What I saw at the revolution, Hoboken’s chrysalis


Last Sunday, the Hoboken Journal remarked it was just over a year ago Dawn Zimmer took office as Acting Mayor.  That’s also the anniversary when the nightmare of this town being torn apart ended with a resignation: the shocking finality of a short-lived mayoralty for one Peter Cammarano.

It wasn’t going to be an easy day.  The sun was shining but it was anything but lovely with rising heat and oppressive humidity making anyone rushing to a destination hot and uncomfortable.   The anticipated resignation would bring closure but resentments would abound in conversations all over town from the hard core old guard supporters, even after the gift handed out by the FBI – transcripts revealing the truest form of Mayor Peter Cammarano’s character.  

It could of course have been worse.  Just imagine if he had been able to hold on to power and stick around.  Okay maybe his umbrella holder or some of the “locked in” vote liked the idea but most Hoboken voters could not and did not stomach such a thought.  What follows is Da Horsey’s eyewitness account on that fateful day last year of July 31st.

Above: Peter “The Great Condescender” Cammarano a day after getting sprung out of jail unzips his fly and lets loose one final time on the people of Hoboken from City Hall.  

True to form as demonstrated in more than a few City Council meetings, Cammarano displayed a single minded purposefulness after his arrest: an arrogance to hold on to power at all costs.  Perhaps it was the only real bargaining chip he held.  A city official who worked both on the City Council and with Cammarano on his campaign said, “It was more the arrogance than anything (the crime),” adding “I never saw it coming.”  Some may disagree, but that’s a scale with some heavy pull on one side.

Justice delayed by two days from scheduled sentencing or it’s abbreviated form will be handed down on Thursday when Peter Cammarano gets his turn at being ground into powder and is sentenced to prison.  Expectations from an earlier Hoboken Patch story state it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of two years based on a recommendation from the federal attorney. 

At the time of Cammarano’s arrest, Mile Square View had not even posted its first story.  The idea of writing about Hoboken government and politics had been offered by a friend Jimmy the K, a Stevens alumni and Hoboken resident.  At the time, he hadn’t seen anything longer than an email from Da Horsey.  

A media horde in front of City Hall July 31st awaited official word of Cammarano’s resignation 

The media throng that day waited impatiently in the early summer heat to file their stories. Some were already rehearsing their lines for broadcast over the air.  Word of Cammarano’s resignation had been actually announced a day earlier by a very frustrated Governor Jon Corzine, bedraggled by the FBI’s record setting arrest haul of dozens of mostly Democratic officials in New Jersey.   The years in the making sting called “Operation Bid Rig” hit Hudson County especially hard and Scammarano became its poster boy.  Some later stories suggested there were more approaches to other Hoboken mayoral candidates that failed including Dawn Zimmer.

Before he finally made the public call for Peter Cammarano to step down, Corzine had only spoken in the most general way, stating those elected officials arrested should resign.  Just weeks earlier the then sitting Governor hosted a big July 4th party in Hoboken and Mayor Cammarano was said to be the man of the hour.  It was pretty much like that all across New Jersey with the new mayor.  Cammarano worked as an election lawyer specialist for the powerful and politically connected Genova law firm.  What that really meant was he specialized in operating the shades of illegality on elections, a Jer-zey specialty.  The machine had been happy to line up on behalf of one of its own.  

Being the youngest mayor in Hoboken’s history only added to his cockiness.  The uncanny condescension Cammarano issued to the public from his chair in the City Council went unnoticed by the local media.  In short, the media played him up to be a rising star even as he would frequently interrupt members of the public during the public portion, heckle them and/or make snide remarks under his breath when they came to speak on the most innocuous of issues.  When this was mentioned in a passing discussion to a City Councilman he remarked without disagreement saying, “I tried to reign him in.”  

The downfall appeared to be a shock to some but as one lovely dark brunette Da Horsey met at an anti-Cammarano protest said, “I don’t follow politics much but I knew that guy was a douchebag right away.”  A supporter who worked with him before and after the campaign saw the arrogance first hand recently said, “You could see we had made a monster.  His ego was out of control.”

As the media milled about outside City Hall with the humidity only increasing under a blistering sun, a municipal employee dressed in a matching pinkish sweat suit walked over to the glass doors of the main entrance, looked down on the gathering below and muttered, “I hate them” to no one in particular before turning around and complaining aloud some more about the turn of events.  City Clerk Jimmy Farina walking by heard her laments and gave her a sympathetic hug.

Just earlier, Da Horsey had signed in at about 9:15 and asked the security guard where the swearing in would be taking place later.  Upon hearing that, the older man sitting at the desk turned red, barred some teeth in need of dental work and growled, “What swearing in?  There’s no swearing in today.”  A police officer standing not three few feet away looked over with a huge smile of mocking approval.  Even walking away, the man continued to grumble loudly, “How can you say that?  You have some nerve…”  A couple of “take it easys” from afar did little to mollify his anger.

Within minutes though it was in fact all over.  Cammarano did not show up, not many expected he would, as there was nothing in it for him.  Instead he had a letter of resignation sent over to City Hall with all the usual political babble of half-truths and distortions trotted out for just such occasions.  He had survived only a week after his arrogant announcement he would be remaining in office. Was that enough time to negotiate defense support from then Governor Corzine?  That story has yet to be told. 

Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano resigns in a letter to the city

This above video is great, but not because of what Steve Kleinman is saying.  Watch the dirty blonde behind him who enters the frame fifty seconds into the video.  Her reactions are a fascinating insight into the human capability for denial.  She can be seen nonverbally disagreeing with almost all of the remarks read aloud in the resignation.  She is however quite agreeable nodding yes to the point at the end where Cammarano declares his innocence.  Can you say “locked in?”

The media and their boatloads of cameras stuck around for round two with noon the ballpark timeframe when City Council President Dawn Zimmer would by state law also be designated Acting Mayor.  They took up a good amount of space on the right side, maybe a full third.  By showtime, there was not a spot to be found in the room anywhere.  It was packed to capacity and beyond.  Air conditioning was inadequate with the overflowing crowd in attendance and the room quickly got uncomfortably warm.

Arriving early for the historic moment was the only way to get a good seated view, and this would be a true historic moment along the lines of can you believe this is really all happening? Adding to the mix, the first Hoboken woman was to be named mayor adding to the surreal feel in the chamber.

A reporter from the Newark Star Ledger, Karen Keller joined us in the second row.  She had no background on the saga, so she was appreciative to get a briefing before speaking to some of Dawn Zimmer’s family in the front row.  As it got closer to game time, Scott Delea of Hoboken Revolt was looking for a spot and squeezed in mentioning some of the folks standing along the left side of the wall. He pointed out among them, the Wile E. Coyote, Eric Kurta.  

The Wiley Coyote stood impassively, not unlike the way you might typically see him at any old City Council meeting.  You would think from his relaxed posture, he was used to seeing an event like this every day.  In truth, he and many others in Hoboken had worked and waited patiently for this changing of the guard over many years. 

Then the moment arrived.  As soon as Dawn Zimmer became visible at the door, the whole room rose to their feet and erupted in applause.  It continued as she tried to make her way to the front of the chamber.  The atmosphere inside the room was electric.  Outside, it was more like a funeral parlor. 

After the swearing in, the crowd again rose to their feet in applause that began more like a thunderclap.  It felt like a cloud had risen and left the room, or maybe it was more along the lines of leaving the town altogether.  The air somehow felt lighter.

The Acting Mayor’s speech itself was heartfelt.  She first remarked in jest how nice it was to have all the media on hand.  Then she dove right into a tribute to Hoboken, ignoring what had transpired only hours before.  Instead, her lead was how great a town Hoboken really is, the sights, the sounds, the people.  You just knew the media wouldn’t be including that in their broadcasts but the audience could care less.  T
hose present heard the message loud and clear and embraced it. Deeply.  Thunderous and continuous applause erupted, its intensity rolling and rolling like the roar of the Niagara Falls.  The sense of pride in the room was palpable. No apologies for the past, no reflections on corruption, just a nod to yesterday and acknowledgement of the present looking dead straight ahead to the future.

Witnesses to history, from left: Assemblyman Reuben Ramos, Council members Mike Russo, Dave Mello, Carol Marsh, the mayor’s family, City Clerk Jimmy Farina, Councilmen Peter Cunningham and Ravi Bhalla.

Although it didn’t have any impact at the time, it was later obvious there were government officials missing from the ceremony.  Other than a classy appearance by Councilman Mike Russo, only the mayor’s City Council coalition were visible in the front of the room. Councilwoman Beth Mason who was said to be away and unavailable somehow found time to issue a press release that day, foreshadowing not only her lust for the mayor’s chair but bad taste and a political tin ear all at once.  Council members Nino Giacchi and Terry Castellano were also not present.  Outside Da Horsey “heard” that voice.  It was Terry Labruno making a pass through the lobby.   Someone said later she had been in the room during the ceremony.

If the town needed a demonstration of unity, it would have been certainly useful at that moment, and on later reflection was quite notable in its absence.  Many people took their cues from the missing, and you can still hear the shrill bitterness in their remarks since; the gravy train is over.  To this day, MSV can’t recall any negative comment from Terry Castellano or Nino Giacchi about their convicted crook of a colleague.  Councilman Giacchi did just mention he had done so via his email list but MSV was not on it.

(As an aside, Councilwoman Castellano recently showed she could get wee weed up about something, just not about Peter Cammarano’s criminality.  In this case, it’s a Councilman’s brother getting a volunteer position on a minor Hoboken board.  Her letter appeared in a Hudson Reporter on that matter just last week.  The idea of “nepotism” apparently without profit strikes her as unseemly and detestable.)  

After her short spirited speech, the Acting Mayor worked her way down the middle of the room, supporters leaned over to extend best wishes and Zimmer greeted and kissed many even with sweat glistening off her face.  Eventually she managed to work her way out of the room, and decided to go outside, an assemblage of cameras following her every step of the way.  

As she came down the stairs greeting the crowd, those present started applauding anew.  Looking somewhat bashful, now Acting Mayor Zimmer went over to kiss several more familiar faces.  One stood next to Da Horsey – Jake Stuiver, former campaign manager of Beth Mason’s spring mayoral run looking at his email.  Having never met he replied politely to a passing remark without looking up or inquiring why a barnyard animal was even present. 

Are we filming a movie or finishing a government ceremony?  It was hard to tell which was which.  

As the Acting Mayor descended the steps in what looked more like a movie being filmed with all the cameras going than a government function, she abruptly announced she was going right to work, turned back up the stairs and did exactly that.

It was hard not to wonder if this was a Margaret Thatcher like moment.  Although she probably wouldn’t agree with that designation, Mayor Zimmer is hardly the same person who began the job.  One of the more interesting aspects of the past year is seeing her growth in the role of mayor and navigating a myriad of land mines: the Municipal Garage and the Hoboken University Medical Center being just two examples.

The challenges don’t get any easier.  Controversy has spilled over with anticipated layoffs meeting spirited resistance and denunciations from the Police union.  The state and national economy promise not to make the job of Hoboken mayor any easier, any time soon.

Related: The Boken just featured a story with a Q&A interview with Mayor Zimmer.  Their timing couldn’t be better as it adds yet another perspective on the past, present and future.  It’s an absolute must read.  (No, Da Horsey had no idea how they would use an emailed question.)

Talking Ed Note: this article is based on personal onsite recollections and conversations including up to yesterday.  If anyone tells you anything different, don’t believe them.


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