By Ricardo Kaulessar
Photo of Mayor -Elect Jimmy Davis by Ricardo Kaulessar
Photo of Mayor Mark Smith and Team by Steve A Mack
James Davis walked into the Villa Maria restaurant in Bayonne on Tuesday night like the conquering hero, with hundreds of supporters cheering him on as soon as he entered the place.
There was good reason for the elation as Davis won the mayoral runoff election in his hometown over the incumbent Mark Smith by a 51% to 49% margin as of election night.
Davis greeted the numerous tired and sweaty followers like himself who were energized by seeing their leader give his victory speech.
“Tonight we enjoy but tomorrow we get to work,” said Davis to raucous applause. “It’s going to take everybody in this city to change this city, whether they voted for us or against us.”
Davis also thanked his parents, his family and everyone else who campaigned for him to enable an upset over a formidable opponent. And he called for forgiveness and unity with the other side after a tough, and at times, nasty campaign that saw accusations of voter fraud and other election-related violations get thrown around by both sides.
But it was not just Davis who had something to celebrate as members of his council slate also in the runoff were jubilant about their election night sweep into office.
Sharon Ashe Nadrowski and Juan Perez won at-large seats each with 26% of the vote over their rivals Terrence Ruane and Debra Czerwienski while 2nd Ward candidate Salvatore Gullace and Third Ward candidate Gary LaPelusa hold thin leads over Joseph Hurley and Raymond Greaves respectively as of Tuesday night (pending the count of provisional ballots). Thomas Cotter won the First Ward seat in the May 13 municipal election over Agnes Gillespie.
Nadrowski wished Smith “good luck” but then said “now it’s on with Davis.” LaPelusa thanked his campaign team for “putting up with him” during the election and commented about Smith and his team that “if you nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
The grand evening for Davis was made more so by the appearance of various big-name politicians such as state Senators Ray Lesniak (D-Union), who also addressed the crowd, and Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson). Lesniak, in an interview with the River View Observer after the Davis speech, said that he saw Davis as “the future of Bayonne politics” and compared him to recently elected Newark Mayor Ras Baraka as “new blood” in the Democratic Party.
It was also a great night for 20-year Bayonne resident and local business owner Zoila Yunes, who said the Davis’ win was “the best thing that ever happened in Bayonne,” and cited high taxes as one of the major reasons she did not go with Smith.
No regrets for Smith
A more subdued scene was found on election night at the Chandelier Restaurant near the Bayonne-Jersey City border, the locale where Mark Smith was supposed to proclaim victory in the runoff.
Instead, friends and longtime acquaintances commiserated with each other over his loss, standing at the bar or seated at tables. When they saw Smith, they gave him a hug or wished him the best as he thanked them for their efforts in trying to get him back into City Hall.
Smith, in an exclusive interview, did not display the mannerisms of a defeated pol but was rather philosophical and even proud of his time in office.
“The people of Bayonne spoke but now we continue what we started five years ago,” Smith said. “When we began this mission, the city was on the brink of financial ruin. We did all the things necessary to bring this city back, to put it in shape, to put it in the position to prosper.”
He then ticked off some of the accomplishments and accolades that came during his time in office: the upgrading of the city’s bond rating by Moody’s, a 43% reduction of the city’s debt, and the designation of Bayonne as a “hotspot” by NJBIZ Magazine.
When asked why voters chose to overlook the things that occurred during his tenure and instead elected him and his entire council team out of office, Smith saw it as anti-incumbent sentiment that has occurred in Bayonne elections for as long as he can remember. He also said “taxes is always the issue” even though his administration implemented no tax increase in the past year and was planning to go the same route for the coming year if he got back into office.
Smith said in the remaining days in office, until his term ends on July 1, he will work with Davis to ensure a smooth transition between outgoing mayor and incoming mayor.
As far as his future plans, Smith said he will sit down with his wife and two daughters to assess how he will go forward. However that conversation goes with his family, one thing that probably will not be discussed is the topic of regret.
“I have no regrets, no regrets at all. I went to sleep every night with a clear head because I knew at the end of the day I did my level best, and I gave 110 percent of my efforts to put the people of Bayonne first.”