Russo and Roberts Betray Voters on Waterfront Project

Letter to Editor from Sada Fretz, as published in the Hoboken Reporter, April 29, 2001:

To the Editor:

Mayor Russo's version of waterfront history needs correction. Take his ad in the April 1 HR, since pasted in his headquarters' window. The ad shows Hoboken's southern waterfront and says "For decades, Hoboken's waterfront was in decay and not producing tax revenues." In fact the southern waterfront will never produce tax revenues because Mayor Russo sold the upland property to the Port Authority, which does not pay taxes. Instead, if all goes well, developers will make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) to the city government. That might please city officials but it sticks us taxpayers with the project's share of school and county taxes.

The ad says Mayor Russo "convinced the Port Authority to invest $78 million in Hoboken's waterfront." But the PA didn't have to be convinced: The bistate agency had been after Hoboken's waterfront for decades and was determined to develop it despite rejection by the City Council (1987) and two rejections by Hoboken's voters (1990 and 1992). Throughout the 1980s the PA was promising an investment of $125 million, not $78 million.

Russo's ad also claims he got the PA to build "the beautiful Pier A and Sinatra Parks." But the PA had nothing to do with Sinatra Park, nor did Russo. That was developed with state money (Green Acres and DOT). As for Pier A park, the PA built it, but they are guaranteed their money back. And maintaining it is the city's responsibility. There's no guarantee that it won't see development in the next boom, after the upland towers are filled and the city finds itself still strapped for money.

The ad says "Dave Roberts…wanted to build 33-story high density apartments on the piers." True, Roberts supported a development agreement that included plans for a tall building on Pier A. But so did Russo when the city government passed it in 1989-and when the voters rejected it in 1990. Russo switched to the "No" side in 1992, and in the Mayoral campaign of 1993 he claimed to have voted no in 1990 as well. But a Jersey Journal photo (8/22/90) showed his wife and other followers with their lawyer John Carbone, working to overturn the referendum results. And a Jersey Journal article (6/7/93) reported, among other findings, that the day after the election the organization for the "yes" side paid Russo $140, reimbursement for his paying four people to work for the "yes vote" on election day.

All this is ancient history. But it does make you question the Mayor's veracity or his memory.

Most important, after he became Mayor, Russo and the City Council (including Dave Roberts) approved yet another rewrite of the PA agreement that the voters had rejected twice. It was passed with little notice on a 4th-of-July weekend when most voters could be counted on to be out of town or otherwise occupied. The official fiction is that the final agreement was for a new "plan" that had won consensus. In fact the procedure was rigged so the voters could no longer have a say: After losing the second referendum the powers behind the project got the state law changed to exempt the new agreement from the referendum process. Robert's ally Bernard Kenny, then in the state assembly, voted for this disenfranchisement of Hoboken's citizens.

Of all the Mayoral candidates only Dan Tumpson has worked consistently to inform and empower the voters on this issue, as on others. As vice chair of Mayor Vezzetti's Waterfront Advisory Committee Dan exposed the proposed PA lease agreement as a ripoff of the city. It was also Dan who researched and proposed the lawsuits that eventually ended the PA's old leasehold and reclaimed $10 million from the PA for the city.

With environmentalist Susan O'Kane, Dan organized a voter initiative for a park on the southern waterfront. After Mayor Pasculli and the City Council (including Dave Roberts) passed the discredited PA development agreement in December, 1989, Dan once more initiated a drive to get the issue on the ballot. He formed what became the Coalition for a Better Waterfront and led that organization to the famous 1990 referendum victory.

Again, when Pasculli and the council excused the PA for its obligation to repair the piers (a gift to the PA of maybe $30 million), Dan proposed a lawsuit to enforce the obligation. Unfortunately Mayoral candidate Anthony Russo joined and provided the lawyer for that suit, then maneuvered to have it dismissed after he became Mayor. It was shortly after that that Russo, Roberts, and the rest of Russo's council passed the PA project, knowing that the citizens had said "No" twice but had now lost their right to referendum.

Seeing how easily their "representatives" could betray the voters, Dan realized that the only way to carry out the peoples' will is to elect a Mayor/Council slate committed to put major decisions to the voters via binding referendum-and thus to "return government to the people."