Michael DeFusco is a member of Hoboken’s Zoning Board of Adjustment who is hoping to win a seat on Hoboken’s City Council to represent the city’s 1st Ward. He is challenging 21-year incumbent Terry Castellano for the seat.
PolitickerNJ spoke with DeFusco about what he hopes to see change in the ward, why he think he is better for the job than the current ward representative and how he is campaigning.
1. Why did you decide to pursue a position as Hoboken’s 1st Ward councilmember?
My heart has always been in the community. I came to Hoboken 11 years ago. It was a place built on brownstones and the historic neighborhoods of the past but also with many prospects for the future. When I first moved to town there was a project that was going to move into my backyard. That is the first time I realized there was a board that implemented zoning codes and they would listen to community concerns. At the end of the day, the neighbors spoke out to the benefit of the community and came up with a better project.
I was appointed to the zoning board about 5 years ago and again this past January. It is something that I really feel strongly about: keeping the size and scale of our community while continuing to improve.
I have ideas and I have the passion to represent my neighbors. I also have an energy level where I am excited to really put myself out there and represent people and listen to every concern. Every one of my neighbors is important but I don’t feel the ward has appropriate representation.
2. What is it about incumbent Terry Castellano that you feel warrants you to challenge her?
So many of my neighbor’s don’t know Terry. I have no problem with establishment but if you always do what you’ve always done you will always get what you’ve always got. The status quo is ok for some, but it is not ok for me.
Terry only connects to one end of the community. She needs to know that new folks are moving to town and they have ideas. Her relationships are 21-year-old relationships. That is not to say that I think she is a fair representative of those residents, though. The general feeling is that her constituent relations are falling by the wayside. There is only a net gain if I am elected. Where Terry and I stand on important issues like affordable housing and livability are the same but I will add to that.
3. Terry was the one that appointed you to the Zoning Board in 2011. Do you think your history is going to impact the race in any way?
I like Terry. She is a nice person. At the end of the day I supported her 4 and a half years ago because she promised changes to the community. It is not an easy decision to run against someone you respect, but the ward does not belong to Terry Castellano. This is a race that puts the 1st Ward first. This is a bout brokering a conversation when Terry hasn’t done that. My personal like for Terry has nothing to do with it.
4. Do you feel you have the support of Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer and do you believe that will make a difference in the election?
I think you will have to ask the Mayor if I have her support. I certainly would accept an endorsement from the Mayor and I would be surprised if she chose to endorse Terry. She has opposed the Mayor basically every chance she has gotten. I certainly think the Mayor is doing a fantastic job and we will see if she decides to back a candidate. The support of a mayor is always a good thing.
5. Explain your campaign strategy.
The campaign is super grassroots. I am running to represent all folks in the 1st ward whether you were born here or you got here yesterday and everyone in between. I am making sure everyone knows who I am and knocking on every door. I am holding events to where I can meet people and show my neighbors who I am and that I want to speak for them. This is a super hyperlocal campaign and I am happy it is that way. It is about the issues.
As this campaign begins to pick up some momentum I want everyone in the 1st Ward to give me a chance to talk to them. This is an uphill battle for me but it is something that is winnable.
6. What in particular do you want to see change in the 1st ward if you are elected?
I think there are three main issues that all fall under downtown livability. First, I don’t think our streets have ever been in worse shape. There are potholes and the trash on streets is alarming but there has been no pressure from Terry to change. Pedestrian safety is a big concern. We need to improve through better infrastructure and increased safety projects.
Second, downtown needs to remain affordable for everyone. Affordability is a key concern. Affordable housing needs to be made available.
Third, I want to see innovative land use that pushes for arts, commerce and innovation. Hoboken needs more commerce and streets can be livened. Property values can further increase. I think that Lackawanna Plaza can not only become part of the storm water prevention plan but outdoor café and event space. I want to train station to be become multipurpose, similar to Chelsea Market in New York.