Mike DeFusco arrived in Hoboken in 2004, and three years later immersed himself in the developing Obama Presidential Campaign, which would become the springboard for his foray into politics, a narrative that included his appointment to the local Board of Adjustment, election to a council seat, and now a contentious and competitive citywide run for mayor.
One of his rivals in the contest last week minimized DeFusco’s candidacy, citing lack of experience, but the candidate said Councilman Ravi Bhalla neglected consideration of the work DeFusco did prior to getting on the city council. “I’ve been involved in municipal government issues for more than half a decade, serving on the zoning board of adjustment going back to 2011,” DeFusco told InsiderNJ. “I don’t think Councilman Bhalla has the kind of experience with land use issues that I have.”
Moreover, DeFusco questioned Bhalla’s particular experience, noting his nine years as Mayor Dawn Zimmer “chief enforcer,” a purveyor of the status quo. “We have to look at what his service looks like,” the councilman said. For his part, DeFusco says he eschewed the lack of independence that characterized Bhalla’s work. “Since getting elected in 2015 there were times I agreed and times I disagreed, but what I objected to was a lack of inclusion and I realized that if I didn’t speak up I would quickly become rubber stamp,” the candidate said. “Specifically, I needed to stand up traffic improvement issues, and I have done that, and now there are three new traffic lights [in his ward]. What I noticed very early about the Zimmer Administration is that there was not a collaborative spirit, and what we need now is a private sector mentality that includes a collaborative approach. We couldn’t accomplish anything without it being proprietary to the administration.”
In content marketing in Manhattan since 2004, DeFusco has said from the start that he’s the visionary in the (so far) four-person contest – driven by a desire to see the city reach behind contentment with merely having a supposedly honest alternative to the jailed Peter Cammarano to scaffold real improvements. “What got me involved initially was I knew we could do better,” he told InsiderNJ. “I walked around and I wondered why there were so any potholes and why the city was so dirty, and I wondered why we can’t attract investment from innovative industries.”
Volunteering for Obama gave him what he describes as his first taste for politics.
“What I took from Obama’s candidacy back then was the hope of challenging the status quo, the hope that a leader can inspire change. I hope now to continue on in the expression and expansion of progressive Democratic causes, and to be a strong voice for those without a strong voice. That’s the foundation of politics in general, when you step up on a milk crate and you give folks a conduit to affect change.”
But if indeed Zimmer represented honesty to plug a gap left by the disgraced Cammarano, and DeFusco broke from Zimmer, how can he absolutely assure voters of his own integrity? “For those that are close to me work and who with me in the community, they know I am somebody of a great moral code,” the mayoral candidate said. “Look, the mayor was a great interim leader, but that does not mean the status quo is where it should be. I’m taking on infrastructure and traffic infrastructure issues. I want a public high school the people of Hoboken can be proud of; a STEM tech hub, and yes, real physical infrastructure improvement. That’s the core of my agenda, but my other visionary plans for the city include expanding opportunities for small businesses help small businesses, and putting forth a plan to increase the tax base in town.”
Zimmer and her backers – Bhalla among them – note the fiscal health of the city that Hoboken attained under the sitting mayor’s watch. But DeFusco doesn’t credit Zimmer.
“It’s more owing to the work of the state fiscal monitor [that contributed to the city’s double A bond rating],” he said.
As for his own record, the one Bhalla says he lacks, but that he insists is robust, DeFusco cites as his proudest moment the work fulfilled on Newark Street. “When I was knocking on doors as a candidate, people told me that someone was going to be killed or injured there and I promised them to make improvements on Newark Street, which I did.”
The $175K cash on hand in the DeFusco campaign coffers, announced today by the campaign, reflects success, he told InsiderNJ.
“The campaign is making sense, and people see a candidate dedicated to our unified and progressive future,” he said. “My character is encouraging people to invest in my candidacy. Each and every dollar is a dollar earned, and I will live up to the expectation all my supporters.”
InsiderNJ asked him about Jen Giattino, the council president who is also a candidate for mayor.
“As a progressive Democrat, I have serious concerns about a Republican mayor at a time when Donald Trump is attacking cities and limiting HUDs funds,” he said of his Republican rival. “It’s also troubling, frankly, that no one knows where Jen stands on these issues.”
Then there’s Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano, who – like everyone in the contest with the exception of DeFusco – announced his candidacy following Zimmer’s announced decision to not seek a third term.
“I just think it’s time for new energy,” the candidate said when asked about Romano. “I think it would be the right thing to do for him to pick one office to run for: mayor or freeholder. How can you run for two offices at the same time? Look, I wish him the best of luck. He will have my support for freeholder in the general as he did in the primary, but if he wanted to run for mayor, he would have announced prior to her getting out. It just shows a certain opportunism that he didn’t, and what I see is that he’s having a hard time translating that opportunism into a vision or platform for Hoboken.”
His critics denounce him as a hybrid candidate, whose appeal scratched out in all areas of the city’s demographics add him to him lacking a coherent base.
“That’s what they said in the 1st Ward race, where we got people out to vote who don’t ordinarily vote,” DeFusco said. “A lot of people will say the same things they did before I beat a 20-year incumbent.”