Battle for the heart and soul of the HCDO

The swearing in of a Union City police lieutenant as a county undersheriff has set off a firestorm of speculation about whether State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack will emerge as the most powerful political figure in Hudson County.
Stack’s senate district includes Union City, Hoboken, Weehawken, and half of Jersey City.
Already predicted as the new chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), Stack could begin taking over other patronage mills such as the Hudson County Sheriff’s office, which would mean a significant shift of power.
Currently, jobs in the sheriff’s office and the Hudson County Schools of Technology are controlled by state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco – whose district includes North Bergen, Secaucus, West New York, Guttenberg and western Hudson County.
The construction of the new Schools of Technology campus in Secaucus will mean that Sacco or his heir will continue to control those jobs. But the sheriff’s office may well shift to Stack.
Last year, Stack saw a political ally named as Hudson County prosecutor as well.
But some political observers believe the undersheriff appointment was does not indicate that Sacco will relinquish control of the lucrative patronage rich sheriff’s department any time soon.
Some even question whether Sacco will allow Stack to take over as chair of the HCDO.
While the road seems clear at the moment, Stack may find roadblocks later when the vote of county committee people is actually held.
The reelection of Anthony Vainieri as chairman of the Hudson County freeholder board may indicate some opposition to Stack in controlling the Democratic party in Hudson County. Vainieri is seen even by some Stack people as Sacco’s heir apparent in North Bergen, and since chair has rotated from freeholder to freeholder over the last decade, his reappointment ahead of the HCDO reorganization in June may suggest Sacco may not surrender control of the HCDO so easily.
Currently, Sacco ally Assemblyman Vincent Prieto serves as HCDO chair. Until this month, Prieto also served as speaker of the state Assembly. His ongoing conflicts with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney proved Prieto’s undoing, especially battles over expansion of gambling outside Atlantic City. In nearly every case, Sweeney outfoxed Prieto, though the bitterness lingered even into the last lame duck session where Prieto refused to introduce legislation in the Assembly that Sweeney shepherded through the senate.
On Jan. 2, Craig Coughlin was sworn in as the new Assembly speaker, a huge loss of clout for Hudson County, signaling a shift of state power from Hudson County to southern New Jersey.
The membership of the Democratic caucus in November designated Coughlin (D-Middlesex) to lead the Assembly during the 2018-19 legislative session. Coughlin will oversee an Assembly led by Democrats 54-26, the largest Democratic majority since 1978.

Stack on key Senate committees

But Stack appears to have become the remaining beacon of hope for Hudson Democrats.
Stack has been named to several key committees in the state Senate, including chairmanship of the Legislative Oversight Committee and the Judiciary Committee, two committees that have taken lead roles in examining NJ Transit operations.
Since Governor-elect Phil Murphy has already focused on NJ Transit’s operations as problematic, Stack will likely become a very powerful force in the future. Stack is also a member of the Community & Urban Affairs Committee, which significantly impacts aid and other issues to larger cities in the state.
Stack’s endorsement of Murphy and the massive block of votes Stack brought to the Murphy campaign will play well for Union City and allow Stack to bring home sizable state aid. Stack’s positive relationship with outgoing Gov. Christopher Christie allowed state aid to help bolster the municipality and schools.
A similar relationship with Murphy will likely do more of the same.
Sacco was named as member of the Senate Transportation Committee as well as the Law & Public Safety Committee.
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, whose district includes half of Jersey City and all of Bayonne, returns to the new legislative session as chair of the Higher Education Committee. But she also will be a sitting member of the very powerful and influential Budget & Appropriations Committee, and is a member of the Labor Committee as well.

McGreevey remembers Brendan Byrne

While many people have commented about the death of former Gov. Brendan Byrne in early January, few kept in as close contact as former Gov. Jim McGreevey.
“I was just with him last week,” McGreevey said, when contacted just after the news broke. “He was a tremendous leader and leaves an amazing legacy.”
Byrne served as governor from 1977 to 1985, overseeing the establishment of the state’s first income tax as well as the development of casino gambling in Atlantic City. He was also known as a politician that could not be bought as a result of a recording released from an FBI sting quoting an organized crime figure.
Some of the things Byrne will be remembered for are the establishment of a state income tax. While unpopular at the time, it kept the state solvent. He is also credited with preservation of the state’s clean water through a Highlands Preservation act.
“I saw him on New Year’s and we were having champagne together,” McGreevey said. “He asked me what the percentage of alcohol was in it. I told him it was apple cider.”
McGreevey said people came to respect the hard decisions that Byrne had to make, and how Byrne while governor used the income tax to invest in roads and infrastructure as well as to provide property tax relief, McGreevey said.
Byrne had friends in both parties, partly because it was a less partisan time, McGreevey said, adding, “He had Irish charm, but he took governance seriously.”

Al Sullivan may be reached at