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Don’t mess with Cunningham

A telephone poll conducted in Jersey City and Bayonne in mid-January was apparently paid for by South Jersey political boss George Norcross in an attempt to evaluate state Sen. Sandra Cunningham’s strength in the 31st District.

In the political mix appears to be an ongoing fight for president of the state Senate, a title currently held by Norcross ally Senator Steven Sweeney, but which some Hudson County Democrats would like to change.

Cunningham is considered a strong vote for Sweeney. But State Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco appears to be leaning elsewhere, and may even be thinking of seeking the position himself, now that he’s stepped down from one of his three government positions as vice principal at the Schools of Technology. With more time on his hands, running the state Senate might be in the cards for Sacco, though most likely not.

Like Cunningham, State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack also has ties to Sweeney, but he can’t be unseated by popular vote the way Cunningham could be. However, Stack could be pressured into abandoning Sweeney because his town relies heavily on state-issued transitional aid.

Stack has been careful in the past to make sure that he’s maintained a good relationship with New Jersey governors who generally authorized that aid. This was the logic behind his support of Gov. Christopher Christie. While Union City has one of the few thriving downtown shopping districts, it lacks the waterfront that has allowed its neighbors to develop the luxury buildings that comprise the so-called Gold Coast. But the state aid has allowed the city to develop a model school system, affordable seniors housing, and open parks.

Stack has a good relationship with Sweeney, and, in 2015 was going to support Sweeney’s bid for governor despite his personal friendship with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who had intended to oppose Sweeney in this year’s primary. But two years is a lifetime in politics, and when Fulop pulled out of the race, and a seismic shift took place that sent Fulop and Sweeney into the camp of Phil Murphy, Stack went with Murphy, too.

If the anti-Sweeney forces vying for the Senate presidency manage to get Murphy on their bandwagon, Stack may be forced to abandon his loyalty to Sweeney.

Old slights not forgotten

Rumor suggests that Sacco dislikes Norcross and, because Norcross basically pulls Sweeney’s strings, Sacco doesn’t like Sweeney either. This may have to do with the mistaken belief that Norcross encouraged the Christie administration to conduct investigations in North Bergen. Some close to Norcross say that simply isn’t true. But in politics, when a thought like this gets into someone’s head, facts rarely matter – as certain national conflicts show these days.

Sacco may also be sore about a reform bill Sweeney helped broker that went after politicians with multiple jobs or offices. Sacco, until recently, held three positions, making him the poster child for Christie’s criticism.

Norcross, however, doesn’t abandon friends, and Sweeney apparently has scheduled a fundraiser for Cunningham.

Fulop’s dilemma

All this backstabbing poses a real problem for Fulop.

While Fulop is no longer in competition with Sweeney for the Democratic nomination for governor, he has to worry what might happen if someone such as Sacco manages to dump Cunningham.

Cunningham might be enticed to run for mayor – and in the upcoming municipal race in Jersey City, she could beat Fulop.

Fulop may have other gripes with Sacco. One reliable report said that Sacco wanted too much in the way of naming cabinet appointees if Fulop successfully ran for governor, one of the many reasons Fulop may have pulled out of the governor’s race. But it appears that Fulop would like to make Sean Connors an undersheriff to keep Connors from running for council in Ward D. Since the sheriff’s department patronage is in the hands of Sacco, Fulop can’t make it happen on his own, and apparently Sacco won’t give Connors the job.

Sacco is walking a fine line because such a north-south conflict could result in support for opposition in North Bergen. Fulop and Cunningham might well throw their support behind Larry Wainstein’s expected mayoral run against Sacco.

National politics will loom over Jersey City mayoral

Fulop’s run for mayor may be hampered by national politics. Fulop needs Ward E to come out en masse for his reelection to help overcome possible opposition in the other wards. His base is considered home to the most progressive voters in the city. This is part of the reason Fulop has been very upfront with his progressive agenda. But he has to also balance this with a more practical element involving redevelopment. Many of the most ardent Fulop supporters came out to a recent rally against President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants, and some of the signs blasted Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and chief advisor. The Kushner family is part of the most recent wave of redevelopment in Jersey City, starting with the second Trump Tower in the Powerhouse District, and they are now key players in the redevelopment of Journal Square. Fulop opponents for mayor have already said they intend to make Kushner’s closeness to Trump an issue in the campaign.

No race yet in Hoboken

The Hoboken mayoral race has yet to officially take off, if it ever does. The only declared candidate is Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

Freeholder Anthony Romano said he will seek the Democratic nomination to retain his freeholder seat in June first, and then decide if he will run for mayor. But he has put together a serious campaign staff that includes Pablo Fonseca, who record includes running successful mayoral elections in Newark for Cory Booker, and in West New York for Felix Roque. Romano apparently has also contracted with longstanding Vision Media and well as others.

The Hudson County Democratic Organization has not yet announced if they will support him for freeholder or give their support to an as-yet-unnamed Zimmer candidate.

Some anti-Zimmer people are still hoping to put together a ticket that would have Councilman Michael DeFusco running for mayor. DeFusco was a protégé of former Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons, one of the chief architects of the Old Guard in Hoboken who had also worked with reformers at times. DeFusco has the ability to transcend traditional political divides and could become a nightmare for Zimmer if he runs.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com

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