Jersey City residents will go to the polls tomorrow to either elect their next mayor or set the stage for a runoff next month.
Four candidates are taking on Mayor Jerramiah Healy in this city of 240,000, and the most well-funded among them, former Assemblyman Louis Manzo, has only one-tenth of the funds Healy does. Also running are Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, good government activist Dan Levin and police detective Phil Webb.
There are also 42 candidates for council on the ballot — a relatively small number by historical Jersey City standards.
Healy, who had raised $3.1 million as of the last report with the Election Law Enforcement Commission, has been considered the favorite throughout the race. He's rolled our one big name state endorsement after another, and spent this morning campaigning at the Journal Square PATH station with Newark Mayor Cory Booker. He's hitched his campaign to President Barack Obama, and by now most Jersey City residents with cable television have seen Obama's two-year-old remarks praising Healy, then an early endorser of his underdog candidacy.
Conventional wisdom dictates that the best chance someone has to upset Healy is to force him into a runoff by keeping him from getting a majority of the vote. But Manzo, making his fifth bid for mayor, sees an upset in the making, one so large that it will overshadow John Kenny's 1949 defeat of Frank Hague Eggers, which ended the influence of Jersey City's three-decade mayor and powerful political boss, Frank Hague.
"Based on what we've seen in our polling in the last week, the undecideds stay high and the other guys in the race were not drawing a significant amount of votes," said Manzo, who got the front-page endorsement of the Jersey Journal this weekend. "If the undecideds break one way or the other, this could be a first ballot win for us."
Of course, Healy has done his own polling. In March, a poll obtained by PolitickerNJ showed Healy more than 40 points over Manzo. But Healy rivals contended that the poll's 74% favorability rating for Healy was impossibly high, which cast doubt on the results of the results.
Manzo does have a pattern on his side. Jersey City voters have, in recent decades, tended to vote incumbents out more often than not.
"It's a throw out mentality in Jersey City, and when the mayor himself has such a terrible record on crime and taxes, and embarrassing Jersey City with his personal behavior, it all adds up," he said, referring to Healy's 2006 arrest in Bradley Beach and subsequent conviction for obstruction of justice after intervening in a lovers' quarrel.
And if he does force a runoff against Healy, Manzo said, then Healy is "doomed."
But Nick Acocella, who lives in neighboring Hoboken and writes the weekly insider newsletter Politifax, said that Healy is the hands-down favorite to win the race, whether it is in the first-ballot or a run off.
"He's the frontrunner no matter what happens," he said. "He's the incumbent, and an incumbent with all the money. There may be people mad at him.. but it's not going to make all that much difference."
Acocella said that he thinks Smith — not Manzo — has the best shot at forcing Healy into a runoff because he can depend on a solid bloc of votes from the city's African-American community.
Smith said that his record as former City Council President and stint as Acting Mayor in 2004 after Mayor Glenn Cunningham's sudden death will convcice voters to pull the lever for him – even if they didn't in the special election five years ago.
"I've walked this city… I've watched the crime rate, the murder rate escalate. I've seen [Healy] put police on the streets two months before the election, pave streets two months before the election," he said. "My record is clear. I stabilized the city after the death of Mayor Cunningham.. I created a budget within two months of taking office after he passed away, and I created things that benefited the city at the time."
Webb, who's also African-American and is considered more of a long-shot than Smith, is hoping for a strong showing in that community as well.
"I'm the long shot for sure. I‘ve got to hope that the black vote comes out for me… And if they do I can make the runoff, and if I can make the runoff I can win," he said.
Recognizing the importance of the black vote early in the race, Healy began courting state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), wife of the late Glenn Cunningham, who was Jersey City's first African-American mayor. Cunningham flirted with her own mayoral bid, but after a series of deals opted to endorse Healy instead.
Healy, for his part, shrugged off Manzo's optimistic scenario.
"Lou thinks he's going to win on the first ballot? Ok. He's entitled to his opinion," he said.
For Healy, his campaign's frequent use of Barack Obama's name and image by makes perfect sense. Healy was, along with Booker, an early Obama backer in a state dominated by Hillary Clinton supporters.
"We have a relationship and an actual friendship with the President of the United States for the first time since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the President and Frank ‘I am the Law' Hague was the mayor of Jersey City," said Healy.
Healy said that he thinks he can win on the first ballot if voter turnout is high.
"If people stay home and overlook the importance of the election, then it's possible we can wind up in a runoff," he said.
Unlike Manzo, Dan Levin's goal is to come in second to force Healy into a runoff, and he has a very specific goal with which to achieve it: 10,000 votes. Much of his base resides in Ward E, which is dominated by the city's gentrifying downtown, and he believes that many of his voters will be people who did not bother to vote in municipal elections before.
"Our success will have a lot to do with people who passed but have been inspired by a real alternative to candidates as usual," he said.