The Long Bike Ride Up the Palisades: The Different Kind of Jersey Run of Hoboken’s Dawn Zimmer


The bar was admittedly low for Dawn Zimmer, but on second thought, since it’s New Jersey politics: misogynistic, parochial, punch drunk, either hovering constantly at the edge of corruption or neck deep in the wretched swamp of it, or stuck in trembling, brain dead inertia to the bar stool of mediocrity, maybe it wasn’t so low.

Coming on the heels of Peter Cammarano, a guy who took money under the table toward his runoff with Zimmer, who wound up in handcuffs, the crown jewel of Governor Chris Christie’s 2009 general election candidacy, Zimmer had the very direct and distinct challenge of not being a thief. On that score, the 4th Ward councilwoman, a quirky, unlikely leader who took the reins of government after the feds heard tapes of Cammarano saying that the people who crossed him would get “ground…ground into powder,” delivered.

Whether you love the nerd of her that is the nerd in all of us, or see her as too eccentric and too introverted to lead a scrappy nest like the mile square city, Zimmer – the city’s first woman mayor – was not a thief.

She was, in fact, an honest broker, resistant to over-development and devoted to improving quality of life.

Hoboken is more complex than born and raised guys versus yups, but that was the heart of the political terrain when Zimmer persisted back in 2009 as a reformer candidate leading a ticket in part composed of Ravi Bhalla and Carol Marsh. Coming out of a big field of contenders for a vacant seat, Councilwoman Beth Mason among them, she made the run-off with Cammarano in what was a vivid delineation of the city’s politics. Cammarano aligned cops and fire, the housing authority from Zimmer’s own 4th ward, and a cross section of his own young professionals, while Zimmer played the straight up new era card composed of waterfront yups, dog walking moms and zip car aspirationals. Out of money and forced to play dirty behind the scenes to get the cash to float the ongoing war with Zimmer, Cammarano embodied the worst of the gangster school of Hoboken politics that the yup backers in his retinue hoped was over.

When Cammarano crapped out and Zimmer beat Mason for the mayoralty, complaining about Mason failing to file ELEC reports ehile she herself always got them in on time, she took control of a city in political disarray, its voting population embarrassed by the suffocating stench of the Cammarano scandal, many of them resigned to Hudson County dysfunction.

Completely under-estimated by the Democratic establishment in Hudson County and even frequently dismissed outright as nuts, Zimmer quietly accomplished her politics, achieving a majority on the council in 2011 and a super majority  in 2015. She won reelection in 2013, after having endorsed the reelection of Governor Christie. In January of 2014, out of nowhere, she alleged that Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno told her that needed to support a Christie-connected Rockefeller Group development project to grease the skids for federal Hurricane Sandy funds. Zimmer made the charge on Up with Steve Kornacki, and described the feeling of agonizing disappointment when she realized the man she called her hero, Christie, was just another tinhorn crook. It was Christie’s U.S. Attorney’s Office, after all, or the one that he had just left behind to run for governor, that had taken down Cammarano.

Christie was supposed to be cool.

Christie was supposed to be different.

But he wasn’t, Zimmer charged on Kornacki’s show. Some viewers interpreted the confession, which she made as the Bridgegate scandal started to balloon to epic proportions, as Dawn nuttiness and naivete. Others saw courage and honesty.

Zimmer stuck by her story, infuriating Christie cronies and kicking up another round of the continuing “Dawn is crazy” chorus, which reached a crescendo this morning among Hudson insiders baffled by her impending announcement of departure, some of them angered by what they see as coming instability again in Hoboken.

Earlier this year the mayor introduced a municipal budget that continues to keep municipal taxes stable for the seventh straight year. The introduced 2017 budget includes a 1.25% reduction in the municipal tax rate, due to a flat municipal tax levy and an increasing ratable base.

Over the next 6 years, the city will invest $42 million in the water main system, the mayor said in her budget address, including the $7 million water main replacement on Washington Street, $5.2 million for additional improvements authorized for priority areas, and $30 million through the 6-year capital plan which includes an additional $5 million per year over the next 6 years.

“Since becoming mayor, we have worked with the City Council to restore fiscal discipline and hold the line on taxes, and I’m pleased that this year’s budget will provide a modest municipal tax cut,” said Zimmer. “Together, we have passed fully-funded, gimmick-free budgets, restored a responsible budget surplus, and improved our credit rating to AA+ from its near junk bond rating. This year’s budget also includes a capital plan to make annual investments to continue upgrading our water main system and additional funding to help maintain our expanding parks and green infrastructure.”

Only a very few doubted that she would have trouble in her reelection bid come November. Defusco and Romano appeared on a collision course that would enable Zimmer, the unrelenting reformer, to comfortably win.

Maybe it was the day she and her family rode bicycles up to Union City to hear Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack’s state of the city address, an event chronicled at the time by Augie Torres in The Jersey Journal.

Most mayors get driven to those kind of events.

Zimmer – raised in the mountains of New Hampshire – strong-pedaled up the Palisades.

Stack has always looked twice at someone who doesn’t project naked affectations of power. Once state he endorsed her reelection this year, it truly appeared over. Stack doesn’t get involved in elections unless he knows the person he picks will win.

He saw something in Zimmer.

Maybe it was something that so many people once saw in Cammarano and Christie.

But in Zimmer’s case, by Jersey standards, she really was different.



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