In a year when Democrats ought to be celebrating the fact that they have retaken the governorship after it was held in GOP hands for eight years, warfare appears to be spreading in several counties.
While players in Hudson County are lining up to see who will become the next chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, Bergen County may be going through the same conflict.
Some Hudson County officials, such as state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and his assembly entourage, may be forced to fight two battles at once, one for control of the Hudson County political machine and a second in Bergen County.
Both conflicts unfortunately are related.
The Bergen County battle did not need to take place. Gov. Phil Murphy appears to be looking ahead to his 2021 reelection campaign and sees the headlights of state Sen. Stephen Sweeney bearing down on him.
Bad feelings between Murphy and Sweeney surfaced long before Murphy took office. Sweeney wanted to run for governor last year and got run over by the Murphy express train. Now Sweeney appears to be lining up the political organizations in key counties for a possible future effort to unseat Murphy.
If state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack wins the chairmanship of the Democratic Party in Hudson County, Sweeney will have a strong ally.
This is the reason why some believe Murphy encouraged his chief of staff Adam Alonso to seek the seat to replace retiring Bergen chairman Lou Stellato.
Murphy appears to want to keep Bergen County in his hip pocket, especially if he loses Hudson.
But the move set off such a firestorm that Alonso withdrew his name from consideration.
That should have settled things, except that Alonso scare caused Stellato to change his mind about retiring, just at a time when it was assumed that his close confidant and heir apparent Paul Juliano would inherit the seat.
The Bergen County conflict, like the one in Hudson, will force political people to choose between former political friends, and could leave lingering bad feelings and create potential future political feuds.
Stellato has been chair in Bergen County since 2011 and has won the respect of a number of Hudson County officials. Juliano has made key alliances over the last two decades, positioning him well to takeover.
Juliano was a critical force in helping steer his hometown of Fairview out of domination by GOP, and into the Democratic camp in the 1990s, helping Sacco’s reelection efforts as state senator.
Juliano has also hobnobbed with local leaders such as Rep. Albio Sires, West New York Mayor Felix Roque and Secaucus independent mayor, Michael Gonnelli.
Menendez faces serious primary and general election challenges
While war may still be averted if Stellato decides to push ahead with retirement plans after all, the conflict has the potential to unsettle two key Democratic counties in a year in which U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez needs them to be united.
Menendez is facing what appears to be a stubborn primary challenge from Lisa MacCormick, and should he survive that, an even tougher battle from a GOP challenger, who many predict will be Bob Hugin.
Both MacCormick and Hugin are slamming Menendez on issues and the perception of corruption, using Menendez’s recent federal mistrial as a launching pad for their campaigns.
Fortunately for Menendez or any Democrat, a recent poll by Monmouth University shows the GOP may be facing serious challenges statewide in the upcoming election due to the negative impact of President Donald Trump.
Democrats appear poised to make gains – at least in New Jersey – in House of Representative seats.
Stolen committee petitions could become a political problem
The battle for the chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) got ugly this week. Authorities may be looking into whether or not petitions for county committee seats were stolen from West New York Mayor Roque’s campaign team.
While not quite Watergate, the theft of petitions could implicate higher-ups.
This is part of a conflict that started last month when Roque, Stack, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla decided to take over the county, telling County Executive Tom DeGise to pack his bags rather than seek reelection next year.
Stack, who was almost guaranteed the HCDO chairmanship prior to that, finds himself in a political war neither side can afford to fight. The HCDO is broke. Stack is in debt. The only political figure who has any money is Fulop, and he has a reputation for tossing nickels around like manhole covers. He has a purse full of campaign contributions from his one-time plan to run for governor and is reluctant to part with it.
Meanwhile, everybody is counting every vote to determine if Stack will become the next chairman or not.
The problem for the DeGise camp is that they still haven’t come up with someone to run against Stack for the chair.
Even DeGise supporters admit, “You can’t beat somebody with nobody.” So, behind the scenes people are being interviewed for a job nobody really wants.
Being a chair of a political party is degrading. You have to beg people to get money. And in a county like Hudson, where the real power is vested with the mayors, this means you have to go hat in hand to each mayor and ask real nicely.
This is perhaps one of the reasons the HCDO is broke.
Stack, of course, has the potential to completely change the way the HCDO, using his own powerful political fundraising organization as a model to raise funds. The only problem is, Stack is broke, too, suggesting that the model might not be the best fit for the HDCO after all.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.