Election ’09: Healy Wins, Two Council Seats Head to Runoff

Healy signals victory as Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise speaks

Shouts, hugs and handshakes filled Casino in the Park Tuesday night as supporters of Mayor Jerramiah Healy relished their candidate’s victory. With 30,657 votes cast, Healy won — and avoided a runoff — with 52.9 percent of the vote. Absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be tallied.

Supporters began gathering in front of a screen showing live results from Hudson County shortly after the polls closed at 8 pm. Healy’s percentage of the vote never dropped below the crucial 50 percent mark as the crowd steadily grew.

Healy celebrated with by his winning council At-Large running mates, a who’s who of Hudson County officials such as Hudson County Executive Thomas DeGise, and prominent state Democrats including state Democratic Chairman Joe Cryan and Gov. Jon Corzine.

“As America was on the cusp of change, Jerry Healy stood up for Barack Obama, now you stood up for Jerry Healy,” said Corzine, who faces his own bid for reelection this fall.

Unlike Corzine, Healy was an early supporter of Obama during the presidential primary. Obama was featured in a Healy campaign commercial that, among other spots, repeatedly played on big screens inside and outside of Casino in the Park, located in Lincoln Park.

Healy, who is also Hudson County Democratic Organization chairman, thanked supporters including those gathered around the podium.

“Working as a team with all these people, we’ve done a lot for Jersey City,” Healy said. “You look forward to working hard over the next four years to do much more and to truly make this city, as Ronald Reagan used to say, the shining city on the hill.”

As often is the case in municipal elections here, turnout was low, with less than one-quarter of registered voters casting a mayoral ballot.

Lou Manzo’s campaign manager Sean Connolly said he was “astonished” that so many people “stayed home.” Manzo, who finished in a distant second place with 26.3 percent of the vote, blamed “voter apathy” for the low turnout. “People give up because thy don’t think they can beat a machine,” he said.

Manzo appeared disappointed by the loss, but said he was “not deterred.” When asked if he would run for mayor a sixth time, Manzo laughed and said he will definitely keep working with his Office of Public Advocacy.

At third-place finisher Harvey Smith’s Monticello Avenue headquarters, the mood was somber. By 9:30 pm, supporters were already taking down campaign signs and looking for any kind of encouragement from the incoming numbers.

“I’m a little disappointed,” Smith, who received 12.9 percent of the vote, said. “But I wish Jerry (Healy) a lot of luck. I commend them and their campaign”

Smith, whose entire slate was defeated yesterday, said his campaign spoke about “change and things that matter to everyday Jane and John Doe,” of Jersey City, including getting more police on the streets, fixing the local housing problems, and trying to get federal stimulus dollars into the city.

“I want to thank all the people who supported me,” he added. “We did the best we could with the resources we had.”

When asked what was next on his plate, Smith said he needed a much-deserved break. “I want to go fishing,” he said.

At Downtown bar the Golden Cicada, Dan Levin was optimistic, saying his loss in the campaign didn’t constitute failure. “The campaign was started to get regular people involved in local politics,” he said. “The end result was not the vote, but getting more people involved in the community building process in order to move towards a more accountable and responsive local government.”

A little after 10 pm, Levin, who came in fourth with 5.6 percent of the vote, spoke to the group, expressing pride in all that his One Jersey City team had accomplished — and reaffirming that the volunteer effort was just beginning.

“We knew we were the little guy, but we weren’t doing it for us — we were doing it for everyone,” he said. “One Jersey City is not a political movement; it’s a community.” A few attendees wiped away tears, applauding Levin’s efforts in forming both an alternative political candidacy and in bringing together people from disparate parts of the city under a banner of reform.

Ultimately, Levin said the moment was a special victory, even as it was a loss. “It’s inspiring,” he said between smiles. “Regardless of the outcome, we built an organization, a movement. We got together and did something really good.”

Two City Council Seats Up for Grabs

The City Council will be welcoming a few new faces and many familiar ones when it’s new members begin work in July. Last night, Healy candidates and incumbents Phil Kenny (Ward B), Bill Gaughan (Ward D), and Peter Brennan, Willie Flood and Mariano Vega (At-Large) all secured victories. They will be joined on the council by running-mate Nidia Rivera Lopez, who won the Ward C seat vacated by outgoing councilman Steve Lipski.

In Ward A, all four candidates finished with more than 10 percent of the vote, which puts first-term incumbent (and Healy candidate) Michael Sottolano in a tough spot. Despite the fact that he leads the pack with 39.3 percent of the vote, he will face a runoff opponent. What is not yet clear is who that opponent will be.

Currently, Manzo’s candidate Rolando Lavarro is in second place, with 1,260 votes (24.5 percent). However, independent candidate Andre Richardson is only 21 votes behind Lavarro, with provisional and absentee votes yet to be counted. Those ballots should be tallied by the end of the week.

Lavarro said the result in Ward A showed that “we desperately need change in this city,” and expressed his “great pride in [the] hopes” of the Filipino-American community. If elected, Lavarro would be the first Filipino-American to serve on the City Council. However, he was quick to add that he is “running to be the councilman for all people” of Ward A.

Ward F is also a nail-biter for the Healy team, with incumbent Viola Richardson heading towards a runoff.

Richardson seems to have been plagued by a multitude of candidates. While she maintains a commanding lead of more than 1,000 votes, with four other candidates receiving more than 10 percent of the vote, she falls far short — at 39.6 percent — of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Like Ward A, the runoff opponent here is not yet clear. Only five votes currently separate Manzo candidate Ron-Calvin Clark (656 votes, 15.1 percent) from independent candidate LaVern Webb-Washington (651 votes, 15 percent).

Clark said he “look[s] forward to the runoff” and was hopeful that with the support of the other Ward F candidates, “we can achieve our goal to put a new person in office.”

Healy pledged to work hard for Sottolano and Richardson in the next month. The runoff election will be June 9.

“We think we can bring them home to victory, and put the team back together once and for all,” Healy said.

At Casino in the Park, Healy didn’t mention any of his mayoral opponents but congratulated Steve Fulop, who cruised to victory in Ward E with the night’s most commanding victory, garnering 63.2 percent of the vote.

At Fulop’s campaign headquarters, spirits were high as by 9:15 pm it was obvious that he had been reelected to his post. On Newark Avenue, Fulop supporters could be seen heading from the headquarters to LITM restaurant where the victory party was already underway. Fulop himself walked, with his family, to the headquarters of Guy Catrillo, his closest competitor, to congratulate him on a good campaign.

Shelley Skinner, Fulop’s campaign manager, attributed their victory to an outstanding voter turnout in Ward E. In an election where voter turnouts were, overall, disappointing, voters in Ward E came out in force and helped Fulop to his victory.

Fulop agreed that turnout was the key.

“The fact that we were able to achieve 63 percent in a field where the mayor spent a lot of money and sent out countless mailers, speaks to the residents of Ward E,” he said. “They understand the issues. It’s a very educated bunch down here.”

On his way to the victory party, Fulop greeted supporters and talked of a “stressful and concerning” campaign.

“We try to run a good campaign, a positive campaign,” he said. “We made a decision as a team, that I’m kind of happy about, that we’re not going to engage in anything personal about any of the candidates and it turned out to be a good thing. In hindsight I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

Nancy Benecki, Irene Borngraeber, Jonathan Fitzgerald, Shane Smith and Jon Whiten also contributed to this report.

a daily newspaper reporter in New Jersey and has covered politics, government and community for the past six years. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and lives in Jersey City.