Seated in a back booth at the VIP Diner, a well-known Jersey City political hangout for nearly a half century, Amy DeGise didn’t look remotely out of place.
The daughter of County Executive Tom DeGise is running to become chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) the longtime county political organization, challenging state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack.
So it was fitting that she sat down to talk to The Reporter in a place where members of the old guard of Jersey City have long met. But DeGise has big plans to revamp and modernize the HCDO if she is elected on June 12 by a vote by committee people throughout Hudson County.
“One of the reasons I’m running is to take a stand for women,” she said, describing herself as a progressive feminist. “I also want to take some of the ego out of this conflict and bring peace back to Hudson County.”
She doesn’t believe Stack is the right person to lead the Democratic Party into the future. “I want to bring the party together, not tear it apart,” she said.
She was clearly referring to Hudson County’s latest political war, which began at a meeting at other political handout, The Coach House in North Bergen, when Stack along with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop confronted her father, telling him they would not support his reelection as county executive in 2019.
Tom DeGise, a five-term incumbent, had wavered earlier this year, undecided whether he would run again. But when he finally decided he would run again, Stack and Fulop decided to try to push him out and replace him with a choice of their own.
A trustee of the Jersey City Board of Education, Amy DeGise became a candidate for HCDO chair this year in order to keep Stack from getting it, and to try to enact a vision of a new HCDO, one that will embrace everybody in the party.
Chair will influence county exec candidate
The chair, of course, would have a lot of influence deciding which county executive candidate will run on the official Democratic line on the ballot in the 2019 primary.
Some believe that she is running in order to guarantee that her father, Tom, will have the Democratic line in 2019. But Amy said she would not automatically give the line to her father if she gets to be chair, or, for that matter, any of the current incumbents for any county or state elected office.
Just because she is her father’s daughter, doesn’t mean she agrees with him all the time.
“I’m not rubber stamp for my father,” she said. “My name is Amy, not Tom DeGise. I am a Board of Education trustee and a union rep at my school. I am my own person.”
There are a number of high profile seats coming up on the county and state level over which she will have the power to award the line or not. This includes the county sheriff and county register, as well as state assembly and senate candidates.
“I would have to sit down with them and hear what they have to say,” she said. “My goal is to bring more young people into the process, and more women. We have the first Democratic governor in eight years and we’re divided here.”
She said she believes she can be fair and impartial in the position.
“I want to give more decision-making power to committee people in each municipality,” she said. “I see myself as a good leader and I can relate to people.”
She said she wants the Democratic Party to mirror the diverse population of Hudson County.
“If I’m successful, I will sit down with committee people to determine what it means for us to be a Democratic Party,” she said. “I believe the chair is supposed to be the leader of the party.”
And part of that role will be to make sure Hudson County gets heard in Trenton.
“I don’t expect everybody to like me.” – Amy DeGise
A feminist and progressive
While she doesn’t dismiss the previous leadership, she believes her role will be to bring old and young together, and to reenergize the party. This includes using contemporary means to reach people, including social media.
“I see myself as a feminist and a progressive,” she said. “I want to increase the role women play in local politics.”
She said she is very disappointed that there are currently no women mayors in a county that is considered one of the most progressive in the nation.
“I will promote women to fund for elected office,” she said.
Her aunt, Lois Shaw, was a prominent political figure in Jersey City, someone who helped break the glass ceiling when it came to women serving in government.
“Even at home, she would cook, but she called all the shots,” DeGise said.
If successful in winning the chair, DeGise would become the first woman to lead the HDCO in the history of the organization.
She has thick skin
The conflict has already become heated, with some vitriol aimed at DeGise. She shrugs it off.
“I have thick skin,” she said. “I don’t expect everybody to like me. I do not dislike other people. I don’t say bad things about them.”
The political war has people lining up on both sides. DeGise has the support of all the mayors in West Hudson, as well as the mayors of North Bergen, Guttenberg, Weehawken, Secaucus and Bayonne. But even in towns such as West New York, Hoboken, and Jersey City where the mayors are opposed to her, she has support of commissioners and council members.
Even some opposed to her she believes she can bring around after the chair battle is settled.
“I think I have a lot in common with (Hoboken mayor) Ravi Bhalla,” she said. “We’re both young progressives.”
To win the seat, she is meeting with as many committee people throughout the county as she can.
“I need to meet them and let them meet me,” she said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.