Six of nine freeholder seats are being contested in the June Democratic primary. Two freeholders have decided (supposedly of their own volition) not to run for reelection. Three incumbents are being driven out of office by the heavy hand of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO). One incumbent, backed by the all-mighty power of state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, may survive.
Not since 1992 when former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler ran a full slate of challengers in the Democratic primary have there been so many seats up. Regardless of the outcome of the June primary, the makeup of the freeholder board next January will be totally different than it is today.
Freeholder Thomas Liggio, who represents North Bergen and a portion of Secaucus, left voluntarily – although he was apparently surprised to learn by reading a newspaper article that Anthony Vainieri, a long time aide to state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, would replace him.
This should not have been a surprise. Vainieri had been bragging about the change for over a year, and had in fact even given out pens with his name on them.
Although backed by the Hudson County Democratic Organization, Vainieri doesn’t simply inherit the seat. Police Sgt. Henry Marrero is challenging him in the primary. Vainieri will also have to do battle – if he survives the primary – with Republican Francis Bruno in the general election next November.
While Freeholder Tilo Rivas has Mayor Stack’s support for the Union City seat, he will still have to do battle with longtime administration critic Jose Falto.
Adding to the uncertainty of having all three North Hudson freeholder seats disputed, Freeholder Chairman Jose Munoz will be battling against HCDO-backed Caridad Rodriguez in District 7.
Munoz has been cobbling together the support of West New York voters who are dissatisfied with Mayor Felix Roque with the hopes of overcoming HDCO support. To win, Rodriquez needs to get a good showing in West New York to add to the vote she is expected to get from Weehawken and Guttenberg. This could rely on the strong support of Rep. Albio Sires, a very popular former mayor in West New York.
Freeholder Anthony Romano – who represents District 5 – may end up shoved out of his seat by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who is supporting Philip Cohen – a strong Zimmer ally – for the seat. Because the district has as many votes in Jersey City Heights and other portions of Jersey City as it does in Hoboken, Romano might have a chance to survive. But Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, bowing to the tradition of allowing the mayor of Hoboken to decide the freeholder seat, has also endorsed Cohen. Adding to Romano’s woes is the fact that Perry Belfiore of Hoboken is also running – in a race with overtones of the Hoboken mayoral election last November.
Belfiore is reportedly backed by former mayoral candidate Ruben Ramos, while Romano appears to have the backing of many who supported Tim Occhipinti for mayor. If Romano has any edge, it is the fact that he can rely on strong support from labor unions.
Also being shoved out of the way is Freeholder Jeff Dublin in Jersey City, who faces a challenge from three candidates. The HCDO is backing Gerard Balmir. But Arnold Williams and Esmeralda Trinidad are also running. Although closely tied to Freeholder Bill O’Dea (who is running unchallenged in the primary), Dublin backed former Mayor Jerramiah Healy in the last Jersey City municipal election, while O’Dea backed Fulop – and as the old saying goes, “To the victor go the spoils.” This means that Dublin will have a very tough time getting reelected.
Most political observers, however, believe that Fulop is largely taking a back seat in the freeholder primaries.
“He’s so busy looking ahead to becoming governor, he doesn’t want to be in the middle of this,” one political observer said. “He wants to avoid problems. He knows he will need a unified Hudson County later.”
Bayonne elections bound for runoffs?
This may indeed be true.
Fulop had been rumored to have once considered getting involved in Bayonne elections by backing candidates both in the freeholder primary and the municipal elections. But he apparently has backed off that, and may have come to some peace agreement with Mayor Mark Smith, who is running for reelection in May.
Like Liggio did in North Bergen, Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico said she would not seek reelection, citing professional responsibilities as the reason. But the handwriting had been on the wall for months about a possible challenge, and her decision may have been part of a deal with Fulop since Kenneth Kopacz – who is running for the seat with HCDO backing – is a key member of Councilman Ray Greaves Civic Association. Greaves is running for reelection in the 3rd Ward in Bayonne on the Smith ticket. But it is no secret that Greaves met with Fulop last year in regards to the Bayonne municipal elections.
Smith is facing a challenge for mayor from James Davis and Anthony Zanowic. All three candidates have a ticket of council challengers, and with a few independent candidates for various council seats, the outcome this year is very unpredictable.
Most believe that there will likely be runoff elections in the 3rd Ward and among at-large candidates, and possibly runoffs in the 1st Ward and maybe even for mayor. Mayoral and ward candidates have to get 50 percent plus one of votes cast to avoid a runoff. Otherwise, the two top vote getters get to do it again. One at-large candidate can win in the first round by getting 25 percent plus one vote, and would carry into office the next highest vote getter.
With six at large candidates, it stands to reason none will get the required number to avoid the runoff.
Two weeks ago, this column said that people had to pay a fee to march in the Bayonne St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This was not true. They had to fill out an application, and had to agree not to wear political t-shirts or hold up political signs.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.