The June 3 primary battle in Hudson County ended as a victory for the long-time Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), which managed to fend off all but one challenger in five contested races for seats on the Board of Freeholders.
Slightly more than 31,000 Democratic voters turned out for the election out of 161,000 registered Democrats, just short of 20 percent. Republicans brought out about 3,600 from slightly more than 25,000 registered voters, for a turnout of about 13 percent.
Democrats U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Albio Sires in the 8th District, and Rep. Bill Pascrell in the 9th District ran unopposed. Rep. Donald Payne won against four primary challengers with 90 percent of the vote in the 10th District.
Joseph Ryglicki ran unopposed for Hudson County surrogate and will be the Democratic candidate in the fall to replace retiring Surrogate Donald DeLeo.
Also unopposed were Freeholder Bill O’Dea in District 2 in Jersey City, Freeholder Junior Maldonado in District 3 in Jersey City, and Freeholder Al Cifelli in District 9.
Maldonado, who was named to the freeholder seat last year to fill in the unexpired term of Freeholder Eliu Rivera, was jubilant after the polls closed.
“Now I’m running for my first full term,” he said during the celebration in Jersey City. “It feels great and I was part of a great team.”
Because of the retirement of Freeholder Thomas Liggio, Maldonado will move up in the freeholder ranking and will likely become freeholder chairman next year.
“Overall the HCDO did well,” said HCDO Chairman Vincent Prieto. “Stick Romano beat us in Hoboken. But he is a nice guy.”
For Prieto, who took over as chairman last year, this is the first primary election run under his watch. He said this shows that the HCDO is growing stronger.
He said as chairman he meets with the mayors of all 12 municipalities in Hudson County – even those who are considered independent, like Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli.
“He’s really a Democrat anyway,” Prieto said.
By meeting with mayors, Prieto said, he learns what the issues are and helps broaden the base of leadership in the party so that all feel included in decisions made.
Romano beats the odds
Incumbent Hoboken/Jersey City Freeholder Anthony Romano in District 5 managed to defeat challenger Phil Cohen, even though Cohen had the support of Jersey Mayor Steven Fulop, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and the HCDO.
“Stick Romano had the confidence of the voters in Hoboken and Jersey City Heights, so it was not a surprise he won,” said Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, during a happy but subdued gathering at Casino in the Park in Jersey City after the election.
Romano won with more than 60 percent of the vote, and won with a ballot position that was not lined up with the HCDO ticket that included Booker and Sires.
In primaries, Democrats tend to vote along a particular ticket – called “voting the line.” In this case, Democrats in District 5 located Romano’s name elsewhere on the ballot enough times for him to win decisively.
Several political observers said Romano reunited the “Old Guard” who oppose Zimmer in Hoboken, a group that was fractured during the three-way Hoboken municipal race last November. But Romano tried to dispel this idea.
“This not about Old Hoboken and new; it is about all of Hoboken and Jersey City Heights coming together,” he said just after the victory was announced. “People are tired of the fighting and want results. They do not care if it is old Jersey City or new, Old Hoboken or new.”
In District 6 in Union City, Freeholder Tilo Rivas defeated challenge Jose Falto with 88 percent of the vote. Rivas was backed by the HCDO as well as Union City Mayor Brian Stack. Rivas also won reelection in May as Union City commissioner.
Kopacz wins Bayonne
In Freeholder District 1, which includes all of Bayonne and a small portion of Jersey City, HCDO-backed Kenneth Kopacz – with more than 65 percent of the vote – beat Rafael Augusto. Kopacz will serve as Democratic candidate against independent candidate Michael Alonso.
“Ken represents the Democratic values we all fight for – standing up for working families, providing a great education, and holding the line on property taxes,” said Mayor Mark Smith. “He is a fresh, dynamic leader that will make an impact his first day serving on the freeholder board. I would like to thank Doreen for her many years of dedicated service.”
Kopacz, 34, is a life-long Bayonne resident and the principal of Washington Community Elementary School.
“I want to thank the residents of Bayonne for their vote and confidence in my leadership,” said Kopacz.
In District 3 in Jersey City, HCDO-backed Gerard Balmir won a four-way race for freeholder against Emeralda Trinidad, Arnold Williams and Freeholder Jeffrey Dublin.
Although Dublin received nearly 40 percent of the vote, he lost the critical Ward F area of Jersey City decisively and marginally lost Ward A.
Balmir had strong support from Mayor Steven Fulop and the HCDO.
Rodriguez beats Munoz
In District 7, West New York Commissioner Caridad Rogriquez successfully beat Freeholder Jose Munoz to become the Democratic candidate for freeholder in November.
Although he was the incumbent, Munoz had lost the endorsement of the HCDO, and was opposed by a significant coalition of North Hudson leadership. This election was seen as a bellwether for a possible mayoral campaign for Munoz in 2015 in West New York.
“I’m wounded, but I’m not dead yet,” he said, evaluating an election in which he got 40 percent of the vote, while Rodriquez received nearly 60 percent.
A staunch critic of West New York Mayor Felix Roque, Munoz could not quite bring together the numerous factions that had opposed Roque in the past.
“Cari was also a very good candidate,” said Pablo Fosenca, who ran most of the campaign. “We ran a very positive campaign, even when our opponent went negative.”
DeGise said the HCDO kept an eye on the West New York race because Munoz put a lot of money and effort into the race. He said Mayor Roque has become a strong player in the HCDO team, working with other leaders to help make the victory possible.
In District 8, which covers all of North Bergen and a portion of Secaucus, Anthony Vainieri Jr. defeated Henry Marrero with about 83 percent.
Both candidates were seeking to become the Democratic nominee to replace retiring Freeholder Thomas Liggio. Vainieri had both the backing of the HCDO and in particular, of North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
Vainieri will face Republican Francis Bruno in the general election in November.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.