In a Hoboken tug of war, Zimmer claims traction heading into tonight’s debates

HOBOKEN – Purists don’t like the Hoboken mayor’s race because they don’t readily identify in any of the three main

HOBOKEN – Purists don’t like the Hoboken mayor’s race because they don’t readily identify in any of the three main candidates the kind of old school character who might just as well have been a barkeep, tavern owner, longshoreman, tug boat operator, barge hand or fireman as mayor.

But while At-Large Councilman Peter Cammarano,2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, and 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer probably can’t trace their respective family histories back to a distant uncle who pitched in the world’s first baseball game played in Hoboken, the Tremitiedis, Russos and Raias of the world opted out of this year’s contest, leaving these like ‘em or not new mold Hobokenites on the field.

Whoever gets elected must confront a financial wreck as residents here still reel from the effects of a 47% tax hike in one year, and hours before the first mayoral debate tonight at Our Lady of Grace Church, the slow-moving contest threatens to intensify.

To date, few have been willing to venture a guess as to who’s in the lead, but 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer has relished blowing up the old model of what Hobokenites are supposed to be and framed herself as the do or die reformer.

“I want people who share my vision, if they don’t share my vision and are simply on the ticket to fulfill some supposed demographic demand, I’m not interested. I got the best people to do the job. I am running with qualified people who have financial management skills,” she said, acknowledging her running mates: former reform Councilwoman Carol Marsh, Sikh attorney Ravi Bhalla, and teacher Dave Mello.

She’s doubletimed the argument ever since Mason secured the backing of state Union City Mayor/Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-Union City).

“I’m sorry, but she’s compromised herself,” Zimmer told last Friday as she presided at a campaign fundraiser on Park Avenue.

Now Stack hasn’t mounted any floats and thrown confetti on Mason’s behalf, but he’s a quiet backer, an irony not lost on Cammarano and Zimmer, who note that Mason railed against Assemblyman/Councilman Ruben Ramos for double-dipping, then teamed with double-dipper in chief Stack.

Ramos, sufficiently cowed by Mason into forsaking his council seat, also ironically backs Mason at the prompting of Stack.

Infuriated by her rival reformer’s willingness to go old school for what she sees as political expediency, Zimmer even heard that the councilman she conquered, Chris Campos, is campaigning with Mason.

Moreover, she wants to know why her rivals didn’t report their campaign reports with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), while she did, reporting $56,471.

“If Beth Mason is touting herself as the transparency candidate, where is her ELEC report?” demanded Zimmer, a photographer by profession and green technology stickler, who fears Mason’s ties to development and quotes with discomfort her rival’s “Hoboken must develop or die” statement.

Mason’s people don’t take Zimmer seriously, whom they see as a work-in-progress by longtime Hoboken politico Michael Lenz, who hardly fits the reformer profile.

Their candidate was in front of her headquarters on Washington Avenue late Friday afternoon, grabbing people’s hands as they passed.

Arguably the dramatic highpoint in the race so far was the School Board victory of the Kids First ticket last Tuesday, where Zimmer eagerly claimed the victory of the three allies she endorsed in that contest and rode another news burst to trump even the unorthodox implications of her kickoff announcment.

“You shouldn’t politicize kids,” groused Mason, who backed those School Board candidates – quietly. “My point it not to spread this campaign too thin. We are focused on City Hall. A lot of people worked hard on the Kids’ First campaign, and now this candidate wants to take credit for it.”

Mason’s people said they’ve been Kids First fans for years and depict Zimmer as a Johnny Come Lately who, lacking any significant traction in the contest, inflated the School Board victory as her own.

Zimmer disagrees.

“Leadership is about taking risks,” she said. “I took a risk when I backed the Kids First slate. My kids are in charter schools now, but I want them to go to Hoboken High School. There is a direct relationship between the school system and local government.”

She also has repeatedly pointed out that the Kids First candidates ran their Election Day operations out of her campaign headquarters.

Lower key and focused, Cammarano the lawyer schooled by Elections Law guru Angelo Genova, has the most visible connection to Mayor Dave Roberts, the man who wanted to run again but didn’t because he realize that in the middle of his city’s financial climate, he couldn’t win.

While not officially endorsing anyone – mostly fearful that his endorsement could do damage – Roberts admits his partiality to Camarano.

“I think he has good business sense,” the mayor told

He has offered whatever help Cammarano sees fit, without actually sticking his chest out in front of a bank of microphones to endorse the at-large councilman. The state takeover during his stewardship makes the prospect of outright allying himself with Cammarano too dangerous for the young man Roberts once plucked off a campaign street corner as Cammarano volunteered locally for John Kerry.

If the early thirtysomething Cammarano doesn’t have the classic old school profile, he fronts his vote against the state takeover and Hoboken’s right to mind its own affairs as his best calling card in this race, while Mason and Zimmer run as the alternatives to that, even as the latter claims she’s easily farthest from what’s come before. In a Hoboken tug of war, Zimmer claims traction heading into tonight’s debates