Just when things became too peaceful, the Hudson County Democrats may be on the verge of another political civil war. This would be the most significant infighting between Democrats since the 2007 uprising.
State Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco appears to want become the state Senate president in a move that would unseat the current president, downstate Sen. Steve Sweeney.
Sacco’s attempt to get to the top of the heap may be the result of Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop’s withdrawal from the governor’s race last October.
Several insiders claim Sacco wanted to name a number of Fulop’s cabinet appointees. This may well be one of the reasons why Fulop withdrew from the governor’s race, refusing to play the role of a political puppet.
In order for Sacco to become Senate president, he has to line up votes in Hudson, Bergen and Essex counties. The problem for him is that state Senator Sandra Cunningham and State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack have had a close relationship with Sweeney for years.
Sacco supporters believe that Stack might be moved to support Sacco’s bid for Senate president if Phil Murphy – the leading Democratic candidate for governor – were to ask him. Cunningham, however, would be a more significant problem for Sacco.
Getting rid of Cunningham may be a problem
Recently reports suggested that Assemblywoman Angela McKnight might challenge Cunningham in the upcoming primary. This means the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) could withdraw its support for Cunningham. McKnight is currently serving as assemblywoman in the 31st District where Cunningham is senator.
In the midst of this conflict, Bayonne Board of Education Trustee Christopher Munoz is expected to announce an alternative ticket for state Assembly. His running mate Kristen Zadroga Hart is a coordinator for athletics in the Jersey City school district.
These two could very possibly be running with Cunningham against the HCDO ticket in June.
This could leave an opening for the return of former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell to run for the state assembly on the ticket headed by McKnight –with Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti running for reelection. This would have two assembly members from Bayonne, instead of historically one from Jersey City. A successful return to the assembly could position O’Donnell for a mayoral run in Bayonne next year.
What, me worry?
South Jersey political boss George Norcross, who is behind Sweeney, does not believe Sacco can pull off the upset, but is scheduling a fundraiser for Cunningham at the Liberty House in Jersey City later in March.
Most likely, however, if Fulop supports Cunningham, the HCDO will back off and will allow her to run on the main Democratic line during the primary.
The bid for state Senate president could also be a critical test of how powerful Sacco really is. If he fails to unseat Sweeney, that could be the first sign of serious weakness going into another municipal election next year.
Is Wefer for real?
Sacco is not the only Hudson County political with delusions of grandeur. In Hoboken, Dana Wefer, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council two years ago, has decided to run for governor as a Republican.
This is more than a little shocking, since Wefer is considered a staunch liberal Democrat. While she claims she is doing this because she is unhappy with both political parties, political observers believe that she may be part of a deal that would help weaken Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in the upcoming Republican primary.
Guadagno is largely seen as the front runner to get the Republican nomination, although the field now includes Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, and once believed long shot South Jersey business owner Joseph Rullo coming from behind. As the only other female candidate, Wefer could help divert some of the Republican women’s vote away from Guadagno.
More importantly, as a female candidate, Wefer can wage a war on Guadagno that male candidates might not be able to, setting the stage for the regular election when Murphy can raise these same issues against a weakened Guadagno.
This, of course, makes sense since Wefer is very loyal to Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who in turn was a very early Murphy supporter.
Rullo was once seen as a long shot
On the other hand, Wefer might succeed in derailing the Guadagno campaign, and could result in Republican Rullo being nominated.
Rullo, who paid Hudson County a visit, last week, has a Trump-like agenda. Although not quite as extreme as Trump, Rullo has a similar kind of off the cuff politics and a conservative view. He sees himself as one of the three top Republican candidates.
“I announced early,” he said. “Like everybody else, I’m sick and tired about how things are being done in this state, and I want to fix them. What I do comes from my heart and common sense.”
A vocal critic of Gov. Chris Christie’s handling of the aftermath of the Sandy superstorm in 2012, Rullo said he is concerned about people fleeing New Jersey because of high property taxes, and the significant losses to small business. Unlike Christie, Rullo would support recreational marijuana, and would tax this to cover pension payments. He is also proud of the fact that he was one of the first in New Jersey to endorse Trump for president. He said he opposes establishment Republican candidates like Guadagno, and see Murphy as following in the footsteps of Jon Corzine.
“Murphy will raise taxes so much that we will miss Christie,” he said.
Up the wrong luxury tower?
Protesters finally discovered that there are Trump Towers in Jersey City and set up a protest in front of one on Feb. 25, vowing to not let Jared Kushner benefit financially from his development in Jersey City.
While Jared Kushner, son-in-law to President Donald Trump, is prominent behind the scenes in Jersey City, he has also been a voice of moderation in advising Trump on LGBTQ rights. Ironically, many of those protesting his business dealings in Jersey City are also leaders of the LGBTQ community.
Protestors are expected to renew their efforts at the March 8 City Council meeting to try to force the city to forbid tax breaks to Kushner projects. According to Fulop, however, Jared Kushner’s project received no tax abatements. Projects slated for other parts of the city, such as Journal Square, do receive tax breaks, but these projects are run by Murray Kushner, Jared’s uncle, and Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, both of whom have significant ties to both Republicans and Democrats over the years.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org