BAYONNE, NJ - Even a casual stroll through the First Ward is more than enough to tell the public that a municipal election is looming. Political signs are posted on many of the houses endorsing candidates who are running in the special election for the council on Nov. 5.
Neil Carroll III, who was appointed to fill the seat temporarily last November, is hoping to keep the seat vacated by the resignation of Tom Cotter. Carroll faces three challengers – John R. Cupo, Peter Franco, and Paul Hagdorn.
A vast majority of the campaign signs are for Carroll. While Carroll would be the first to admit that campaign signs do not accurately represent votes, signs do indicate a good political organization, suggesting that Carroll will be tough to beat.
Carroll has the support of Mayor Jimmy Davis. In the 2018 election, Davis’ candidate, Cotter beat his opponent by more than 1,100 votes.
While Davis is not on the ballot this year, two of his closest allies will be on the top of the ticket: Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Freeholder Kenneth Kopacz.
This is an unusual situation for Bayonne, which unlike many other municipalities, chooses to run its municipal elections in May rather than November, a design meant to limit the influence county, state, or federal elections have on the local outcome.
But because state law requires a special election, the First Ward election will coincide with county and state elections this year. Because of Carroll’s close ties to the county Democratic organization, he may see a boost in voter turnout.
This is also a winner-take-all election --unlike traditional local municipal elections that would otherwise require one candidate to get more than 50 percent of the total vote to avoid a runoff election between the two top vote getters.
Municipal elections in Bayonne are non-partisan. So, by law, they are not supposed to co-mingle with county, state and federal elections that involve political parties. But in truth, get-out-the-vote efforts often involve the same campaign workers, and in this case, candidates for higher office clearly are endorsing Carroll over his opponents.
Carroll comes from Bayonne political royalty, the grandson of a prominent county and state level political icon. Ironically, Carroll’s uncle is former Mayor Mark Smith – the man Davis beat in 2014. But Carroll III, like his grandfather, became a Davis supporter during the last election in 2018, working on the Davis’s reelection campaign. Carroll currently works as a schoolteacher.
Franco, a longtime political activist, traces is political roots back to the 2014 municipal election during which he served as a campaign volunteer for then mayoral candidate Anthony Zanowic. But Franco has since become a staunch advocate for a number of issues and served as a political advisor behind the scenes during former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell’s failed bid to unseat Davis in 2018.
Cupo, who ran for first ward and at-large council seats in the past, also ran three times unsuccessfully for the Bayonne Board of Education. A real estate agent, he apparently isn’t running against the Davis political machine, but rather hopes to replace Carroll as part of the Davis council.
Hagdorn is a newcomer to the Bayonne political scene, seeking to get more involved in the community. Also, a real estate agent, he appears to have enough support to have a number of his own campaign signs posted throughout the ward.
Traditionally, November elections kick off in earnest just after Labor Day.
While candidates running in the special election for the First Ward council seat have been active for months, the election hit high gear as they descended onto the Bridge Arts Festival last weekend, pleading their case with the public as to why each one deserves to sit in the seat.
With a handful of brochures, Franco made his case to a number of residents – especially on a campaign seeking to provide more affordable housing. With Bayonne poised as the new Gold Coast for development along Hudson County’s waterfront, Franco hopes the city can avoid seeing long-time residents being priced out.
The First Ward is the southernmost part of Bayonne, and somewhat more isolated from towns like Jersey City which borders Wards Two and Three.
Many businesses have a stronger connection to Staten Island, which became an issue during the reconstruction of the Bayonne Bridge when many business owners found it difficult to travel to and from Staten Island during bridge closures. In the past issues have included the installation of a controversial gas line and proposals for development of former industrial sites.
The development of sites such as the former Texaco property near the foot of the Bayonne Bridge and the former A&P property could see a dramatic change in the local landscape in the near future. The First Ward is also the terminus of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail and could see large development near the 8th Street Station. The proposed reuse of the Holy Family Academy property as the location for Head Start early education could free up several parcels of land near the station as well.
Bergen Point is a key part of the ward’s business community. Once envisioned as a village within a village, new developments such as the opening of new businesses along Broadway between 5th and 9th streets serve as the foundation of a much-needed revival.
The First Ward faces many of the same issues as other parts of the city such as lack of adequate parking. But it has its own unique issues such as its susceptibility to flooding. While huge sections of the ward saw massive flooding during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, even ordinary storms create havoc.
Voters will have to determine which of these four candidates are best suited to address the current and future needs of the ward.
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