Political war brewing over county exec seat

Fulop, Stack, Bhalla, Roque call for change in county leadership

An entire 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, was expected to support DeGise.

DeGise fires back

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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.”
He said later in the week that he believes Fulop and Stack are trying to extend their county influence, especially Fulop after his failed run for governor and state Senate, and after Jersey City’s recent reevaluation that gave many residents higher property taxes.
Stack and Fulop broke the news to DeGise at North Bergen’s Coach House diner the same day as their statement, DeGise said. By the time DeGise returned to his home, five minutes from Coach House, a reporter called him about the statement. “So they had it all planned out,” DeGise said. “They couldn’t have done it that fast—it was planned.”
DeGise also took aim at Hoboken Mayor Bhalla’s low victory numbers from the Nov. 2017 mayoral race, in which he faced five opponents. “He won with 32 percent of the vote, so I’ll take the other 68,” DeGise said.
The county executive gave these pointed comments before a press conference announcing federal funds for the Route 3 bridge in North Bergen March 9.
“It’s certainly counterproductive, destructive,” he said.
He claimed that three weeks ago, Stack urged him to run again.
Philip Swibinski, spokesman for the DeGise campaign, 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.
In Weehawken, Mayor Richard Turner could not be reached for comment.
“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.”
“I assumed that everyone was supporting Tom DeGise,” Sacco said, about his support. “So when the other factions said, ‘No,’ I ended up going with Tom DeGise”
Mayor Davis had support 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.
West New York Mayor Felix Roque is one of the mayors opposing DeGise. “DeGise is a phenomenal person I have a lot of respect for,” Roque said. But “we need someone with fresh ideas to make Hudson County a powerhouse for other counties to emulate.”

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“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

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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 asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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