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HOBOKEN MATTERS: Mayoral Candidate Interview with Jen Giattino


Like many of you, we at Little Hoboken are a bit overwhelmed with this mayoral election. There are quite a few candidates, and each have some good ideas. In order to understand each candidate, their platform and get a better idea of their plans for Hoboken, we sent each candidate some questions.

It is important to note that we sent the exact same questions to every single candidate. Each response is in their own words and has not been edited at all.

We will post their responses as we receive them. Stay tuned for more!!

How long have you lived in Hoboken, and what do you love most about living here?

I have lived for here for twenty years with my husband Joe and eventually with our three boys Joe (14), Jack (13) and Alex (11). What I love best about Hoboken is the neighborhood feel – it’s like our personal Sesame Street. We get to see friends and neighbors every day and have so many cultural, educational, and social offerings at our fingertips. It is the perfect combination of a small town feel, but easy proximity and access to the rest of the world.

What made you decide to run for Mayor? When was that “ah—ha" moment?

When I ran for City Council, my only plan was to serve as councilwoman for the 6th ward. Running for mayor was not on my radar. I have always enjoyed helping others, but as I got more involved working with and for my friends and neighbors, I realized I liked public service even more than I expected and was pretty good at it. Over the past six years on City Council, I came to realize that when Mayor Zimmer moved on I would consider running to be her successor.

The “ah ha moment” was when Mayor Zimmer sat down with me on June 19th and told me she was planning not to run. I am proud of having worked with her for six years and like all of her core supporters, have advocated for the major initiatives on her agenda from anti-corruption to flooding to open space. While we haven’t agreed on everything, I have generally believed that Hoboken is in a better place today for her efforts and leadership. However, on June 19th, and still today, I believe that for Hoboken’s next phase, we deserve a mayor who will embrace the positives of the prior administration, but will not be afraid to focus on and fix areas that need to be improved. For example, Hoboken residents deserve a mayor who is focused on the issues that most affect the quality of life of its residents. The big and the small. Like clean sidewalks, safe parks, safe intersections, lighted streets, and the many negative impacts of overcrowding we all face every day – parking shortages, long waits for public transportation, and overloaded sewer systems. As a six-year ward councilwoman, I believe I am the only candidate who has the directly relevant experience to do this.

Why should you be our Mayor? What sets you apart from the other candidates?

What most sets me apart is having the longest history as a ward council member. Ward council members, as opposed to at-large, are the main contact for all concerns raised by residents in the ward. I receive calls daily from my constituents. I listen, act and solve. I am grateful for the support of my fellow council members, 5th Ward Councilman Peter Cunningham and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher who I know both feel similarly and know that it is this customer / constituent / public service experience that is core to a successful mayor.

Additionally, I believe that I have the ability to unify people around common goals, which I believe is why I’ve been elected twice and also have been elected council president unanimously by my peers three times. As council president I have made sure that all council members – even those seen not to be politically aligned with the mayor and me - have a seat on important subcommittees, which was not the case historically or practiced by others serving in the role as council president. In local politics, not unlike at the state and federal level, we are most effective when we can work together. In this trying time when we our environment feels so broken and divided, this has never been more important.

Do you have political experience? What experiences in your life have prepared you to run such a dynamic and diverse city?

I have served under Mayor Zimmer as the 6th ward councilwoman for six years and as council president for three of those years. But as importantly, I have lived in this city for twenty years and have been raising my sons here. Through these combined experiences, I have developed a strong network of neighbors from across Hoboken, both personally, and through my role as ward councilwoman, whom I have worked with on issues important to them for years. I have served on and been an active member of all council subcommittees. I have been directly involved with issues ranging from resident displacement, to road safety improvements, to major re-development decisions, to expanding the hours for our sidewalk cafés and everything in between. I have worked closely with our local charities including having developed the charitable program called LOTS – Lunch On Tuesdays – for families to prepare a second sandwich in their children’s lunch to be given to the Hoboken Homeless shelter; a program that remains today. I have been an active soccer mom, co-founded Hoboken’s “Art in the Park” program, have been on the board of my children’s elementary school and a local part time realtor (a role I will give up when elected). Through all of these experiences I feel I have connected with residents and neighbors from all of Hoboken and have grown an appreciation for their diverse interests and issues. What makes Hoboken special is our diverse population. And when I am mayor, I will represent everyone.

Hoboken Public Schools are such a hot topic, and unfortunately, so many are misinformed about what is really going on. What do you think Hoboken residents need to know about the schools, and what are your plans for the public school system?

I’m really grateful to you for asking this question because of the importance of both the topic, as well as the local government’s role. First and foremost, I believe that a strong public school system is fundamental to a strong community. I have been a huge advocate for our public schools, campaigning for Board of Education candidates whom I believed would be the best stewards for our children’s education and taxpayers’ money. As I have already stated, I am proudly supporting the Hoboken Proud 5-6-7 team of Melanie Tekirian, Sharyn Angley and Chetali Khanna in the upcoming school board race to continue this stewardship. After years of effort by countless dedicated people, Hoboken is blessed to have a Board of Education committed to improving the educational lives of all students and Superintendent Dr. Christine Johnson as the chief executive making that dream a reality.

As mayor, my role, and that of city council, is limited to supporting and cooperating with our Board of Education and Superintendent and their direction of our school system. However, I believe this should be a more proactive approach than has been. In particular, our support is mainly through our role as development authority over land use decisions and through our Master Plan. Stating the obvious, land is scarce in Hoboken so as the next mayor puts plans in place to develop the remaining 1/3 if Hoboken, we need to ensure that the facility needs of our schools are considered. Whether for the location for a new school to replace our aging facilities that would be decommissioned, or for swing space as we renovate our existing buildings. It is not the local government that makes those decisions, it is the Board of Education. However given how important our schools are to our community and our unique land constraints, it is up to us to ensure that our schools are considered in our plans.

About our schools: We have a great Board of Education, the right superintendent to create an urban model school, and a great curriculum for our children. And what we are seeing is increased enrollment in our schools because these. From 2013-2016, we saw enrollment in kindergarten and first grade increase approximately 60%. That is staggering. And this year the K-6 enrollment is up 30% versus last year alone. One of the many challenges our Board of Education faces is managing for this significant growth while at the same time looking to provide continued improvements in our curriculum and our facilities. And as mayor, I want to do what I can to provide the necessary support they want and possibly need from the City to achieve the success they are striving for.

A few candidates have mentioned community centers and/or pools. What are your thoughts on this and do you have a plan for this in your campaign?

On the warm summer and fall days when I have been speaking with residents, what I hear from most is their desire to have a community pool like all of our neighboring cities – for recreation, exercise and swimming lessons. I am fully committed to securing new community facilities for Hoboken. I see the following paths to accomplish this, not mutually exclusive: A partnership with the former YMCA at 13th and Washington. I have been speaking with the Board of the former YMCA for the past year about a future partnership between them and the City for future programming. Their first step is to complete a feasibility study to understand how much it will cost to rebuild and restore the facility which is currently underway. Through our role as redevelopment authority. We have the opportunity to negotiate community investments and a new community facility would be on the list. Although we are receiving a small developer investment at 7th and Garden – a new basketball court and resiliency infrastructure – it cost us a tax abatement given to the developer valued at over $100 million that results in a very low contribution to municipal taxes for 30 years. I am the only mayoral candidate who voted ‘No’ on this. Development is so profitable in Hoboken, in particular residential, that we should be receiving much more community investment and facilities for free. Monetize City of Hoboken real estate assets. The City of Hoboken has a number of real estate assets that either need to be refurbished / replaced or are not being currently being utilized at their highest and best use. We need to look across this portfolio – which includes, among others, two flat parking lots, a municipal garage, the multi-service center, and even our police headquarters – and determine the best way to monetize the value of these locations, and get replacement, improved and expanded community and municipal facilities. Including the potential for a new, state of the art community center. I have opposed all the piecemeal approaches to this that have been put forward in favor of a strategic review and valuation of the entire portfolio.

So to me, the question is not “if”. It is “how” which ultimately leads to “when”.

Commuters live here because of Hoboken's close proximity to NYC, and yet our travel options can be frustrating with crowded buses and limited schedules. Do you have plans to accommodate our growing commuter population?

The PATH, the ferry, and the buses are all at capacity, and yet it is in the long term interest of the region to encourage more, not less, travel by mass transit. However, this is not a locally-controlled issue, and this will require cooperation between local towns, local mayors, transportation agencies, Washington, and Trenton. I am committed to being a strong ambassador for Hoboken in all of those venues with each of those parties. Hoboken is a critical link for the Tri-State area and we can be a key partner for all transportation initiatives, like the new $13 billion Hudson Tunnel that will go through the north end of Hoboken. A stop here could connect not only Hoboken residents to NYC, but also could be a link for Bergen County residents to get to NYC. Unfortunately, there are no currents plans for this in a project that has already commenced.

Additionally, I will advocate for: expanded and optimized bus routes and third party bus routes that could drop off in other locations across Manhattan, maintaining our allocation of PATH trains/service so we do not lose any more to Jersey City, expanded and more affordable ferry service, and getting a new light rail station funded by NJ Transit or developers in the north end. But the most important thing that we can do within our control in Hoboken is to encourage commercial development and work to curb residential development to taper population growth that would put further strain on all of our transportation alternatives. This would have the effect of letting more residents work in Hoboken and encourage reverse commuting thus making better use of the transportation options we do have.

Mayor Zimmer has made a lot of great improvements in Hoboken in two terms as Mayor. What things are you looking to keep going or expand on? What are you looking to change?

Mayor Zimmer and I have each supported each other in two elections. It was only her recent decision to not run again that put us on opposite sides of a campaign. Maybe the most important thing she’s accomplished was returning complete and total integrity to the office of the mayor. I plan to continue that tradition in every way. In terms of policies, although we have not agreed on all things, I have supported the major initiatives on her agenda during her term that I felt were critical to Hoboken’s future. I am 100% supportive of her efforts to reduce flooding and the devastating impacts it has on our community. I was at Marineview the day after Hurricane Sandy, and witnessing its effects on those seniors and disabled residents, I helped to provide them with necessary items. I am the only mayoral candidate who, like many others in our community, was displaced from their home after Hurricane Sandy due to flooding and had to rebuild my home. I supported and worked closely with the Board of Maxwell on the installation of the second pump that has given significant relief to those on our western side from the impacts of everyday flooding events. And I have supported the $230 million Rebuild By Design project that she secured that delivers important federal funds to protect our city from storm surge events, having attended a number of meetings and encouraged participation from our community. Her other community-defining effort, to me, is her open space efforts that have secured much-needed park space for our community – the new southwest park and BASF in particular, which has been a significant priority of mine. Although I felt that we gave too much to the developer at 7th and Jackson project, I am still happy that we were able to secure a two-acre park in that project as well.

Open space has been a cornerstone to my platform since I ran for office in 2011. The first thing I did was ask to add Union Dry Dock, an important part of our waterfront, to the Open Space Plan. The Mayor did not support this effort at that time. With the advocacy of Fund for Better Waterfront, I recently co-sponsored a resolution to have UDD added and it was passed 9-0. This would allow for the potential to use our open space trust funds for the acquisition. Although Eminent Domain is not the first tool that I would choose to engage in discussions with a landowner and potential seller of a property, I was happy to see that Mayor Zimmer, as part of her last few actions as mayor, has asked for support to re-kindle the dialogue with the sellers of Union Dry Dock for a potential purchase of the site. The conclusion of these discussions will fall with our next mayor but at least the dialogue will start.

Areas that we could change include: Improving our efforts to address everyday quality of life concerns like having all of the lights on Washington Street work (currently 14 are out), having clean sidewalks and well maintained parks, and safe intersections. This is a tone from the top. Getting development right – we need to decide what works for Hoboken and direct negotiations, get more community benefits than we have received, and hire the right financial experts to ensure we are getting the right outcome for Hoboken. This has not existed and with the next mayor responsible for directing development on up to 1/3 of Hoboken, it has never mattered more. Keeping taxes flat but not only through just reducing expenses and services, but also through expansion of revenues to allow for necessary services that have been cut. Here, we need to push for commercial development and asking the county to take over some of our services (like park maintenance or snow plowing). Making displacement of our residents a bigger focus than it has. We deserve a mayor who works collaboratively and values the input from various stakeholders including residents, the city council, neighboring mayors, and other elected officials to get the best outcome for Hoboken.

Small businesses are what make Hoboken so special. With so many big—box stores coming to town, do you have plans to help support and protect the locally owned businesses?

I believe, and I am sure that most Hoboken residents agree, that one of Hoboken’s charms is its small businesses: from the many places to get fresh mozzarella, to our locally owned hardware stores, to our many neighborhood restaurants. Yet, we have a number of barriers, some within our control, and some that are market-driven, that make it difficult for businesses to succeed here. I co-sponsored along with Councilman DeFusco an amendment to the zoning in certain commercial areas of Hoboken including Washington Street that would make it easier for small businesses to open. The next step is to have a public meeting to get input from residents in our community.

Unfortunately, we could eliminate all the barriers in the world but without a population to frequent the stores, they will not survive. Hoboken has turned into a bedroom community – although increasingly-wealthy with a large capacity for retail spending, our own community doesn’t shop here enough to support our businesses and looks to visitors to pay their bills. We need to provide a better parking framework that makes it easy for visitors to come, shop and stay. And we need to create more of a daytime population via commercial development to complement our local residents. Just look downtown at the flourishing commercial area because of the Waterfront Center, City Hall, and the PATH all within a few blocks.

All of this being said, we need to form partnerships between the local government and our businesses to create what is called a business improvement district. The mutual stated goal of a BID is to create commerce within our City: the City would help support business activities like improving parking and promoting economic development, and in turn the businesses and stakeholders would share in the costs of the business districts taking on the costs of things like security, trash and cleaning. The recent Railhead district that was approved at city council for the area near the PATH only goes halfway. It provides our local businesses with the opportunity to brand an area to help drive their business, however it does not go as far to have them take on the additional security and cleaning costs that will, as a result, definitely occur. As Mayor, I will make sure that we improve our partnership with our local business community and bring an economic development focus to all discussions.

What is your favorite restaurant in town? Don't be shy, tell us what you love there!

We have many incredible options in Hoboken, but this choice is easy for me: Benny’s on Washington Street. For the last decade, I have had dinner at Benny’s every Friday night with Sal Starace’s (running for council on my slate) family as both of our families have grown. Benny’s, and their family, are home to me.

SEE POST FOR: MIKE DEFUSCO

SEE POST FOR: ANTHONY L. ROMANO

SEE POST FOR: RAVI BHALLA

SEE POST FOR: KAREN NASON

SEE POST FOR: RON BAUTISTA

Candidate responses, pictures, graphics and any information related to the mayoral election is posted in random order

and does not reflect any endorsement or preference.

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HEADER PHOTO CREDIT: Danielle Guenther Photography

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