For some local politicians, former Gov. Christopher Christie is the gift that keeps on giving.
Two local political campaigns (that are run by the same public relations firm) have decided that anybody’s association with Christie is the kiss of death. They’ve used any ties to Christie to cast their clients’ opponents in a negative light.
Campaign literature issued by the campaign for the reelection of Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis blasted his opponent Jason O’Donnell for allegedly orchestrating a $40 million anti-opioid campaign on behalf of then Gov. Christie.
And in a letter issued to Democratic committee people throughout the county, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise questioned whether the next chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization should be “Christie’s best friend,” an obvious allusion to state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who aspires to replace DeGise.
Christie, of course, was arguably the most unpopular governor in recent history, and his association with Republican President Donald Trump also makes him toxic in a progressive county such as Hudson.
Did O’Donnell help Christie?
The campaign literature against O’Donnell claims that as an employee of Krivit & Krivit, a public relations firm, O’Donnell allegedly benefited financially by operating as a lobbyist whose firm successfully procured a $40 million public information campaign contract from the state.
But O’Donnell said the ads are misleading for several reasons. Krivit & Krivit is a marketing firm, not a political lobbyist. The contract regarding the public information campaign was won through the public bidding process. And O’Donnell’s specialty as a member of the firm at the time was labor.
“I didn’t have anything to do with the campaign,” he said. “That said, this was public information that would be done for any public crisis. In the grand scheme, if it’s going to save lives, it’s a good thing.”
O’Donnell is a well-known opponent of Christie’s policies. When O’Donnell was sworn in as assemblyman in 2010, he drew the wrath of Christie by blasting the governor’s policies.
Stack loves every governor if they give him money
The attack on Stack, however, might have merit. In fact, Stack, when he crossed party lines to endorse Christie in 2013, even called Christie his friend.
But those who know Stack know he sidles up to every new governor , including current liberal governor Phil Murphy.
Union City has no waterfront producing either industrial or development tax revenue, so the city depends heavily on financial gifts from the state to make ends meet. For more than a decade, Stack has worked magic in getting state and federal political heavyweights to help finance the city’s schools and infrastructure.
And in 2013, when he endorsed Christie, Stack said, “Governor Christie has been helpful in the mission of improving our urban areas and advancing the quality of life, not just in Union City, but across the great state of New Jersey.”
DeGise’s letter called Stack Christie’s “close friend and strongest supporter in the state legislature,” something that was “a devastating blow” to the Democratic candidate against Christie in 2013, Barbara Buono. “As state senator, Stack supported many of Christie’s most destructive policies, including his attacks on public employees, large increases in health insurance costs and severe cuts in state aid to local schools.”
This may be something of an exaggeration, since Stack historically has been endorsed by labor unions, and has often been at odds with governors over cuts to Union City schools – even Democratic governors such as Jon Corzine.
The vote for HCDO chair will be close
The letter from DeGise comes at a time when Stack is running to become the chair of the county Democratic political organization, the HCDO, and has vowed to oppose DeGise’s reelection as county executive in 2019.
If Stack becomes chair, he can dump DeGise off the official Democrat Party line on the ballot, making it extremely difficult for DeGise to retain his seat.
So the real battle will be this June when committee people throughout Hudson County will select a new chairman.
At this point, no one has been named to oppose Stack, but a number of names are being floated.
“People are talking to people about it,” said one source with knowledge of the situation.
Most expect the vote to be close.
Stack as mayor of Union City controls a sizable block of these votes. But these would be offset by committee votes in North Bergen, which are aligned with DeGise.
This means that the fight will be decided in Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne and other smaller towns.
Since Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop supports Stack, the chairmanship will likely be decided there. Jersey City represents about 80 percent of the total committee votes in the county. But Fulop doesn’t control them all.
Another key factor will be the May municipal election Bayonne. If Davis wins there, committee votes will go to DeGise. If O’Donnell wins, they could shift to Stack.
Smith is named to county homeland security job
Former Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith finally got a county job, a $104,000 a year job in homeland security.
While this may seem bad for those opposing the reelection of current Bayonne Mayor Davis, it may not be.
Many believe that when Smith sought to become the director of the new Hudson County police academy, it would come with a stipulation that he would have to endorse Davis’s reelection. This would have been a total betrayal, since Smith has long been an ally of O’Donnell.
But the deal got nixed when politicians elsewhere in the county – most believe it was Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop – objected, claiming too much employee patronage was going to Bayonne.
The current job deal apparently is designed to get Smith out of politics and will resemble a similar deal given to former West New York Mayor Sal Vega (who was given a job at the Hudson Schools of Technology.)
In both cases, these men were given jobs apparently with the proviso they stay out of the political theater for two or more years.
Vega violated his agreement when he set up a campaign account for 2019, suggesting that he may be considering a run to regain his seat as mayor in West New York.
Smith, who managed to anger state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco in the past, will likely keep his end of the bargain. Sacco currently controls many of the county’s patronage jobs.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.