HOBOKEN, N.J. — Mayor Peter Cammarano III resigned Friday, one month after taking office and a week after vowing to fight federal corruption charges against him while remaining on the job.
Cammarano, who won a June runoff election and was sworn in on July 1, was snared last week in a sweeping federal corruption probe that resulted in the arrests of 44 people, including rabbis and public officials.
The 32-year-old — Hoboken's youngest mayor — sent a letter to the city clerk on Friday saying his resignation was effective at noon. City Council President Dawn Zimmer entered the city council chamber to a standing ovation and was sworn in moments later as the city's first female acting mayor.
"I apologize to the residents of Hoboken for the disruption and disappointment this case has caused," Cammarano said in his resignation letter.
Cammarano, an election-law attorney, is accused of accepting $25,000 in bribes in exchange for help on a purported high-rise building project in the city. He was the second elected official to resign in the wake of the arrests. Later Friday, Republican Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt of Forked River, became the third to step down.
In Cammarano's letter and through his attorney, he reiterated his innocence and said he still intends to fight the charges.
"It became clear in the past six or seven days that, given the controversy surrounding his case, he could not perform his duties," said Cammarano attorney Joseph Hayden. "It was injurious to Hoboken government for him to stay in there, not to mention the fact that the controversy was a burden on his family."
Gov. Jon Corzine had praised Cammarano as a rising star in the Democratic Party. But that turned to disgust after Cammarano's arrest and Corzine announced on Thursday that the mayor would resign.
Corzine welcomed Cammarano's resignation Friday and called on any elected official under scrutiny for public corruption to follow suit.
"It would be impossible for any individual under this cloud to govern effectively, and it is their responsibility to act in the best interest of New Jersey's citizens and step aside," Corzine said.
Zimmer, who lost the June 10 runoff election to Cammarano by 161 votes, said he called her Friday morning and wished her luck.
"I am committed to open, honest government and to set a new direction for Hoboken," she said.
A special election will be held in November to fill the remainder of Cammarano's term; Zimmer said she plans to run for it.
Van Pelt announced at his lawyer's office in Toms River that he would vacate his 9th District Assembly seat, saying that his continued service would be "a distraction."
In a news conference, Van Pelt said in the months ahead he plans to "simply tell the truth" and hopefully prove he was worthy of the public's trust.
He said he was advised not to take reporters' questions.
Assembly Republican leader Alex DeCroce said Van Pelt's decision was correct, given the circumstances. Earlier in the week, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. stripped Van Pelt and two other assemblymen facing corruption charges of their salary and benefits. The other two — L. Harvey Smith of Jersey City and Joseph Vas of Perth Amboy, who is charged in a separate case — remain in the Legislature.
Cammarano's arrest came at a tough time for Hoboken, which has become a bedroom community of sorts for Manhattan professionals. Financial industry layoffs have hit the city hard, flooding the real-estate market with homes for sale or rent.
Residents seemed relieved Cammarano is leaving office. Many have protested outside the mayor's home and at City Hall with signs that said "Shame on You" and "Resign."
Dinorah Vargas, 50, a lifelong Hoboken resident, said she didn't vote for Cammarano and was hopeful his resignation would be the start of reform in the one-square-mile waterfront town that served as the setting for "On the Waterfront," the 1954 Marlon Brando film about crookedness on the docks.
"I'm glad it's over," said Vargas. "We have to move forward, and I think it's going to be a different city."
Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, who was among those arrested in the corruption sweep, resigned earlier this week.