The Rise and Fall of Peter Cammarano

When Peter Cammarano III wanted to kick off his campaign to become the mayor of Hoboken, the 32-year-old chose the Frozen Monkey, a hip salad-and-wrap joint here, for his venue.

It flaunted the young professional’s credibility with the other young professionals who have flocked to this city since the real estate got hot.

But Mr. Cammarano was careful to stay on message from the beginning: This city is deeply divided, after all. The born-and-raised are one faction, resistant to the change wrought by the influx of wealthy Manhattan commuters, which in their view had quickly and purely by dint of money become a powerful force in the city. To cobble together a coalition big enough to win, Mr. Cammarano knew, he would have to appeal to both.

He succeeded, barely edging out an opponent in a June 10 runoff election. And 22 days later, he is facing charges of accepting cash bribes, his scarcely begun political career in tatters.

Mr. Cammarano wasn’t a Hoboken native, but as an at-large councilman, he’d forged good relations with the Latino community and the poor. He was a friend of the police and firefighters and promised not to cut city employees from the payroll. It didn’t hurt to be an Italian-American in a town where some of the born-and-raised proudly display pictures of themselves mugging with prominent Hoboken native Frank Sinatra.

“I never wanted to be identified with one side or the other,” Mr. Cammarano said at his home in the lead-up to his run for mayor. “I’m not a born-and-raised guy, and I’m not a reformer. I’m not a revolutionary or reactionary.”

By the time he reached the June 10 runoff, Mr. Cammarano was optimistic that his base would come through.  His problem is that he was offering his political analysis to an F.B.I. informant wearing a wire and offering him a bribe.

“Right now, the Italians, the Hispanics, the seniors are locked down,” he told the informant, according to documents in a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office. “Nothing can change that now. I could be, uh, indicted, and I’m still gonna win 85 to 95 percent of those populations.”

It might have seemed that way at one point.

What struck observers as Mr. Cammarano built his organization and remained competitive with two candidates running on reform platforms—Second Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer—was the loyalty he inspired in his supporters.

When a story circulated on the Internet describing an alleged love child being raised elsewhere, just a week before Election Day, the councilman was able to round up an impressive phalanx of soldiers to join him on the sidewalk in front of City Hall to denounce dirty campaigning.

New Hoboken was there.

“Peter gives us the best chance to move forward,” said Jason Maurer, a young professional and former Wall Streeter who stood with Mr. Cammarano, and who said the story wasn’t relevant to his candidate’s run. But remarkable, too, was the turnout of Old Hoboken: Former fire chief and onetime longshoreman Richard Tremitiedi appeared visibly pained as he watched Mr. Cammarano answer the charge; he himself had run for the Second Ward Council seat two years before, on a ticket representing Old Hoboken against the influx of new money. He’d described his opponent, Ms. Mason, a financial consultant, as a local amalgam of “Corzine-Bloomberg.”

Now, Mr. Cammarano was facing off against Ms. Zimmer–and the prolonged campaign had turned into an expensive proposition. Feds say Mr. Cammarano was accepting cash payments in $5,000 increments from a man he thought was a developer looking for a pay-to-play connection in Hoboken.

On July 25, protestors–a mix of Old and New Hoboken–appeared in front of his brownstone. One of their signs read, “Powder to the People,” a reference to that now-notorious campaign boast. The young champion had united Hoboken again, in wanting to see the back of him.

  The Rise and Fall of Peter Cammarano