Election Day preview: The Hoboken City Council races could set the tone for 2021


All six ward city council seats are up for grabs in tomorrow’s Hoboken municipal elections, where the outcome certainly has the potential to set the tone for 2021.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

What are voters deciding?

Voters will select their six ward council representatives, where five of the six incumbents are seeking another four-year term. 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham is not on the ballot, deciding in July that he would not seek a third term.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla is backing five candidates in Wards 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 and is looking to gain the majority on the nine-member city council, where he currently only has two staunch allies.


Who’s involved?

In the 1st Ward, Mike DeFusco is taking on Migdalia Pagan-Milano, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher faces a challenge from Nora Martinez-Debenedetto, independent challenger, Ron Bautista, is hoping to topple 3rd Ward incumbent Michael Russo, with 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos matched up against Lisa Sprengle.

The 5th and 6th Ward races are both three-way dances, with Phil Cohen, Tim Crowell and Nicola Maganuco lookin to succeed Cunningham, while 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino will square off with Cristen Cricco-Powell and Frank Rosner – the other independent challenger on the crowded ballot.

Bhalla, along with former Mayor Dawn Zimmer has endorsed Pagan-Milano, Martinez-Debenedetto, Sprengle, Cohen and Cricco-Powell.

Martinez-Debenedetto also has a formal endorsement from Councilman-at-Large James Doyle, though it’s quite clear he’s rooting for the entire Bhalla team (as is Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour).

Cunningham has endorsed Crowell (while also making it quite clear he really hates Cohen), Fisher and Giattino. The councilwomen have also endorsed each other.

Arguably the most remarkable thing about this Mile Square City showdown is that three outside interest groups are involved in a council contest, something pretty unheard of in New Jersey.

NJ Community Initiatives, New Jersey Democracy in Action, and Stronger Foundations, the super PAC arm of the The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, have all gotten involved in some way, shape, or form.

NJ Community Initiatives earmarked $19,420 towards campaign literature for Pagan-Milano, NJDA (a non-profit with very little public information available) sent out an attack mailer against Cohen on Friday, and Stronger Foundations spent a nominal amount of money on Facebook ads for Pagan-Milano, Martinez-Debenedetto, Russo, Cohen and Cricco-Powell.

Currently, their ads are only running for Pagan-Milano, Russo and Cohen.

Local 825 had previously backed the aforementioned candidates, along with Ramos, though he’s the only one who has not received any social media support from Stronger Foundations as a result.


What are the implications? 

The pro-Bhalla effort is expecting Cohen to win easily in the 5th Ward.

This result, in it of itself, would not result in a historic momentum shift, though it would provide the mayor some breathing room in a veto override situation since Russo and Councilwoman-at-Large Vanessa Falco have voted against such a measure in at least one instance.

Additionally, if he only gains one seat, it would probably equate to DeFusco (though there’s no guarantee that he wins) calling for a 2017 rematch much sooner than later, though it remains to be seen if any of his council colleagues end up being interested in entering the fray if they also enter the winner’s circle tomorrow night.

Team Bhalla is also turning up the heat in wards 2 and 6. If they can grab one of those seats, it would turn the council into a rarely scene scenario where many pivotal votes would likely be a 4-4-1 split, with Russo being the deciding factor.

If they manage to get both, Bhalla has clear cut control of the council, making a re-election bid in 2021 at least a little less hectic as DeFusco would be in the minority.

Runoffs in the 5th and 6th Wards are possible, which would us to uncharted waters since Hoboken has never had December elections before.

In a joint effort with Stevens and the local Quality of Life Coalition, HCV co-hosted two debates last month that all candidates participated in if you’d like to hear where they stand on certain issues.

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  1. Not mentioned in the article is the possibility that the Bhalla slate could fall short and take no seats effectively making the mayor, as they say, a lame duck. Residents opposing the mayor will breath a sigh of relief should that be the result as it ensures a measure of checks and balances on the mayor.

    Just thought I’d help you out a bit HCV. There are ramifications either way.

    • It’s not mentioned outright, but neither is the possibility of all five of his candidates winning. Lots of scenarios, it would take all night to play them all out and that would probably be a waste since almost every reader knows who they’re voting for.

  2. While I agree the Russo and Ramos can be generally be considered safe, I would say DeFusco’s seat can be considered in play. The loud, abrasive DeFusco is well funded from organizations from outside the City, but the First Ward has many of the actual resident voters who identify as both old and new Hoboken disliked him. He has lost many of the supporters and those who’s high profile endorsements that helped put him in office and they have moved to support his opponent this time around,

    Migdalia Pagano-Milano has considerable in Ward support and will give the First Ward voters looking for an attractive alternative a candidate to support.

    • While I don’t disagree with much of what is noted about MDF, you should note that Migdalia has considerable support from outside the city as well, well documented here on HCV. In terms of her being an attractive alternative, you should watch the debate while taking note of her preparation on even the basic issues before anointing her. Also one must consider how she would be a rubber stamp for everything Ravi – a platform and an administration that few support at this point.

      The 1st ward doesn’t have a good candidate running. Both of these candidates have significant issues that undermine them. Everyone voting is going to have to choose a lesser of 2 evils.

      • Migdalia was a disaster at the debates, and we all know Stan tried to teach her…

        The Rain in spain stays mainly on the…

        It would be nice if she had an education degree she could talk about to make us feel safer, but of course she’s been a drone in city hall since age 18!


      • Auditor I think you could have that same opinion of every election in Hoboken or anywhere. The public charged with making a choice. I think the correct choice in this case is for change.

        DeFusco may be a better debator but has had the chance to prove he is more then talk to his constituents and he has fallen far short.

  3. There can only be one.
    If both Ramos and DeFusco make it through this round they both want another shot at being mayor and one will have to kill off the other. That might be fun to watch.

  4. About all anyone can really honestly say about today’s local election is that in the 1st, 2nd, and 6th nobody really knows what will happen, and in the 5th the only suspense is whether Phil Cohen will avoid a runoff, with the candidate endorsed by the incumbent likely to finish a poor 3rd.

    Three incumbents who won landslide victories just 4 years ago are in danger of being tossed out by voters just 4 years later, and the fourth chose to retire rather than face the judgment of the voters. As recently as a few months ago that seemed like a pretty unlikely place for us to be on election day morning.

    • Just like Dawn who feared someone or some higher power so she bailed after a huge campaign fundraiser only a few months before…
      How’s her climate change fight?

  5. DeFusco has the best campaign money can buy. And man, it sure did. The swamp gets deeper.

    He’s so incredibly lucky he’s facing a nice but relatively inexperienced and weak opponent, he’ll probably buy his way in again. Based on how little he’s delivered for the First Ward and how generally immature and obnoxious he behaves to constituents and council colleagues, he’s be crushed this year by any halfway reasonable opponent.

  6. Right now you have Bhalla, Defusco, Russo, and Ramos as potential candidates for Mayor in 2021 and they all suck. I mean it they all suck. Here is hoping a fifth candidate emerges in the next two years. There is time.