Now that the three state senators have made up their minds to run on the same Democratic ticket in the June primary and presumably in November, the only real political game worth watching in Hudson County – outside of the May trial of West New York Mayor Felix Roque – is the Jersey City municipal election.
Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, who also serves as the chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, should be given a prize for Herculean effort in bringing together two of the most contentious political figures in recent Hudson County history: state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and his cantankerous North Hudson neighbor, state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack.
In Homer’s Iliad, King Agamemnon had to deal with the unreasonable rage of only one warrior god in Achilles, while Smith had to deal with two. Somehow, traveling through Hudson County’s web of political fiefdoms, Smith managed to come to terms with both and avoid what might have become a very fractious political conflict that would have left the county’s political elite even more divided than they have been.
While Stack and Sacco may still glare across their common border in North Hudson, many other political figures who were being forced to pick a side may breathe a little easier.
However, the rumored price tag for peace may be that Stack has been forced to accept Hoboken Councilman Ravi Bhalla and retiring Jersey City Councilman William Gaughan as his Assembly candidates.
The biggest loser in this political peace may be Roque, who Stack may no longer need as much in his political feud, leaving Roque’s political enemies more time, energy, and resources to use against him even if the proposed recall doesn’t get off the ground.
As it is, a host of potential candidates are emerging to challenge Roque, including Commissioner Count Wiley, police officer Chuck Betancourt, former West New York Mayor Sal Vega, and others.
Vega, who is seeking support from a number of powers outside West New York, would like another shot at Roque now that some of the luster has worn off Roque. Many hope that Roque will be forced to step down as a result of charges that he and his son allegedly hacked into the website of a political opponent. Some believe Roque will agree to a plea deal and step down before the scheduled May trial, clearing the way for a special election. Those who know Roque best claim he won’t plead, and say his best chance is taking the case before a jury.
The big show is Jersey City
With no chance to see blood-letting between Stack and Sacco, most political observers are looking toward the Jersey City municipal election for their cheap thrills in a race that pits four mayoral hopefuls, two of which (Councilman Steve Fulop and Mayor Jeramiah Healy) actually rival the more contentious days of Merry Gerry McCann and his arch enemy, Anthony Cucci, in the 1980s.
Fulop and Healy have been shadow boxing for years in anticipation of this final round. At times it seemed like a David and Goliath match, with Fulop fighting an uphill battle. For a time Fulop seemed to have Healy on the ropes, but as of late the bout seems too close to call, and the candidate who makes the most mistakes will come out the loser.
While public events don’t always forecast political outcomes, the recent appearance of Healy in the Bayonne St. Patrick’s Day Parade in a group that also included state Sen. Sandra Cunningham could be a sign that Fulop may not get Cunningham’s support in his bid to become mayor. Even without some of the foolish gaffes by two of Fulop’s council candidates, Fulop has something a checkered history when it comes to Cunningham.
Fulop owes some of his rise to prominence to Cunningham’s husband, Glenn, whose own rise to power as mayor and later state senator remains part of a lasting legacy in the African American community. Even after Glenn’s death in 2004, Sandra supported Fulop’s efforts, only to watch Fulop endorse Lou Manzo against her in the last great Democratic civil war in 2008.
It is said that elephants and politicians have long memories, and 2008 isn’t very long ago. So Fulop should hope that Sandra chooses to stay out of the mayoral race entirely.
While Fulop appears to be holding his own in the election so far, he hasn’t yet fully embraced the idea that politicians actually need to meet and greet people, and that he needs to get out into communities beyond Ward E where people – ordinary people – might get to know him better.
Some people see Fulop more as a chess master than a typical politician, operating his vast army of workers from a remote location and relying on a well-oiled political machine to get out his vote.
Early on, Fulop’s team said it would run an issue-oriented campaign. And yet, week in and week out, the Fulop camp has gone negative on one or more of Healy’s running mates – sometimes to Fulop’s detriment, such as recent remarks in Ward D.
Of course, some people have compared the Healy campaign to a dead cat recently run over, except that every once in a while the dead cat might twitch. This has changed recently as the Healy camp gains momentum and may even soon get so excited it might rival the pace of a snail. Some believe Healy people are deliberately laid back, waiting for the Fulop’s mistakes to mount up. Indeed, Healy people are quick to point out these foibles and might make a campaign out of the misquotes Fulop’s candidates make. With six weeks to election day, the Healy snail might reach the other side of the road.