Standing at home plate in the newly-remodeled Union City recreation facility in Washington Park, County Executive Tom DeGise hit a political home run, receiving the endorsement for reelection from two of the most powerful mayors in Hudson County.
Though they have been adversaries, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco joined Union City Mayor Brian Stack for an extremely rare public joint public appearance on May 21 to announce their support for DeGise’s reelection in 2015.
Politically, this might be considered a shot heard across Hudson County, partly because, as officials quietly said, it was designed to head off a rumored primary challenge by Jersey City Freeholder Bill O’Dea.
“This is only the first of a number of similar endorsements,” said Paul Swibinski of Vision Media.
DeGise said the two mayors selected Washington Park as the site for the announcement partly because it served as a symbol of many successful projects the county has accomplished working with local mayors.
Washington Park is a county park, and Union City has a long term lease with the county to use it as a recreational facility.
“We fought and after it was over, the same people were still standing.” – Mayor Nicholas Sacco
DeGise said this is a model for other projects with other communities throughout the county that allows the county to interact positively with municipalities for the common good.
Even with the threat of rain, both mayors looked particularly chipper as they stood side by side with DeGise. Both had equally kind words for each other.
“I’m very impressed by what Brian does for the people in his city,” Sacco said.
Stack, meanwhile, said he admired North Bergen’s efficiency at providing services to the community.
“I tell my people all the time how well North Bergen maintains its streets,” Stack said. “We try to model our program on what they do in North Bergen.”
Turning the page
All this good will is more than a little shocking after years of bitter political rivalry between the two mayors – who are also state senators – disputes that were often heated and led to political challenges, the most significant of which was the 2008 countywide primary Stack launched against Sacco and the Hudson County Democratic Organization.
But standing in Washington Park on this cloudy day, both mayors said their past differences are behind them.
“We may still have our disagreements,” Sacco said. “But we know we have to work together.”
Both said that they have benefited from programs the county has put forth under DeGise’s watch – particularly from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund, which has financed new parks, park upgrades and historic preservation in all 12 communities, including a soon to be opened new water park in North Bergen.
In looking over the Washington Park redevelopment, DeGise said he had fond memories of the area, since the park is split between Jersey City and Union City.
“I’ve lived near here all my life,” he said. “I came here when I was a kid. I can still walk here from my house.”
Both Sacco and Stack said DeGise has been a good shepherd of the county since being elected in 2002.
DeGise came to the office in the wake of a scandal that resulted in the conviction of former County Executive Robert Janiszewski and two freeholders for bribery and corruption.
Both mayors said DeGise brought integrity back to the county.
“Some people say I’m boring,” said DeGise, who formerly served as a Jersey City councilman. “I would like to be boring for another four years.”
Sacco and Stack, who have been seen mixing about as well as oil and water, said they have come to realize that political warfare has accomplished nothing in North Hudson.
“We fought and after it was over, the same people were still standing,” Sacco said.
Although this was the first public demonstration of peace, Stack said he and Sacco resolved their differences some time ago.
Stack said while the two will still have disagreements, he felt they could work them out for the benefit of both communities and the county.
“After all we share a common border,” Stack said.
Both said they have areas of agreement. As state senators covering other Hudson County towns, Sacco represents North Bergen, Guttenberg, and West New York and others, while Stack represents Union City, Hoboken, and half of Jersey City. Both claim that by working together all these areas benefit.
For example, North Bergen intends to provide space to the Union City Department of Public Works.
“Seventy percent of the building Union City uses for its DPW can’t be used,” Sacco said. “We’re working out an agreement that we can provide them space.”
DeGise pointed out that many municipalities face similar problems and that he will be working with them to resolve some of them. The county has already helped Union City and North Bergen with the thorny problem of crossing Kennedy Boulevard. Pedestrians risk life and limb trying to get from a shopping center in Union City to one on the other side of the busy street in North Bergen. The county successfully constructed a pedestrian bridge, linking the two – one more symbolic joining of the two former rivals.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.