A whole year ahead of the primary to select candidates for the 2019 Hudson County Executive election, a number of prominent elected officials publicly called for a change of leadership.
“Today, we stand with State Senator Brian P. Stack, Mayor Steven M. Fulop, Mayor Felix Roque, and Mayor Ravinder Bhalla, as we collectively seek change in the leadership of Hudson County government,” said a statement released Thursday and signed by Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight, Jersey City freeholders Bill O’Dea and Joel Torres, Union City Freeholder Tilo Rivas, County Clerk E. Junior Maldonado, County Register Diane Coleman, and Jersey City Council members Joyce Watterman, Daniel Rivera, Denise Ridley and Jermaine Robinson.
The big question is: Who do these officials want to replace Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise? Do any of them plan to run, or do they have another candidate in mind?
And why make the announcement so early?
Some reports suggest Fulop will run in 2019. Other rumors suggest Bhalla might, although his spokesman “categorically” denied this on Friday morning. (Bhalla is nevertheless holding a fundraiser in Hoboken later this month, less than three months into his four-year term.)
Both mayors have run for higher office in the past.
Hudson County’s highest-ranking Democrat, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, had not weighed in on the controversy by the end of last week, but is widely expected to support DeGise.
DeGise is disappointed, but running
DeGise issued a statement confirming his plan to run for re-election in the 2019 Democratic primary: “I’m disappointed but not surprised by today’s announcement by Mayor Fulop and Mayor Stack, but it does nothing to change the fact that I’m running for re-election as County Executive in 2019,” he said. “I have run and won seven elections in Jersey City and five countywide elections.”
A more combative statement came from Philip Swibinski, spokesman for the DeGise campaign: “Many Jersey City Democrats support both Mayor Fulop and County Executive DeGise, but Tom is the only one who will be on the ballot in 2019. Tom DeGise enjoys widespread support among mayors and Democratic leaders throughout the county and the state.”
Swibinski said DeGise has the support of U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, State Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis and several other Hudson County mayors. DeGise said he will release names of additional supporters in the coming days.
“I have known Tom DeGise for a long time, and it’s clear that he is a person of unquestionable integrity and determination,” said Congressman Sires. “I’m proud to support Tom and will do everything I can to ensure that he is re-elected.”
“Tom DeGise has been a true partner and friend to North Bergen,” said Mayor Sacco, announcing his support.
Mayor Davis did as well. “He has done so much to help our team revitalize Bayonne,” he said. “Hudson County needs a leader like Tom and I’m completely behind him.”
Other announced DeGise supporters include Guttenberg Mayor Wayne Zitt, Secaucus Mayor Mike Gonnelli, Kearny Mayor Al Santos, Harrison Mayor James Fife, and East Newark Mayor Joseph Smith.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised by today’s announcement by Mayor Fulop and Mayor Stack, but it does nothing to change the fact that I’m running for re-election as county executive in 2019.” – Tom DeGise
First major political war in a decade
This will be the first major political civil war in Hudson County since 2007-2008, when Stack led an alternative ticket against the traditional ticket supported by the political machine, the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) and Sacco.
Ultimately, Stack was the only winner on his ticket. But in the upcoming war, Stack has the backing of powerful mayors, making this threat very credible.
This declaration of war over DeGise’s seat in 2019, however, may well begin with a conflict this year when Democrats from around the county will have to vote to replace outgoing HCDO chairman Vincent Prieto. Until this announcement, most people assumed that Stack would be voted in as the new chairman.
Whoever becomes chairman in June will determine which candidate will get the official Democratic line in the 2019 election. Generally, the candidate supported by the HCDO wins.
But the conflict over DeGise may spill over into a fight for the chairmanship when the county committee meets in June, as DeGise supporters seek to keep Stack from becoming chairman in order to save DeGise.
To this end, friends of DeGise have announced the formation of the Jersey City for DeGise Committee. The committee is made up of a diverse group of current and former elected officials who are supporting the county executive for re-election and will be working hard to ensure that the DeGise campaign wins Jersey City in the 2019 Democratic primary, no matter who his opponent will be.
“Tom DeGise is going to win, because under his leadership Hudson County has gone from the most corrupt county to the most progressive county in the state of New Jersey, and the residents of Jersey City know that and will show it next June,” said Ward D Councilman Michael Yun.
This committee includes Jersey City council members Yun and Rich Boggiano, Jersey City Board of Education Trustee Amy DeGise (Tom DeGise’s daughter,) former Jersey City Mayor Jerremiah Healy, former Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, former Assemblyman Sean Connors, former Councilman Peter Brennan, and former Councilman Ben Lopez. More members are expected to be named shortly.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.