Between the Lines

Santa Claus is coming to town

In what has become a Christmas rock and roll classic, Bruce Springsteen performed the standard “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” throwing over his shoulder the ever-unresolved challenge to his band, “Have you all been good, practicing real hard?”

This seasonable question is also relevant for politics in Hudson County, since the Christmas season usually comes after a long year of in-fighting.

This year, that has never been more true.

The political fortunes of many one-time superstars on the local scene rose and fell throughout the year, but at year’s end many will look to see if Santa will leave coal in their stockings rather than the expected political patronage.

For several political figures, Christmas 2018 will be filled with great blessings. This is particularly true for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, whose nine-lives clearly shows he can not be counted out of any fight.

For those who stuck with him through his 2018 campaign for reelection, this will indeed be a good Christmas.

While Menendez may not have a thick white beard or wear a bright red suit, he will likely bestow great rewards on his most loyal supporters in the upcoming year, reflecting a restructuring of power in the county that actually began in 2016 and 2017.

This may be reflected in the power lists that generally emerge this time of year, and why three very loyal Menendez supporters in Hudson County found themselves listed as among the most powerful in the state: Amy DeGise, Ray Greaves, and Erica Daughtry.

DeGise became the chair of the powerful Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) which threw its support behind Menendez. Greaves, as a transportation labor leader, steered votes and support to Menendez. Daughtry, as a key member of Rep. Albio Sires staff, worked behind the scenes to get the vote out for Menendez.

DeGise, a trustee of the Jersey City Board of Education and the daughter of County Executive Tom DeGise, won a significant victory of her own in June when she successfully fended off a power grab by State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and West New York Mayor Felix Roque. 

This should have been enough to excommunicate all four of these powerful mayors, except for the fact that Stack and Bhalla made amends and came out strongly for Menendez in the general election against GOP challenger, Bob Hugin. So, while Stack and Bhalla, may not see the sweetest of offerings in their Christmas stockings this year, they will see more than the lumps of coal Menendez and HCDO are expected to dish out to Fulop and Roque.

Since Fulop recently won reelection in 2017, he may have to wait for political payback.

Roque, however, faces almost immediate consequences since he is up for reelection to the West New York Board of Commissioners in May, and is expected to face stiff opposition.

This was not the first time that Roque went against Menendez. Six years ago, Roque mistakenly endorsed Menendez’s GOP challenger. While Rogue avoided making the same mistake in the 2018 election, he appeared not to get the message until very late in the year – by which time it was too late for him to mend fences.

Unlike Stack, who backed off a threat to run someone against Rep. Albio Sires in the June primary for the House of Representative, Roque unwisely continued his despute with Sires, himself a former mayor in WNY.

Stack did not give Roque the expected support in the June primary when the HCDO backed opposition committee people against his. This led to Roque’s losing control of the WNY Democratic Party, a critical element in any future plan to retain his seat as mayor.

Roque tried to make peace with Sires ahead of the November school board election, in which Sires’ wife won an overwhelming victory, returning to the board after several years.

“I didn’t come out against them,” Roque said during a recent interview. “I didn’t get involved except to recommend Mrs. Sires. I think she did a great job when on the board.”

Roque said his focus was on the town and improving the infrastructure.

He has met with potential candidates to run with in the May election, although none of the current commissioners are expected to join him.

Of the other four commissioners, two are seen as loyal to state Senator Nicholas Sacco, and two are seen as loyal to Sires. But it is Sires who will likely have the most influence in the upcoming election.

Sires, of course, is one of the strongest supporters of Menendez in the county, and will likely be Menendez’s instrument in cleaning out political opposition from North Hudson.

Earlier this year, Roque said he intended to unveil his ticket in December and most expect him to do so at an upcoming fundraiser. Roque does not need the money from the fundraiser, but he needs a significant turn out of supporters to show that he is still viable in May.

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