HOBOKEN – At least one insider poll leaked two months ago showed 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason ahead in the mayor’s race, and if chalking up the largest number of attacks from two opposing sides signals what kind of a threat she poses, Mason tonight appeared to reconfirm her position as the frontrunner.
Peter Cammarano and Dawn Zimmer both tried to take chunks out of Mason as they suggested she has compromised her reformer brand by constructing a ticket blessed by both state Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-Union City) and 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo.
Mason defended her blended ticket experiment as a kind of rainbow coalition, which Zimmer in particular, trying to carry the real reformer banner, couldn’t abide without flashing an incredulous grin.
Cammarano ‘s people don’t worry about the Kids First victory, which infused Zimmer’s campaign with some headlines last week and gave her a bounce coming into tonight’s debate, making her look like something bigger than she is, the councilman maintains.
Cammarano allies say it’s just Zimmer and Mason people fighting for each other’s base. They can savage each other in there, Cammarano doesn’t care. He figures in a best case scenario he can get ten percent of the Kids First votes, let his rivals war for the rest.
“Government is ultimately about addressing local issues – local concerns,” he said in his sum-up, going high falutin’ to justify a down-to-earth approach and ultimately explain his “aye” vote on the budget last year. “Local concerns are the same everywhere you go. …At the foundation of self-government is the concept that these critical questions should and must be addressed at the local level.”
Playing the role of resident rumpled wonk, Tom Vincent went for laughs tonight and got them. He played the endearing tech head, opting not to ask a wiseguy question of one of the other candidates, a tack Frank Orsini took later.
“Thanks for listening to all this,” Vincent said apologetically at the end.
Financial manager Ryn Melberg offered herself up as a grown-up who won’t get dragged into the nonsense, even as adopted a withering tone to beam fellow self-styled reformer Zimmer.
It looked early as though Orsini’s throw-the-bums-out role in the race would require him to adopt a tough guy tone here, but that proved not to be so, as Orsini likewise struck an even-keel approach.
Still, he went for the gusto in his closing statement.
“Our council failed, and that inevitably gave us our ills,” he said. “Under their leadership, we received our ills. Peter Cammarano’s recent mailer talked about ‘new leadership.’ He’s been on the council for four years. Beth Mason talked about (new) leadership. She aligned herself with people who have been in power for ten to fifteen years. Dawn Zimmer promised – promised – to serve out a full term, but here she is running for mayor.”
Mason repeatedly met Cammarano’s and Zimmer’s attacks and counter-attacked.
She zapped Zimmer for failing to secure affordable units in the Church Towers project, a point that set Zimmer squirming in her chair, apparently eager to set the record straight.
She didn’t immediately double back on it as new sets of questions arose, but later said, “Councilwoman Mason continues to mislead the public on this issue.”
Mason also made Cammarano dance in the seat next to her own when she asked him to explain why he voted for Mayor David Robert’s budgets prior to last year’s – three in a row, in fact, which drove the city into its current financial miasma, extracting from her rival the announcement that he has a responsibility as a councilman to vote for the budget.
She gonged Zimmer in her closing statement.
"I don't just talk about what I want to do, I've done it," she said. "I've not been active for one or two years. I've been active for ten years."
The crowd of at least 200 people here in a split level cafeteria doubling as a theater consisted mostly of residents who own their own home, joined by some scattered renters.