Lenz to represent 4th Ward, Council picks polemic pol; ‘open process’ probed

Lenz to represent 4th Ward,
Council picks polemic pol; ‘open process’ probed

Nov 22, 2009 - Hoboken Reporter
by Timothy J. Carroll
Michael Lenz has meandered his way through Hoboken politics since the early 1990s, and now he will return in a pivotal role as the interim City Council representative for the 4th Ward – the powder-keg southwest corner of town where public housing projects meet condo palaces.

He fills the seat that was vacated by new Mayor Dawn Zimmer on Nov. 6.

A special election for the 4th Ward seat will be held with the general election in November 2010, according to the city. And the seat will be up for election again in May of 2011.

Lenz is one of the most controversial figures in town, but after intense debate, procedural protest, and legal consideration, he was appointed to the seat at the seven-hour council meeting this past Monday.


“If I wanted the 4th Ward councilmanship, I would have made sure I got to you people.” – Moe DeGennaro

With only eight members on the council before Lenz was appointed, Zimmer was on hand to break a 4-4 tie. Two city attorneys confirmed that it was okay to break the tie in that manner.

The process was called into question by Zimmer’s main opposition, including council members Beth Mason and Theresa Castellano. The two of them, along with councilmen Michael Russo and Nino Giacchi, said they should have received a list of candidates or gotten the chance to interview prospective councilors.

The argument came out of the fact that Zimmer, when running for office, promised to be more transparent and make hirings and appointments more open to the public than past mayors had.

Zimmer’s four allies on the council, however, chose Lenz for the slot.

The life of Lenz

Lenz is a former Board of Education president whose political visibility began in the early 1990s when his school reform movement gained a majority in 1994.

They polarized the community by suspending the state’s first Hispanic superintendent of schools, Dr. Edwin Duroy, after accusing him of obfuscating financial information.

But when a new school board majority took over, the charges against Duroy were withdrawn after a consultant said there was a lack of evidence.

Lenz managed the mayoral campaign of Councilman David Roberts, who won two terms in office.

Under Roberts, Lenz took over as chief financial officer, but was terminated in 2003 after being accused of mismanaging the city budget. He successfully won a six-figure settlement in a defamation and whistleblower lawsuit. The accusation that Lenz had bungled the budget was later disproven by a third-party audit.

Even after Roberts and Lenz had a falling out, Roberts called Lenz a “genius” in the New York Times, referring to his political skills.

A former CPA who worked in the real estate industry, Lenz hopes to bring his fiscal acumen to the ward. He also wants to focus on issues like flooding and youth programs.


Before Lenz was picked, other candidates spoke before the council on their own behalf.

Tony Soares, a former councilman, said he would be willing to fill the seat until November with no intention of seeking election in November. He also said he would donate the salary to a 4th Ward charity.

Soares is another controversial figure in town. Like Lenz, he was part of a team that got ex-Mayor David Roberts elected, but split with Roberts after attaining office.

Recently reappointed to the Zoning Board, Soares would have been forced to give up that seat if he was appointed to the council.

He told the council on Monday, “We can butt heads, but the business of the city [comes first].”

Jake Stuiver, recently appointed to the Hoboken Housing Authority (HHA) board, also asked the council to consider him for the seat.

Stuiver was Mason’s campaign manager in May, but switched his allegiance to Zimmer in the November special election.

He acknowledged that he would most likely have to give up the HHA seat if he was appointed to the council, but vowed to attend to the needs of the public housing residents nonetheless.

A few 4th Ward residents spoke at the meeting on Stuiver’s behalf.

Rami Pinchevsky, a pension actuary and Zimmer supporter, has been active in 4th Ward issues for a few years, including his involvement in a parks group.

Pinchevsky joined a kickball team with Housing Authority residents and has been trying to create a more open relationship between the public housing residents and newcomers to the ward.

Other 4th Ward candidates, like Timothy Occipinti, a Boys and Girls Club board member, may make a run for the seat in November, but did not submit their names because they knew the votes weren’t attainable.

Rachel Goldberg, a politically-active 4th Ward resident, said that the selection process lacked the transparency promised in recent election campaigns.

“Five of you over the last six months have promised an open and transparent process [in your campaign literature],” Goldberg told the council.

She said the city did not advertise the opening, nor did they make candidate resumes public or reach out to 4th Ward residents for input.

Cast your vote

Lenz received four nominations from Zimmer’s bloc. Russo nominated Soares and Giacchi nominated Pinchevsky. Mason and Castellano declined to nominate a candidate.

On the vote to appoint Lenz, four affirmative votes came from Councilpersons Peter Cunningham, Ravi Bhalla, Carol Marsh, and Dave Mello.

Russo, Castellano, and Giacchi voted against his appointment, and Mason abstained from voting, saying that 4th Ward residents were not included in the process.

Her abstention could have potentially hampered Zimmer’s ability to break the tie, since there really was no tie. However, after some differing legal opinions, Mason’s abstention was counted as a “no” vote.

“It’s a significant legal question in my mind,” Corporation Counsel Steven Kleinman said, regarding how to count an abstention vote. He also said a judge could be asked to issue declaratory judgment on the issue.

Zimmer cast her vote for Lenz to break the 4-4 tie.

Process scrutinized

Bhalla said the criticism of the process had no merit.

“This is ridiculous,” he argued. “If you’re diligent, you would know about this [vacancy].”

The biggest concern among detractors was that a list of candidates was not made public, and the 4th Ward residents were not consulted.

Cunningham, who was selected as council president later in the meeting, said it was “incumbent on you, the candidate” to reach out to council members.

Before his appointment, Lenz said that any candidate who did not reach out to the council beforehand “failed the first test.”

He also said he had called every council member to talk about the position.

Political gadfly Maurice “Moe” DeGennaro agreed, saying, “If I wanted the 4th Ward councilmanship, I would have made sure I got to you people.”

Cunningham said, “It’s not a perfect process…but the 4th Ward needs to be represented.”

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