

Then there’s Cammarano.

Hailed as the next big thing when the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) put him on the ticket as part of Roberts’s 2005 re-election campaign, Cammarano is a member of the Newark law firm Genova, Burns and Vernoia and the protégé of celebrated elections lawyer Angelo Genova.

He’s also close to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who headlined a fundraiser for Cammarano shortly after romping in the June primary.

If he runs, the young family man Cammarano is going to try to reach the yuppie, tech-head and Wall Street investment crowd that makes up the meat and potatoes voting block for Mason.

And he’s also going to put his Paterson roots and Passaic County Democratic Party pedigree out there to try to corral the old school blue collar Hoboken voters.

“I never wanted to be identified with one side or the other. I’m not a born and raised guy, and I’m not a reformer,” Cammarano says. “The Russos of the world see change in town happening and they have knee jerk negative reaction. The Beth Masons see themselves as pure revolutionaries in a titanic struggle between good and evil.

“I’m not a revolutionary or reactionary,” he adds.

On a key battlefront going down right now, Cammarano is taking the lead against Mason’s reform proposal to limit public salaries for council people. The councilman’s chief ally on the governing body is Councilman/Assemblyman Ruben Ramos (D-Hoboken), who’s the most obvious target of the legislation.

He works as a public school teacher in Paterson in addition to receiving salaries for his two elected offices: council and state Assembly.

But Cammarano says he objects to Mason’s legislation on principle.

“The problem with this proposal,” he says, “is it takes whole classes of people and tells them, ‘Don’t bother running for City Council.’”

He lists the professions of people who would be ineligible for a council person’s salary (roughly $23,000) if Mason prevailed.

“Policemen, firefighters, prosecutors, guidance counselors, the list goes on and on,” Cammarano says.

“Soldiers, for God’s sake,” he adds.

“It’s wrong to tell many people that if you can’t afford to leave your day job, don’t bother running,” Cammarano says. “It’s a politics of exclusion, and I find it offensive. What you’re doing is you’re saying a Wallace School teacher should be excluded while a teacher from (the private) Hudson School is automatically included in Beth’s universe of eligible candidates.”

There are three important factors in this developing Hoboken mayors’ race. The first, of course, is whether Roberts chooses to run, the second is who will receive the endorsement of state Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-Hudson), and the third is who will land the endorsement of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO).

“I’m not going to get involved up there,” says Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, chair of the HCDO.

He has his own mayoral re-election to oversee, after all; although those familiar with Hudson County politics say the organization’s intransigence when it comes to Hoboken won’t last long.

Marsh is said to be connected to the upper echelons of the organization. Once a reformer in the Mason mold, she ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly on an organization-backed ticket just last year.

Stack definitely means to get involved.

“I have a vested interest, as Hoboken is in my district,” says the Union City mayor and District 33 senator.

A year and a half ago, around the time he picked Ramos to run with him on a successful renegade legislative ticket, he appeared to be lining Russo up for mayor.

But sources say Russo and Stack aren’t as chummy now – ever since Stack passed over Russo’s freeholder candidate.

Cammarano’s closeness to Ramos – Stack’s chief lieutenant in Hoboken – may give some indication of who Stack will back when the street fight starts, but right now Stack refuses to play public favorites.

Beyond the stagecraft of who stands where and when, the overriding issue of the race will be the city’s finances, which a state monitor is examining following an administrative breakdown and the City Council’s subsequent failure to produce cuts.

Riding a $12.8 million deficit, Roberts delivered the bad news that Hoboken hadn’t paid its healthcare costs and was about to lose healthcare for city workers, and in June, Mason and Russo lined up among those calling for the state to come in and straighten out the city’s finances.

Cammarano and Ramos were among those voting to tackle the bloated, $103 million budget in-house.

The latter team lost by a 4-5 vote, and now – if he runs for mayor – Cammarano will likely make the case that all along he understood his statutory responsibilities and wasn’t afraid to personally make cuts, while Mason – if she runs for mayor – will argue that government transparency and an open process all along would have enabled Hoboken to avoid its current crisis.

With ’09 mayor’s race on horizon, Hoboken’s Cammarano and Mason wage political war