Independent candidates challenge Harrison power structure

By Ron Leir

An all-out battle for the political control of Harrison is shaping up for the municipal election in November.

Maria McCormick

Maria McCormick

Maria McCormick, who represents the Second Ward on the Town Council, along with husband Steve, is making a bid for mayor at the head of a slate called Independents For Change, hoping to knock off the entrenched Mayor Ray McDonough and his Democratic teammates.

Her council running mates include three first-time office seekers: Michael Gavini in the First Ward, Domingos Rodrigues in the Third Ward, and Joanne O’Brien in the Fourth. Steve McCormick will ask voters to return him to his Second Ward seat.

Dan Kelly is running alone as the Republican nominee for mayor.

Aside from McDonough, a 30-year campaigner, the Dems’ ticket features incumbents Jesus Huaranga, Anselmo Millan, Larry Bennett and James Doran, in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Wards, respectively.

Domingo Rodrigues

Any challenges to the independents’ nominating petitions, which were filed with the Hudson County Clerk on June 8, must be made by June 14, according to Hilda Rosario, county elections supervisor.

The drawing for positions on the November ballot will be Aug. 9 at 3 p.m. in the county clerk’s office at 257 Cornelison Ave., Jersey City.

“I’m looking forward to success in November and serving the people of Harrison to get us back where we need to be,” Maria McCormick said.

McDonough said he’ll leave it up to the voters “to decide who they’d like to lead Harrison over the next four years.” He said he felt confident in being judged on his record as mayor for the past 16 years and council member for 17 years before that.

“I think my accomplishments outweigh anything negative,” he said. “And I’m available to the residents seven days a week.”

O’Brien, married with one daughter, 20, is itching to dislodge a Democratic administration that she says has become “too clubby” and that relies on the same few people for tired strategies for running government and schools.

Armed with degrees in literature and accounting and a varied business background, O’Brien has taught in the Harrison public school system for the past 15 years. She says it’s unfair that her opponent, Doran, serves as both president of the Town Council and chief administrator for the public schools.

For O’Brien, that’s a prime example of how power is concentrated in the hands of the few.

And, she says, the Board of Education was misguided when it sanctioned Doran’s summer school plan to use government stimulus money to pay some students for attending classes to make up failed courses, rather than using that money to buy school supplies or to reward high-achieving students, for example.

Doran counters that “90%” of the summer school students attended enrichment classes, English as a Second Language, or SAT prep and that only 10% were making up subjects they’d failed during the regular school year.

O’Brien favors replacing a school board whose members are appointed by the mayor with an elected board whose members are directly accountable to the voters.

Gavini, 31, a technician for Cablevision TV who served in the Army from 1996 to 2001, is the father of two boys ages 10 and 7. He said he’d like to see the school board extend the time that children can use its play area. “That way, kids can have more quality time on the field to keep themselves occupied,” he said.

Rodrigues, 55, whose family has owned and operated the Manor Bar & Grill for nearly five decades, says he’s running because Harrison “has taken a turn for the worse” and he wants to do whatever he can to reverse that course.

Married with one son, 18, Rodrigues is bothered by what he calls the town leaders’ “lack of respect” for the public. “I’ve been to town meetings and I’ve seen how they walk out when people ask certain questions. That’s an insult to the people who pay the taxes – the lifeblood of Harrison.”

“I would have longer town meetings,” Rodrigues said. “I want to hear (the public’s) side. Change has to start by being more responsive to people, and then take it from there.”

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