LETTER: Returning runoffs to Hoboken is best for democracy, ex-councilman says


In a letter to the editor, former Hoboken Councilman-at-Large Dave Mello says that returning runoff elections to the Mile Square City is best for democracy. 

Dear Hudson County View and the Voters of Hoboken,

Please vote “YES” to return runoffs to Hoboken.

In 2012, when my team got behind an effort to both move the elections from May to November, and to eliminate the runoff elections, I like many was much more enthusiastic about the “move” than I was about the “elimination.”

My initial trepidation stemmed from the fact that someone with far less than 50%+1 of the vote could win, and that just didn’t feel very democratic.

I mean, my two time running mate and our team’s leader had won her first elected post because of a runoff (4th Ward Councilperson). She won because she galvanized the support of all of her opponents who were eliminated in the first round.

She kept her campaign positive and issues based, and didn’t alienate those who supported her many May opponents. This unification served her well, as she eked out a slim victory over Chris Campos in that runoff election.

We, her supporters celebrated, a political career was born, and runoff elections had given birth to it. So had the efforts at unity that a runoff election requires.

Last year, we saw very little unity. Instead, we found ourselves in an often ugly, very divisive mayoral campaign here in Hoboken.

Because those running didn’t have to worry about offending their opponents’ voter bases, in some cases they offended them brazenly and constantly (there would never be a runoff in which they would need to woo their support, so why not roll out the low blows?).

The lack of a runoff bred alienating rhetoric rather than unifying appeals to our highly intelligent Hoboken electorate.

Today, we have a mayor, who would have likely won a runoff, sitting in a position of power that he did not win by earning the support of the majority of those who bothered to vote, but whom two out of three voters voted against.

This was a mere plurality win, and it’s had distressingly negative effects on Hoboken.

The executive branch leader of a city of well over 50,000 people needs to have earned the support of the majority of its voting citizens for government to be fair and democratic and for the decisions of those entrusted with power to be accepted by those who have entrusted them with it.

Majority rules in our democracy, but majority does not rule here in Hoboken.

Finally, quality candidates are discouraged from running in the absence of a runoff. “Spoiler” is what a good candidate is typically called if the odds seem to be against them. “

Why don’t you just fall in line, quiet down about the issues you’re passionate about, and let those who have raised the most money fight this fight alone! Don’t interfere. Don’t gum up the machine.”

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that a large group of candidates actually raises the level of debate in a runoff environment, but has the opposite effect in the absence of a runoff.

There are more problems inherent in not having runoffs than I can detail in a single letter, so I’ll stop with those I’ve already discussed. But all of the many problems that spring from no longer having a runoff election desperately need to be solved and corrected.

We, the Hoboken voters, have the ability to correct these problems on Election Day.

We can bring democracy and majority rule back to our city. We can stop the discord and bridge the divides that the lack of a runoff has created. I wish I had voiced my concerns in 2012. I know I must voice my concerns in 2018.

Please join me and vote “YES” and help bring back democracy and unity to the City of Hoboken.

Dave Mello
Hoboken resident


Editor’s note: Mello is also currently the Hoboken Housing Authority chairman. 

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  1. As Mr. Mello’s various running mates have seen, elections are hard work, and not everyone gets to ride coattails as comfortably as he has. Having a runoff means an extra round of fund-raising calls, GOTV calls, door-knocking, and all the other forms of rolling-up-of-sleeves that Mr. Mello has generally scoffed at or outright refused to do.

    It’s a good thing he’s unlikely to ever be offered a spot on another grassroots campaign, and is more likely to continue any future political career in the company of Old Guard stalwarts, where many of those tasks are “taken care of” for you by “our gang.” In politics, everyone eventually “comes home,” and in running with Stick Romano and now advocating for this ballot measure from Ruben Ramos’ camp — taking literally the opposite position from what he held when his bread was buttered on the other side — Mr. Mello is showing us that he’s finally figured out who his people are.

  2. Former Councilman-at-Large shares a clear and cogent position for his support of the YES vote to reinstate runoffs and thereby return majority rule to Hoboken. Notice how the anonymous commenter above does not address anything about Dave Mello’s position on the subject but, instead, writes two paragraphs attacking Dave.

    Apparently “Work Ethic” is unable to provide any legitimate counter-argument to Dave Mello’s position so, s/he resorted to an ad hominem attack instead.

    VOTE YES ON BALLOT QUESTION #1 – lots of reasons to do so, none of those reasons involve attacking someone else.

  3. It’s odd to see David of all people repeating the talking point that having a runoff somehow results in less negative campaigning. The last Hoboken election involving a runoff was the 2009 mayoral and council at-large race in which David was first elected to the City Council. That race among Beth Mason, Peter Cammarano and Dawn Zimmer (as well as 3 minor candidates) was orders of magnitude more nasty than the 2013 race, a fact that exposes the absurdity of that claim. The 2007 4th Ward campaign that David refers to was also orders of magnitude nastier than the 2017 mayoral. The claim that the 2017 was somehow exceptionally nasty is simply absurd, and David well knows that. Ironically, of the four major campaigns in 2017, the nastiest by far was Councilman DeFusco’s, who is also the leading voice decrying the supposed nastiness.

    David also claims that candidates are somehow discouraged from running when there is no runoff. Since 6 candidates ran in 2017, its kind of tough to support that theory with actual data.

    David says he has lots of other arguments that didn’t fit in his letter, so he presumably led with his best ones. If these are the best he can do, lord knows what his other points would have been.

    • Been here a long time. Seen lots of nasty elections. Never seen anything like 2017. Never saw a bunch of white people in our 84% white city calling another bunch of white people racists before. I think that’s what made the 2017 election the ugliest I’ve ever seen. When a friend of mine asked a campaign worker why their campaign was so over the top (and below the belt) nasty, the campaign worker responded, “that’s how you win.”

      That’s not the best strategy when you need a majority of the voters to support you.

      • 2017 was so dirty, they pointed out a Republican was… a Republican.

        Me and Satan are smiling about this in hell, it’s right out of my bag of dirty tricks.

  4. Mello forgot to mention he used to teach in The Bronx and has a lot of street cred and has been around the block a few more times than the rest of us and therefore knows what’s best for everyone.

    This is literally the first time he’s forgotten to mention that.