Editorial: The Rise and Fall of Bayonne’s Mark Smith

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After five-and-a-half years in office, Mark Smith is now a lame duck mayor in Bayonne. 

A Facebook photon of then-Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith.
A Facebook photon of then-Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith.

By Kevin Hall/Hudson County View

After five-and-a-half years in office, Mark Smith is now a lame duck mayor in Bayonne. Smith came up short in the June 10 runoff election against Police Captain Jimmy Davis, losing by 400 or so votes (8,167 votes for Davis compared to 7,761 for Smith) – despite spending close to $800,000 in campaign cash.

This really hurt since Davis didn’t come anywhere close to spending six figures, dropping a modest $77,000 during the campaign season, according to ELEC reports. Smith, a former Deputy Police Chief in the Peninsula City, took over in November 2008 after winning a special election to fulfill the remainder of Joe Doria’s term.

Doria was on his way to greener pastures, since then-Governor Jon Corzine appointed him to run the state Department of Community Affairs.

Generally speaking, Smith was already popular among residents after 26 years on the police force and began to gain steam as a politician by keeping property taxes down. Furthermore, Smith was a powerful public speaker and a good fundraiser, so the Hudson County Democratic Organization quietly began to take notice of the Marist High School graduate.

In the May 2010 election, Smith absolutely steamrolled ex-31st District Assemblyman/Bayonne Councilman Anthony Chiappone and former cop Leonard Kantor. Smith got a whopping 66 percent of the vote (7,402), to just 22% (2,503) for the closest opposition, Chiappone.

Funny enough, Smith’s right hand man, Jason O’Donnell, would take over as the Assemblyman of the 31st District two months later.

While neither challenger was viewed as a serious one, Smith’s popularity and political savvy could no longer be denied after he led two of his preferred council candidates to victory a month later in a runoff election. At that point, few were surprised to see Smith unanimously voted the HCDO Chairman a day later.

“If Hudson County is to be powerful, we must be united. I pledge to work with our mayors and legislators to support our Democratic candidates at election time and throughout the year,” Smith told the Hudson Reporter shortly after being named the party chair.

Hard to say exactly what happened next, as Smith decided to support Sen. Nia Gil over Donald Payne Jr. – who had the backing of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez – for Congress. Maybe Smith really believed Gil was the better candidate; maybe he got a little too big for his britches, as the old saying goes.

Either way, Smith should’ve known it was at best a bad political move – at worst a cardinal sin – to go against Menendez’s pick in Hudson County. Nevertheless, given his recent string of successes, it was reasonable to chalk that one up as a mulligan.

In 2013, then-Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy had the task of fending off a young, aggressive and fairly wealthy challenger in then-Councilman Steven Fulop, who had been making a name for himself since he got elected to the council at age 27.

Even if you don’t know who the current mayor of Jersey City is, it’s obvious by the previous sentence that it’s not Healy anymore.

Fulop won comfortably and Smith’s political stock took a massive nosedive since he was one of the staunchest Healy supporters of them all. For this reason, rumors swirled that Fulop was going to help lead the opposition against Smith as the ultimate form of political payback, but that never happened.

By the way, about this time last year is when the HCDO dumped Smith as the party’s top representative and instead put in Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, a known ally of North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco. Anyway, as it turned out, Fulop, a top Democratic gubernatorial candidate, endorsed Smith prior to last month’s election.

While Smith won the May 13 election, many considered it a hollow victory since Davis had forced a runoff and appeared to have the momentum. This at least should have been particularly concerning to Team Smith, considering they had outspent Davis by a margin of approximately 8-to-1.

“In these difficult economic times, a weary public has responded to a message that pits us one against the other. It was not so long ago that we were cheering our first responders, our police and firefighters, and EMTs as our first line of defense against evil in this world,” Smith also said in the aforementioned Hudson Reporter interview. “

What did they do to suddenly become the enemy? What did our teachers do to become public enemy No. 1? We must work to change these mistaken perceptions.”

Looks like Smith should’ve taken his own advice, since a major reason he lost was because he refused to renegotiate a contract with the Bayonne teachers for almost five years. As it turns out, unlike a lot of other Hudson County municipalities, most Bayonne teachers live in the city they work.

That wasn’t the only reason he lost, though. The public just no longer found Smith relatable, so it didn’t matter how many commercials he aired on TBS – his goose was cooked. Ah Hudson County, where five-and-a-half years feels like a lifetime.

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