In fact, many of the gifts that might have been bestowed on political people were settled with the recent elections, and others will look to the New Year for some resolution.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop is happier in the aftermath of the regular and runoff municipal elections, although he clearly was forced to settle for something other than what he wanted now that the U.S. Senate seat is being denied him. The hung jury and corruption mistrial of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez is perhaps the best present Menendez could hope to get, allowing him to retain his dignity as a Democrat who stands up even to his own party. Menendez, unlike many other Democrats, doesn’t follow the usual thinktank script. This got him into deep trouble with former President Barack Obama when Menendez opposed the Iran nuclear deal and the opening of relations with Cuba without major concessions.
In retaining his seat, however, Menendez promises to deliver a stocking full of coal to a lot of people who hoped to benefit by his demise, among whom are former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli and possibly Mayor Fulop.
Last year, Santa was also unkind, denying Fulop his chance to run for governor.
In the upcoming year, Fulop will have to decide whether he will want to seek to become a member of Congress or wait two years.
Since Rep. Albio Sires – whose seat Fulop would aspire to get – has been a staunch supporter of Menendez, Fulop should have second thoughts about taking him on until he’s made peace with Menendez.
Hudson County lost power statewide
But everybody wants something, and politicians are no different. So when each sits on Santa’s lap they whisper their most secret desires, and it is up to the public to guess what people want.
County Executive Tom DeGise got what he wanted this year, but he may actually want a lifelong golfing pass, leaving others such as Freeholder Bill O’Dea to covet his seat. Rumors suggest that DeGise may not finish his new term, paving the way for O’Dea to become the new county executive.
What may be a gift for some can also be coal in the stocking for others, such as the pending takeover of the Hudson County Democratic Organization by state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack – a dream come true ever since the 2008 Democratic civil war. Although Stack and his former rival, state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, have made peace, Stack’s ascension to the pinnacle of power in Hudson County suggests that Sacco’s power may be waning – not just in Hudson County, but statewide.
Sen. Steve Sweeney, a frontman for south Jersey political boss George Norcross, gave Hudson County, Fulop, and Sacco a heavy load of coal when he pronounced the death of a dream to expand casino gambling to North Jersey this week.
The failure to get voters to approve a referendum to expand casinos on the ballot in 2016 is seen as one of the great losses of then Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, and may have been one of the signs of a shift of statewide political power from North to South Jersey that has since taken place.
Prieto was so aligned with Sacco that his fall from grace also affects Sacco’s power base.
This is not to say that this should provide any hope for Sacco adversary Larry Wainstein. Most political observers believe Wainstein’s good numbers in the last election against Sacco are about the best he will ever get.
Sacco’s heir apparent is likely Freeholder Chairman Anthony Vainieri, though there will likely be other contenders before that transition of power takes place.
Some people are born lucky
West New York Mayor Felix Roque has been given so many gifts from Santa over his first two terms, you have to wonder about how lucky a man could be, surviving federal and state charges despite perpetual predictions of doom. This year, the victory of his Board of Education ticket bodes well for his political future, showing that he is stronger than ever.
Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli must have done something right in another life to get so many gifts from Santa every year. Not only did he win as mayor again this year, but did so after recovering from a stroke a year earlier. Gonnelli, of course, will still have to face a challenge in the upcoming year as his arch rival, Tom Troyer has vowed to challenge Gonnelli ally Jim Clancy for the 2nd Ward council set next November.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner may already have received the best gift Santa could provide, as the results of the recent re-evaluation of assessed properties came out less onerous than many predicted. Although the reval could become a campaign issue against him if anyone is brave enough to take him on in the next election cycle.
Santa, however, appears to have bestowed his best gift on newly-elected Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, though it will be a gift with a challenge. Bhalla benefited significantly from a divided Old Hoboken vote as well as an endorsement from outgoing Mayor Dawn Zimmer. But he will face a divided City Council when he is sworn in on Jan. 1. He will need to negotiate with a council that has three, possibly four factions, and how he navigates this turbulent water will test his leadership abilities.
The future is uncertain
In Bayonne, where former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell is trying to unseat Mayor Jimmy Davis, Santa appears to be holding back his gifts. Each candidate will likely try to make a case as to why the other should get a sock full of coal. O’Donnell will likely challenge the city’s sudden propensity for awarding tax abatements to developers, while Davis will argue that these spur new growth in the city. But these discounts to developers come at a time when the city is still facing a massive budget shortfall, and it will be up to Davis to make a case that abatements will help fill the budget gap rather than seem like a gift to developers.
Many Democrats throughout the county think newly-elected Gov. Phil Murphy is Santa Claus and will help them solve school funding, pension and other issues. While Santa appears to have been kind to Murphy in allowing him to win the seat of governor, he will be tested in a way few other governors have in the past, confronted not just by state funding issues, but expected cut backs from the GOP federal government, steering federal funding away from Democratic states to GOP states. Much of Murphy’s next four years will depend upon the ability of national Democrats to retake control of the U.S. Senate in November 2018.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.