In what some Hudson County Democrats are calling “the biggest blunder” in Hudson County political history, state Sen. and Union City Brian Stack virtually threw away his chance to become the chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), the county’s longtime Democratic political organization (or machine).
Amy DeGise, daughter of County Executive Tom DeGise and a member of the Jersey City school board, won the seat instead.
Stack – along with powerful political allies such as Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, state Senator Sandra Cunningham, Freeholder Bill O’Dea, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, and West New York Mayor Felix Roque — thought he could persuade the Democratic committee people from various towns who voted during the Wednesday, June 12 HCDO reorganization meeting.
Stack was expected to become chair and even had the approval of many political people who later sided with Amy DeGise. Stack and Fulop had started a countywide political war when they confronted Tom DeGise in March and told him they would not support his reelection.
The details of the meeting conflict depending on who you talk to about it, but the outcome was very clear.
Tom DeGise would not go into the good night quietly, and vowed to build opposition to the Stack-Fulop juggernaut.
Although Fulop campaigned in Jersey City to get out committee voters there, some of the committee people had never met Fulop before, since in the past most of his dealings with committee members had been through surrogates such political operative Tom Bertoli.
Since Fulop’s election in 2013, however, many of these operatives have left and, in fact, some like Bertoli actually worked on DeGise’s behalf.
Stack’s loss has huge implications for the future – especially for Fulop and those who supported him.
While Amy DeGise has been very gracious in accepting the post as chair, some of the power brokers that supported her such as State Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Amy’s father, Tom DeGise, won’t be.
Expect Fulop supporters who got positions with the county in the past to lose HCDO support for their re-elections in the future. This includes County Clerk Junior Maldonado and County Register Diane Coleman.
For Fulop, the future is even bleaker. While Fulop still remains the mayor of one of the largest cities in New Jersey, he has very few friends in higher levels of government. Gov. Phil Murphy does not particularly care for Fulop – neither does Senate President Stephen Sweeney. The recent conflict also alienated Fulop from Rep. Albio Sires.
Since Fulop is seen as the one of the moving forces behind the botched attempt to undermine Tom DeGise, Stack might not even trust Fulop in the future.
Stack, with his fiefdom in Union City, will be immune. Most likely, the HDCO will make peace with him because they still need the 10,000 votes he can generate – especially in the upcoming reelection of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez in November.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea – another strong supporter of Stack and Fulop – will also likely go unscathed since he has a strong personal base on the west side of Jersey City.
“Nobody is going to blame O’Dea or even (Hoboken Councilman) Michael Russo,” said one political observer. “They had personal reasons for supporting Stack. Everybody is going to blame Fulop and there will be retribution.”
Since the war was largely fought over control of patronage such as jobs and contracts, most believe Jersey City will see far fewer resources and jobs than they might have had Fulop and Stack not started this political war.
“Fulop will be isolated,” another source said. “This will be attrition by a thousand little cuts. He will see no legislation passed in Trenton that favors Jersey City – such as involving school aid. He won’t get the benefit when it comes to setting the county taxes. There will be very critical review by the state of the city’s abatement policies and there won’t be any county jobs coming to any of his supporters.”
Hoboken’s Bhalla is likely to see a similar impact for his choice to support Stack, although not as severe.
Roque in West New York will likely see strong opposition in his 2019 bid for reelection, if indeed he seeks reelection.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.