|JERSEY CITY, November 2nd 2004
By STEVE KORNACKI
JERSEY CITY, November 2, 7:15 AM - There are 59
numbered parking spaces in the rectangular parking lot behind city hall in
Jersey City, and at six o’clock on election night, almost all of them were
vacant, including six of the seven spots reserved for the staff of L. Harvey
Smith, the acting mayor.
Around front, a news truck for WB-11 sat idling near the
curb, while signs on the mostly dark building’s main entrance informed
visitors that city hall was closed, except for “official election business.”
It’s nor surprise that Smith and his team apparently were
far from the building. The interim mayor has faced a decisively uphill bid
to win the job on a full-time basis, undercut by an ugly rift within the
city’s African-American community.
Smith, who is an African-American, has been branded a
traitor by some of the city’s black leaders, a charge that has its roots in
the political battle Smith waged against the late Mayor Glenn Cunningham,
who was Jersey City’s first black mayor.
Across the street from city hall, one of Smith’s campaign
offices was winding down its operation for the day, with workers and
volunteers being instructed to head over to the main headquarters on Martin
Luther King Drive, which runs through Ward F, a predominantly
The dozen or so workers, mostly African-Americans and
Hispanics, inside the office near city hall looked fatigued as the organized
papers, folded chairs and packed up equipment. Salsa music bounced off the
empty walls and tiled floors, and a large picture of Smith, identified as
“Alcalde/Mayor L. Harvey Smith”, greeted anyone entering the office.
According to several volunteers who were cleaning up, the
office had been used during the day primarily as a call center-- fielding
complaints and queries from Smith supporters. One worker, a young
African-American woman, held a yellow legal pad with a list of the problems
voters reported at polling places.
Besides several people who were confused by the voting
equipment, the main complaints revolved around voter challenges by Lou
Manzo’s campaign, many involving Hispanic voters. As a result, the woman
said, many Smith voters had to fill out provisional ballots.
The mood of those present seemed more relieved that the
day was winding down than optimistic about their man’s chances.
When a young woman walked into the office and inquired
where the campaign’s victory party would be held, she was told that it would
be at a facility on the Bayonne/Jersey City line--- but on the Bayonne side.
Asked if that seemed like a poor choice for a Jersey City
mayoral candidates, the Smith worker shook her head and looked around, as if
she was making sure no one was listening.
“That was an oops,” she said. “That wasn’t me, that was
JERSEY CITY, November 2, 4:30 PM - Anyone who’s
ever voted has a picture in his or her head of those happy-seeming folks who
hold up candidate signs and greet voters on their way to the polls.
You see them outside virtually every polling place, every
election, and virtually everyone wonders how they could possibly impact the
outcome of a race. And yet they stand there, hour upon hour, barely shielded
from the elements, stoically, maybe even bravely, making sure there’s a
human face for voters to associate with
They do it because out of a desire- spurred by a belief in
a candidate, party or ideology- to do something, anything, more on Election
Day than merely showing up and voting themselves. Right?
Well, sometimes. But not in Jersey City.
Politics is about jobs in the state’s second largest city,
so it only makes sense that many of the men and women- and almost all of the
teenagers- who stand loyally next to candidate signs at polling places here
are doing it for the paycheck.
Consider the affable, if a bit unkempt, L. Harvey Smith
sign-holder who was camped out shortly after three o’clock this afternoon
near a waterfront polling station.
“I don’t vote in Jersey City,” the middle-aged fellow,
clad in a pair of jeans and the kind of fluorescent nylon now mainly
relegated to attics and give-and-take shops, volunteered. “I don’t even vote
know who’s running. I’m only out here for one reason-- ‘cause they’re paying
Wearing a camouflage cap, the man, who didn’t give his
name, said he’d been at his post since seven o’clock in the morning. When
he’s relieved of his duties at seven o’clock tonight, he’ll be due $100 from
the campaign of Smith, who is the acting mayor. It’s a cash transaction, so
at least he hoped they’d pay up.
“They’d better,” the man said, his eyes widening. “But if
he don’t win-- yeah, man, I wonder if he’d try to get away with it.”
So what’s the application process like for one of these
“I was out walking around and someone told me they were
looking,” the man said, without specifying whether he has a full-time job of
his own. “Hey, it’s a quick hundred bucks. The only thing I don’t like about
it is you’ve got to stand out here for 12 hour straight.”
As he relayed his story, the sun was beginning to set and
the clouds that were in the forecast for the late afternoon started to roll
in. He had no gloves and no winter jacket, and noted that he hadn’t even
gotten a lunch break or a snack from the Smith campaign. Actually, he said,
he kind of felt forgotten.
Then he fished through the a nearby trash barrel, on whose
lid he’d mounted one of the Smith signs, and produced a crumpled brown paper
bag. He smoothed it out and studied its small, white label.
“I should have gone with Manzo,” he concluded, pronouncing
mayoral candidate Lou Manzo’s last name as if it rhymed with Gonzo. “See, he
gave out lunches. I’ll tell you, they could have at least given me a cup of
JERSEY CITY, November 2, 2:00 PM -
The front steps and fence in front of Jerramiah Healy’s
home on Ferry Street are only too familiar to political junkies and many
Jersey City residents. They featured prominently in perhaps the most
infamous document that has been circulated in what has been a
down-and-dirty campaign: a controversial image of a bewildered and
unclothed Healy that, Healy believes, was distributed by former Mayor
Gerald McCann, a convicted felon and a key player in Lou Manzo’s mayoral
But Healy, a city councilman and former
judge, looked nothing but dignified just past one o’clock this afternoon,
when, neatly dressed in a dark suit, light blue shirt and red-pattern tie,
he emerged from his modest home, strolling up the sidewalk with his wife
by his side and his son behind him to cast his ballot.
It was a staged media event, with several photographers
and newspaper reporters awaiting the top tier contender’s arrival at the
firehouse at the corner of Ferry and Central Avenue.
When Healy reached the facility’s side entrance, he was
greeted with a hug and kiss from his daughter Catherine, who was wearing a
yellow ribbon identifying her as an official campaign challenger at the
Turnout is heavy in Jersey City and across the state
today. Several of the mayoral campaigns say there have been lines up to
two hours long in the Newport/Pavonia section of the city-- where
professionals who work in New York City and rarely participate in Jersey
City politics have apparently shown up in masses to vote, presumably in
the presidential contest.
But at the firehouse that serves as the polling place
for this portion of the Heights, voters, most of whom were older, were
being processed quickly in the early afternoon. Once Healy signed in, it
wasn’t five minutes until he was behind the voting booth’s cloak,
registering his preferences.
After a little trouble from the machinery, he stepped
out, pronounced himself satisfied, posed a for a few snapshots and then
made his way over to a handful of quote-hungry reporters. Between
accepting greetings from several voters, Healy outlined his campaign’s
GOTV strategy and his recipe for a victory (a big win in his home area,
coupled with surprising strength among African American voters).
He cracked a few jokes and appeared relaxed-- neither
filled with nervous energy nor muted by any pre-occupying thoughts of the
public’s impending judgment.
His campaign party tonight will take place at a
restaurant on the city’s West Side. Whether the mood will be celebratory
may well depend on how much of an impact those widely-circulated
photographs had. Without that burden, Healy might be in better shape
politically-- especially since the city’s Democratic organization is
squarely in his corner.
Asked by someone what he might say to Manzo if the two
speak tonight, Healy recalled that when he lost to Bret Schundler in the
1997 mayoral race he went to Schundler’s headquarters and shook the
Would he do the same if he loses to Manzo?
“That’s not out of the question,” Healy replied. “I
don’t think I’d shake Jerry McCann’s hand, though. I can tell you that.”
JERSEY CITY, November 2, 12:00 PM -
It’s not tough to tell it’s Election Day on John F. Kennedy
Boulevard in Jersey City.
The meandering and pothole-riddled stretch of pavement
runs the length of Hudson County, extending along the western side of
Jersey City all the way from the Bayonne border in the south through the
Heights, whose northern tip abuts Union City.
More than a few corners are occupied by teenagers
holding signs for and wearing clothing bearing the name of their preferred
candidate-- the candidate whose campaign gave them a stipend for their
service. At least to judge by the sign-holders, loyalties seem to shift
with the demographics of the city.
In the Heights, where you’ll see old-style Italian and
Irish eateries sharing city blocks Spanish grocery stores, there’s no
shortage of Jerry Healy displays; in funky Journal Square, where there’s a
pronounced Indian influence, not to mention a sketchier element of folk
who congregate in the concrete plaza near the PATH station, there are
scores of Steve Lipski backers; in the heavily African American Greenville
section, there’s evidence of support for Willie Flood. And, it seems,
almost anywhere where there are city workers, there are signs for L.
Harvey Smith, the acting mayor.
Not too far from the Bayonne line on the West Side,
sighting of signs for Assemblyman Lou Manzo grow more frequent. At the
intersection of JFK Boulevard and Danforth Avenue rests his Ward A
Actually rests is probably not the right word, since at
11:00 the converted storefront, nestled between a window replacement
company and a tile and marble shop and smack across the street from
Bruno’s Continental Auto Sales, is alive with all of the noises and faced
you’d associate with a big city Election Day turnout operation.
Volunteers and paid workers, many wearing white t-shirts
emblazoned in red print with Manzo’s name and Jersey City First slogan,
are making phone calls, comparing voters lists, and relaying stories from
area polling places. A handful of heavyset men with Manzo t-shirts puff
cigarettes and fraternize on the sidewalk outside.
Inside, there’s stacks of unopened soda cans- mostly
Coca-Cola- that are for distribution to the campaign’s poll workers-- who,
in this part of the city, number well over 100.
Overseeing the action inside is Valerie Montone, a
19-year veteran of Jersey City politics who’s wearing a black tank-top and
a pendant with the image of the Twin Towers. So far, she says, turnout has
been very high, although she’s not sure whether the mayoral race or the
presidential contest is causing it. It took her fifteen minutes to
assemble a stack of absentee ballots, she notes, but twenty minutes to
stand in line at a polling place and vote herself.
Her field workers have reported a few problems- some
elderly voters aren’t used to the county’s new lever-less voting machines,
and a few votes were apparently thrown out in one precinct- but nothing
“No ones out with bats or bricks or anything,” she says.
Manzo is actually from Ward C, but Montone has known the
four-time mayoral candidate and former county freeholder for many years.
Many believe he’s the man to beat today, and Montone, her cell phone
ringing, says she’s confident her old friend will pull through.
“His life is Jersey City. He sleeps, breathes, eats and
lives for Jersey City. Who else could be more responsible to do the right
JERSEY CITY, November 2, 9:30 AM
- “So this is the garage,” Steve Lipski, a Jersey City
councilman, says, gesturing towards two comfy-looking pilot’s seats.
It’s shortly after 8:00 and Lipski, wearing a blue shirt
and red tie, is taking a respite from shaking hands with commuters outside
the Journal Square PATH station and offering a guided tour of the 34-by-10
blue RV that he’s been living out of since announcing his candidacy for
mayor of Jersey City in mid-September.
For a candidate who has offered himself as the reform
choice in the 11-way race, the rented camper is Lipski’s way of staying
close to the people he wants to serve.
“I picked up on the concept from Cory Booker who had
done it a few years back in Newark and I was impressed by his concept of
going into every district and every ward and living amongst the people and
getting to know them,” he explains, warming his hands as he sits at a
foldout table just inches from a microwave oven.
“The concept says ‘winner’ all over it,” Lipski says,
“because nobody chooses to spend $20,000 and live in a RV for
seven-and-a-half weeks if they’re not serious about the job. So I think it
has an aura of winner written all over it.”
He’s been up since 4:00 this morning and is convinced
he’s out-hustled his foes throughout the race, campaigning, he says, “with
toothpicks in my eyes.”
The response to the RV has been terrific he says-- but
not universally so. This is Jersey City, after all.
“At the beginning I was parking it in different wards
and sleeping,” Lipski says, “But then some people in the street were
telling me that Jerry McCann (the ex-mayor and backer of candidate Lou
Manzo) had a bounty on it, so I went down to an RV park and I paid $40 a
There’ve been other indignities.
“It’s gotten pelted with about a dozen eggs,” he notes,
before reconsidering and correcting himself. “No, it’s been about two
dozen eggs. I got hit by six or ten eggs two weeks ago. We believe it was
Manzo’s people because two of his operatives drove by like within 20
The founder of a charter school and a failed 1997
mayoral candidate, Lipski is either a hopeless longshot or a dark-horse
with legs in today’s vote. The most recent published poll placed him in
fifth place-- last of the top tier candidates.
But he paints an upbeat picture of his prospects,
running through each ward and ethnic group in the city and assessing his
standing with each. He notes that Bret Schundler won a special mayoral
election in 1992 with just 17 percent of the vote. Today is a also a
special election, and Lipski, who has Schundler’s tacit backing, thinks
11,000 votes could win it. The other four top candidates have significant
liabilities, Lipski says, so there’s an opening for someone else.
And if not?
“I’m definitely giving serious consideration to running
again in May.”
HOBOKEN, November 2, 6:15 AM - All the talk about record
voter turnout, increased participation by young people, and long lines at
polling places might have been prescient, to judge by the scene at the
Callabro Primary School on Park Avenue in Hoboken early this morning.
Since New Jersey polls began opening at 6:00 A.M. a few
years back, there hasn’t been much for poll workers to do but twiddle their
thumbs and make small talk in the wee hours of the day.
But just a few minutes after the Callabro school’s doors
opened this morning, the cafeteria, where two precincts vote, was buzzing
with activity. Workers did their best to verify each voter’s identity as
quickly as possible, but by 6:30, the line to check-in was already a dozen
Most of those in line appeared to be under 30 years old,
which isn’t entirely surprising given Hoboken’s status as a yuppie town. But
members of the under-30 set are notoriously apathetic when it comes to
voting; the faces in the Callabro cafeteria, by and large, were not the
faces you would expect to see if the occasion were, say, a state legislative
Tom Weinberger, 24, is what political pros call a
“one-in-four”-- a voter who participates only in presidential elections,
sitting out the state and local races that are sandwiched between the
quadrennial national contests. Weinberger registered his preferences at
about 6:15 this morning, the first time he’d voted since moving to Hoboken.
“There was no hype to any of those,” he said of the recent
elections that he’s ignored. “Now I feel like this is newsworthy. I feel
like I’m part of history.”
Because of one-in-fours like Weinberger, turnout crests in
presidential years, often complicating the results of the lower-profile
down-ballot races-- races that mean a lot more to the financial bottom-lines
of local and county party organizations than the presidential one.
A registered Democrat, Weinberger was motivated to vote by
his desire to unseat President Bush, but the Hudson County ballot he filled
out was littered with many unfamiliar names-- candidates for the U.S. House,
sheriff, and county surrogate.
Of course, the ballot is designed with voters like this in
mind. Democrats rule in Hudson County, making sure all of their candidates
are lined up in a neat, easy-to-find column.
“I actually did look at all of the people, but I didn‘t
know any of them,” Weinberger said after emerging from one of the two voting
machines in the cafeteria. “I just went all the way down (in the Democratic
row) because they were all under Kerry. They were all Democrats. I didn’t
know anything about them. I could have liked one of the Republicans better,
but I just didn’t know or hear anything about any of them.”
Steve Kornacki can be reached at