In the old days, when people only had to worry about surviving a Soviet nuclear attack, they could be comforted by hiding under their desks at work or school, knowing once the blast wave hit, everything was over.
The danger with the ongoing political war in Hudson County is that we will be living with the aftermath. Regardless of who wins, ordinary people are going to suffer, not from radiation poisoning, but from a new round of political patronage as the winner makes a grab for the big bucks of legal and other contracts.
And it’s not just a war with two sides anymore.
Hudson County has always been a multi-faceted entity with as many angles as there are players, and fiefdoms within fiefdoms as players vie to get the most.
A lot of people like to point to North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Union City Mayor Brian Stack and blame them for the troubles in Hudson County. But there is more than enough blame to go around, and in many cases, players behind the scenes are benefiting off stoking up the hatred between those two men in order to keep their own interests alive.
If you don’t do business with the same small group of people in Hudson County, you’re not seen as a team player and eventually, you wind up being isolated and perhaps destroyed.
In the current war, the biggest losers are Sacco and Stack, because in many ways, they are becoming more isolated day by day.
Stack’s critics claim that he alienates his friends, and that he has lost many of his key people over the last few years. In truth, many of these people appear to have signed up with Stack to get jobs, contracts and such, and when they didn’t get what they wanted, they went to Sacco, who appears to be more than willing to reward them with jobs in places like the sheriff’s department under the misconception that he was weakening Stack in what is called “the chair theory.”
More than one political observer has said that Stack’s inner circle grows thin, and that the Sacco strategy is to reduce Stack’s inner circle to fewer and fewer people so that he will eventually have nobody left to depend on.
Truth is, Stack has always had this problem with defections. Like all reform groups that seize power, Stack supporters helped him get where he is because many of them thought they would get something out of him they could not get out of his predecessors. When they couldn’t, they left.
As Niccolo Machiavelli once pointed out, “A prince is always compelled to injure those that made him the new ruler.”
These followers work hard, expecting to get patronage no new leader can afford to give them, since in taking over, the new leader must also keep many of the people happy who are already there. Since Stack’s power base was built on the masses and not the political elite, he has managed to offend many of the powerful groups such as local unions, preferring to hand out turkeys to the hungry than give raises.
New age politicos they’re not
Politics in North Hudson somewhat resembles that of Hoboken. Unable to build a consensus against Stack in Union City, Stack’s opponents have taken to the internet. Unfortunately, old school and new age don’t quite mix, and it is difficult to fit a typical North Hudson political street guy with an iPad and expect him to do anything other than drop it on his own foot.
While we get a lot of internet ranting about corruption and such, Sacco people know they can’t beat Stack in Union City, so the logic is to make him such an outcast and paint him as such a lunatic that power brokers outside Union City won’t take his side in a countywide conflict.
Unfortunately, North Bergen is losing a number of its key players, too, and not because of dissatisfaction with Sacco. He’s loyal to his followers to a fault, and usually has enough patronage jobs to dole out – thanks to Hudson County Schools of Technology, the Hudson County Sheriff’s office and other such entities – that many of his workers would fall on their sword rather than hurt him, and certainly would not leave on their own accord.
Some, however, are leaving in handcuffs, such as the recently convicted former DPW supervisor, James Wiley, and Deputy Director of Public Works Timothy Grossi, who was recently indicted by a state grand jury for allegedly ordering employees to work on political campaigns and to perform his household chores along with chores at other homes while they were being paid by the township. Reports suggest other key players are to follow.
Until his car accident disabled him, Grossi was one of Sacco’s most reliable street people, an organizer of significant ability that helped keep Sacco’s organization running well.
The Stack-Sacco feud is being closely watched by others outside the conflict, many of whom would profit from the demise of either. There are a significant number of contracts currently benefiting firms politically connected to Sacco which would become available if his influence diminished.
It is in the interest of these sideline power brokers to play Sacco off against Stack, or vice versa, with the hopes that one or both self-destruct.
A nuclear holocaust for these brokers would have Sacco and Stack somehow mending fences and dividing county patronage between them.
But don’t expect this to happen any time soon. More likely, both sides will get egged on into declaring open warfare. This will do even more damage to them, the Democratic Party, and worse, ordinary taxpayers who will have to pay the tab for satisfying the new round of patronage greed when a new political boss rises to take their place.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.