HOBOKEN MATTERS: Mayoral Candidate Interview with Michael DeFusco


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’ve been a homeowner in Hoboken for 13 years, moving here shortly after graduating college and landing a job in Manhattan. I love the vibrancy of our city, its walkability, and the great collection of small businesses that Hoboken has to offer. But most importantly I love the people who make Hoboken so special, from activists and leaders in the many communities that combine to make up the fabric of our city, to every day residents working and raising their families here and sharing a belief in our city's future.

What made you decide to run Mayor? When was that “ah-ha” moment?

Growing up I never thought I would run for political office, and I don’t see myself as a politician even today. I got active in politics knocking on doors for President Obama in 2008, and before that became involved in the city when a development project threatened the neighborhood I had recently moved to. This event sparked my interest in local government, and I was later appointed to a seat on the Zoning Board of Adjustment, where I served for five years and learned a great deal about land use, zoning and other important planning issues. Feeling that I could offer a new perspective for my neighborhood, I ran for City Council against a longtime incumbent in 2015 and won thanks to the incredible support I received from so many volunteers and neighbors. On City Council, I had high hopes of being able to work with the Mayor, our directors, the rest of the council and our residents in order to make much needed changes in the short term as well as plan for a more progressive future for Hoboken, Unfortunately, what I found was an administration that was not receptive to residents or even to members of the council other than a select few in the inner circle. New ideas weren’t sought out and input on ongoing matters was generally ignored. It seemed like all of the decisions were made by a few people behind closed doors, and then there was a dog and pony show of public hearings that weren’t given real consideration. When it became clear that this mentality was the reason for Washington Street reaching such a state of deterioration, for the Monarch development progressing to the point it has, for the delays and cost overruns on the southwest park, and similar problems with so many other critical issues, I knew we needed a change in leadership. I declared my candidacy while Mayor Zimmer was still running because no one else was stepping up because she seemed to have too strong of a hold. I was as shocked as anyone when she decided not to seek re-election, but quickly realized that if either one of her long-time allies Jen Giattino or Ravi Bhalla became our next Mayor, it would just be a continuation of their administration of poor planning and no accountability. While the field may have changed, the issues and our need for leadership with a real vision and the skill set to see it through remain the same.

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

I believe that while Hoboken is a great place to live, we need a new leader who has the perspective to bring new ideas to the table as well as the experience and vision to get them done. I will bring a private sector mindset to our city government to complete major projects quickly and correctly the first time, and make the major advances our community deserves like bringing a European- style market to our Train Terminal, creating a regional tech-hub in conjunction with Stevens Institute and attracting innovative new businesses such as hydroponic gardening and urban wineries to modernize our tax base. We’ve seen what all of the other candidates have to offer over the last 6-10 years when they have been major parts of the political establishment here, and there has not been a lot of accountability or a lot of innovation. Suggesting changes now after they have been in power for so long without taking any action just rings hollow to me and a lot of other residents I speak to. I believe that I am the only candidate who will bring the new energy and new ideas Hoboken needs to fulfill its potential.

Do you have political experience? What experiences in your life prepared you to run such a dynamic and diverse city? I served seven years as both a commissioner on the Zoning Board and currently as first ward councilman. Both elected and appointed positions allowed me a thorough understanding of our municipal government.

Commissioning a Southwest Traffic study with Councilman Ruben Ramos--which resulted in necessary traffic lights and the reopening of lanes on Jackson Street--was a moment that I felt I can make a big difference in people’s lives. In addition, my time on the Zoning Board gives me a strong sense of how we can bring more economic development to Hoboken to stabilize property taxes while protecting our neighborhoods.

In terms of life experiences that have prepared me to lead, I manage a large division of employees at a major media organization overseeing large budgets and manifold partnerships. I have travelled the world for business and pleasure, built extremely meaningful friendships and come to understand diverse view points. My partner is a Guatemalan-American who works as a physician focusing on infectious diseases and previously worked to help underserved minority at-risk populations, so we share a feeling of civic duty, and enjoy giving back to the community.

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? Our public schools have unfortunately not kept up with the pace of growth in our city, and as Mayor I would work to begin to fix that by partnering with the school board to build a new public High School complex. While the Mayor and Council don’t have any direct control over our schools, and some of my opponents have attacked me for making this suggestion, it’s important to realize that the Mayor is the primary land use authority in our city, and they should be using that power to proactively try to help our schools. A new high school would show families who have put down roots in our city that we are investing in the future and working to keep families here in Hoboken. This could open up the current building for lower grades or other recreation or community uses. We can also work with land-owners to try to negotiate space in new developments that will be allocated for schools, parks or community space. We’re in a better place now than were years ago, with families being more comfortable keeping their kids in our schools into higher grades, but that isn’t enough. Hoboken should be able to offer a great public school education in quality facilities for the entirety of our students’ learning careers.

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? I believe that Hoboken residents deserve better services and that recreation is an area where we can really think big and make major advances. A few months ago we announced a plan for an Urban Beach and Floating Pool concept on the Hudson River, which would be a way to not just fulfill the promise of a community pool but also generate city revenue with a marina and keep an important tract of our waterfront free of commercial or residential development. I also believe we need to fix the crumbling multi-service center to provide a better amenity for our residents and that we should look into building a dome on 1600 Park to let our kids be able to use the field and play sports all year round. These are things that have been talked about for years, and when I hear other candidates who have been part of Mayor Zimmer’s inner circle for 6 and 8 years only now say they want to work on them, I have very little confidence that they have a real plan.

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? As the only candidate for Mayor who takes the Path or the Ferry into Manhattan every day to my job, I know exactly how so many of our neighbors feel. As Mayor I would advocate for more bus service in and out of the city, and I would also work to increase Path train capacity as well as lobbying for subsidies for ferry service. It’s important to realize that the Mayor can’t force NJ Transit or NY Waterway to make these changes, but we can certainly have a better relationship with them than the current administration does, and work with residents and commuter groups to more effectively advocate for changes in service to better meet our needs. I also think that the intentional delay of any progress in the northwest by the current administration has precluded talks of a transit hub in that area which could be as significant as a rail extension of the 7 train tied into the next Hudson River Crossing Project. I know that’s a huge aspiration, but we need to be ready to pursue these kind of big ideas when the opportunities arise. The actions of the past 8 years have not prepared us to be considered for something like that, and we need someone with a real long-term vision if we’re going to reach that point.

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 inherited a city government in chaos, and I believe her greatest accomplishment was rebuilding some of the trust in our local government that had been lost. I believe that Mayor Zimmer often has had the right priorities for the city, particularly in her pursuit of environmental and flood resiliency improvements, but that she was also consistently lacking in the ability to make proper long-term plans with a real strategy to see them through. This has led to constant and costly court battles, as well as delays and cost overruns in many of the major projects Hoboken has taken on. She also hasn’t made enough of an effort to build bridges and work together with the City Council or all but a small group of residents in a collaborative manner, often resulting in missed opportunities and failed promises. I have a private sector business background and a demonstrated history of bridging our city’s political divide, and as Mayor I would seek to deliver new energy and new ideas to Hoboken and get things done efficiently, on time and on budget.

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? As a member of the Zoning Board I gained an incredible amount of insight into how the planning and zoning process in Hoboken has made it virtually impossible for many small businesses to succeed here. Our city’s zoning is decades out of date, and I believe that by expanding our commercial zones, encouraging more corner stores and modernizing our approach to economic development, we can both attract new businesses and support our existing businesses. Parking policies need to be evaluated to allow residents and visitors alike to shop and dine throughout Hoboken as well. As Mayor, I will cut the prohibitive red tape that is chasing businesses out of Hoboken to encourage a more vibrant restaurant scene that helps mom and pop shops grow, and cultivate relationships with 21st century industries like urban distilleries, coffee roasters, wineries and co-working spaces to ensure new businesses are establishing themselves in Hoboken. I’ll also bring new ideas to the city that will help small businesses thrive, like creating a Hoboken Terminal Market to give makers, creators and innovators the space they need to become established in our community.

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

There are so many to choose from, but Antique Bakery and Bar really stands out not just because of its great food and drinks, but because of its story. This is an innovative adaptive reuse project that took an existing structure and redeveloped it into a vibrant new business that adds to the neighborhood and shows great respect for nearby residents. They sat in approval limbo for two years, almost losing the capital needed to open. It’s a clear example of why we need to make it easier for innovative mom and pop businesses to open in Hoboken, not harder, and its story makes me enjoy the fresh bread, steaks and cocktails even more.

SEE POST FOR: RAVI BHALLA

SEE POST FOR: ANTHONY L. ROMANO

SEE POST FOR: KAREN NASON

SEE POST FOR: RON BAUTISTA

SEE POST FOR: JEN GIATTINO

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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