Moves made at a West New York Board of Commissioners meeting in March could set the stage for the removal of Dr. Felix Roque as mayor in April. There is apparently pressure on the commissioners, coming from outside West New York, to hold a vote of no-confidence which would remove Roque as mayor, although he would still retain his position as a commissioner.
In a commission form of municipal government, the commissioners are elected by residents, and they vote for a mayor from among themselves. Thus, the public doesn’t directly choose the mayor. A vote of no-confidence is a legal maneuver that would allow other commissioners to select a new mayor from among the other commissioners.
This appears to signal a new skirmish in the growing political war started in early March in which Roque joined Union City Mayor Brian Stack, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop in calling for a change in county government leadership. They would like Count Executive Tom DeGise to be replaced.
Many of the commissioners in West New York have ties to State Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, as well as Rep. Albio Sires, two of the numerous political figures who support the current county administration headed by DeGise.
Political observers believe that the commissioners are being encouraged to punish Roque with the no-confidence vote.
“I don’t know who is doing this,” Roque said. “But they are getting personal. There are people out there who want to hurt me in every possible way. But they can’t break me. They have tried, and I’ve survived.”
He said he has confidence in his commissioners remaining loyal to him. He cited jobs they have done in rebuilding the public works fleet of trucks, reducing crime, and expanding recreation.
“I enjoy working with them all, and I have their allegiance,” he said, and then pointed out that in a political war, he has an advantage. “I was a colonel in the Army. Who knows more about tactics?”
However, he said he hopes the whole thing will blow over and political war in the county will be averted.
“I like Albio [Sires] and Nick [Sacco],” he said.
But some believe the April meeting may turn out to be a political dogfight.
In some ways, this strongly resembles the political fight that allowed Roque to become mayor in 2011, when he was supported by Stack and opposed by Sacco.
Taking out Sires?
But this time, Sires is on the other side, partly because it appears that Stack and Fulop are rumored to be supporting Freeholder Tilo Rivas in a primary fight to unseat Sires in Congress.
Rivas stepped down as Union City commissioner earlier this month, but currently retains his seat as a county freeholder.
If the primary rumors are true, then Rivas will run off the Democratic line on the June 12 ballot, which is considered a disadvantage.
This year is a relatively light year for elections. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez will top the ballot for Democrats in the primary and, if he wins that race, in the general election this fall. Sires would be second.
Menendez has yet to take a side the Hudson County conflict. Sires’ position below him makes Rivas’ task of unseating him difficult.
County chair up for grabs?
But looming over the Sires battle is the even more significant Democratic committee vote for chair on June 13, in which Stack has emerged as the prime contender.
The current county chair is former Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, who decides which candidates get the official Democratic line on the ballot, with the consent of committee members. Prieto, however, will step down as chair this year, leaving the post open to other candidates.
The war being waged for control of the county is mostly about patronage, and who has say over giving jobs and contracts to favored people.
There is pressure throughout all the Hudson County municipalities for committee people to line up on one side or the other to decide the positioning of Sires as well as the naming of the new county chair.
Bhalla recently held a secret meeting of committee people and urged the Hoboken contingent to side with Stack. West New York and Union City committee people are supposed to meet shortly as well.
Most likely Stack will be able to get out the committee vote from Union City and may also rely on most of the committee seats from Jersey City.
North Bergen, Bayonne, as well as towns in western Hudson County would likely support another chairman candidate against Stack, if indeed DeGise and Sacco can find one.
Most believe this will be a close chair election, with every committee seat being courted.
If Stack wins as chairman, then he will have a huge advantage in 2019 in deciding who will get the line for county executive as well as county sheriff. Since the state Assembly seats are also up for election in 2019, Stack could decide on those candidates as well.
Everybody must choose a side at their own risk
Choosing which side will be the winner in this political war will determine the political future in nearly every town.
Candidates backed by independent Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli are so far running unopposed in November. But Gonnelli’s ties to Sacco and his support of DeGise could put him as risk if Stack revives the currently dormant Democratic Party in Secaucus.
Gonnelli’s nemesis, Tom Troyer is working with anti-Sacco school board candidates in North Bergen. Troyer said he will not run for Secaucus Town Council unless the Democrats draft him.
“There is talk about a possible ticket,” he said.
Secaucus has partisan elections in November. Democrats will have to file by April 2 for the June primary.
The war is also reverberating in Bayonne, which is holding its municipal elections in May. DeGise already said he would support incumbent Jimmy Davis and his ticket. While supporters of challenger Jason O’Donnell hope to get support from Fulop and Stack, no one is sure if that will happen.
Money is an issue in this election. The Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) is deeply in debt, so DeGise people who currently control the organization would need to raise a lot of money for any election they are involved in.
Stack, who is running unopposed for mayor of Union City, is also deeply in debt, and is no doubt relying on the massive war chest Fulop acquired when he was still thinking about running for governor last year.
Nearly everybody is holding fundraisers including Fulop, no doubt in expectation of a very, very expensive political war.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.