“I want to be as clear as possible” I told Ravi Bhalla via text back in late June. “My fundamental concern is that reform does NOT fragment and that there’s real cohesion that creates momentum. I’m less concerned about the “who” here in this process than I am about the “how.”” At the time, Ravi was seeking endorsements for his mayoral campaign. I knew very little about him then but what I did know I liked, and the fact that Mayor Zimmer had endorsed him to be her successor certainly meant a lot.
I told him quite frankly that I wasn’t able to endorse anyone just yet. My concern was less about individual candidates than the fact that I thought the most successful local political movement I’d seen in my 28 years of living in Hoboken was in the midst of an existential crisis… one that could have been averted.
Now that Mayor Bhalla has been elected with just a third of the votes cast—one of them mine—I’m beginning to think that, sadly, I was right. After an incredibly divisive race, Ravi has emerged the victor. Yet the reform coalition that Mayor Zimmer spearheaded for the past 2 terms—and accomplished so much with—is broken. Her successor faces a city council stacked with opponents who were former allies. Could this Pyrrhic victory have been avoided? Where do we go from here?
Under Mayor Zimmer, our inward looking and internecine politics had been replaced with transparency and clear-eyed conversations about a sane way forward that balanced progress and quality of life. Anyone who lived through the days when our town’s political leaders were regularly being indicted can tell you how just different things have become in the Mile Square City. We have no desire to go back to the days of hack politics, rank cronyism and pointless debates pitting “born and raised” Hoboken-ites against those who have merely spent their entire adult lives here.
I told Mayor Zimmer all that and thanked her for all her work this past July, when she generously sat down with me and two friends to explain why she was stepping down and to give us her thoughts on the upcoming election.
In my mind, Mayor Zimmer’s greatest asset has always been that she wasn’t a politician. She seemed to have no grand ambitions to run for higher office. Instead, she simply wanted to fight for what was best for our town and our people. Her efforts during Sandy gained national attention and forced our governor to expedite aid to alleviate suffering caused by extreme flooding. Her speaking the truth about how the Christie administration was playing politics with sorely needed recovery money was brave, putting another nail in Governor Christie’s coffin.
For these, and many other reasons, Hoboken owes her a debt of gratitude.
But for all the good this non-politician Mayor has accomplished I can’t help but wonder whether some old school consensus/coalition building before she bowed out might have insured that reform in Hoboken continues to be strong after she leaves office.
As it is, that hard work is now left to Mayor-elect Bhalla and the city council. Make no mistake that is very hard work.
Politics in its original Greek sense—concerning the affairs of the city (polis)—is not in itself a derogatory term. It owes its negative connotation to the way people have practiced the craft. Do they seek the greater good, or short-term gain? Do they show imagination and wisdom in finding ways to build coalitions that benefit the life of the city, or do they seek to divide and conquer?
My hope is that all the effort and energy that it took to move Hoboken forward over the past number of years isn’t forgotten. Our ambitions must continue to exceed our desire to score cheap political points. Instead we need to focus on what is in the best long-term interest of this tiny mile square community that we love.
Hoboken deserves at least that much.
Bill McGarvey, a long time Hoboken resident, is a musician and author.