Between the Lines

Gearing up for 2020 and beyond

The Hudson County Democratic Organization underwent a shift in top personnel at the beginning of June, leadership changes that may be the beginning of the presidential push next year.

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The HCDO is expected to support U.S. Sen. Cory Booker in the Democratic primaries, provided Booker survives the earlier primaries and caucuses.

The Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary often give a distinct advantage to those who finish first or second. Most expect former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to do well in these. Booker would have to come in a close third or even second to realistically move on.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez may well be holding local Democrats’ feet to the fire to assure that the local primaries are not contested as happened in 2008 when the county was split between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Booker should win New Jersey if he survives until June, but by then local Democrats may have to figure out which of the remaining candidates to back if Booker is eliminated from contention early.

Most likely, this will be a choice between Biden and Sanders, though 2020 may well come up with surprises.

The new leadership will have to react to the changing landscape.

If Biden is on the ballot, the HDCO will likely back him over Sanders since local Democrats tend to lean more to the political middle, despite a new progressive movement.

Bayonne, Kearny, Secaucus, and North Bergen tend to be conservative even when they vote Democratic.  Even West New York may not find Sanders’s version of politics acceptable.

A lot will depend on the big power brokers such as North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, Union City Mayor Brian Stack, and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and which candidate they pick. The big question will be who Menendez will back, because where Menendez goes, the HCDO and a large portion of North Hudson follows.

New leadership in HCDO

At its reorganization meeting in early June, the HCDO made additions to its executive leadership.

Raine Cusegilo will serve as a special adviser to Chairwoman Amy DeGise, and Julietta Vogt will oversee operations of the organization as the director of Planning and Events. Cusegilo currently serves as Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti’s chief of staff, and Vogt is a fiscal analyst for the Hudson County Department of Parks and Community Services.

“In the short year I have served as chairwoman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, we have taken extraordinary steps to help push our party forward and build a more diverse and unified organization,” said Chairwoman Amy DeGise. “We have been able to accomplish this by working together to defend the fundamental principles of the Democratic Party, but we still have so much more to do. Raine and Julietta each bring a unique set of skills and talents to our organization, and I’m looking forward to working with them to continue the progress we have made and promote progressive legislation and elevate more women in politics.”

Cusegilo and Vogt will replace Executive Director Susan Ragheb, who will leave the organization later this month to serve as a special assistant to the president of the Milwaukee DNC 2020 Host Committee. DeGise has been very successful in recruiting well-qualified women to help make the HDCO better resemble the population of the county. In the past, many saw the HDCO as a club for cigar-smoking white males.

“When Susan joined the Hudson County Democratic Organization last June, it was abundantly clear to me she was prepared to work hard and rebuild our party,” said HCDO Treasurer Craig Guy. “She has played a key role in the monumental victories of Democrats across the state, from running a stunning campaign in Bayonne to working closely with Chairwoman DeGise to re-elect Senator Bob Menendez. I am proud to have worked with Susan and wish her continued success in her bright future.”

Hoboken trial is an eye-opener

The blow-by-blow testimony at the trial of Frank Raia has a lot of people on the edge of their seats and has all the drama of an HBO miniseries. But unlike a miniseries, viewers of the trial cannot skip ahead to see what might happen next.

Raia is defending himself against charges that he allegedly bought votes in the 2013 election, mostly designed – so the charges say – to defeat a rent control referendum on the ballot.

There are unnamed suspects in this suspense, and that could help Raia, if it is determined that there are bigger names yet to be charged.

The other impact will be on the upcoming municipal elections, and whether candidates who used similar tricks in the past are too wary to forage for votes by mail ballot for fear the feds might be watching.

At stake in the election is control of the city council. Mayor Ravi Bhalla desperately needs to get back control in order to further his legislative agenda. But in this climate, the election outcome may well be as unpredictable as next year’s presidential race.

Al Sullivan can be reached at


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