County Democrats have a new leader
First woman wins chairmanship of political machine
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Jun 24, 2018 | 5904 views | 0 0 comments | 105 105 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HCDO
A WINNING COMBINATION – Outgoing HCDO chairman Vincent Prieto was on hand to congratulate Amy DeGise, who become the first woman chair of the HCDO in history
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In a stunning reversal of political fortune, a female candidate beat out powerful state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack on June 12 to become chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization – the longtime political organization that helps choose candidates for local and regional office – in a committee vote held at Kearny High School.

The vote was contentious, as Stack and several other mayors in the county have been hoping to eventually unseat, in 2019, longtime County Executive Tom DeGise, whose job involves overseeing county agencies and facilities.

DeGise’s daughter Amy DeGise, a relatively newcomer to the political scene and a Jersey City school board member, beat Stack for the chairmanship by nearly 100 votes – a larger margin than predicted.

DeGise beat Stack by a vote 452 to 360, with members of local Democratic committees in all towns voting, including some who were bused in.

The war for control of the local party has pitted mayors Stack, Ravi Bhalla (of Hoboken), Steven Fulop (of Jersey City) and Felix Roque (of West New York) against allies of U.S. Rep Albio Sires, who hails from West New York, and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco.

“The 32nd District (which includes North Bergen, Guttenberg, and towns in West Hudson) came out big for Amy,” said Phil Swibinski of Vision Media, the political consultant firm that ran DeGise’s campaign.

Committee people from these towns overwhelmingly voted for DeGise by a margin of 251 to 10.

DeGise, who ran a progressive campaign on issues like women’s equality, becomes the first elected female chair of the HCDO in history. (The organization also saw an acting chair take over in the 1990s, Barbara Habermann.)

In February, Stack was seen as the county’s choice to replace outgoing chairman, Vincent Prieto.

But then, Stack and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop threw down the gauntlet at a meeting in the Coach House Diner and told Tom DeGise they would not support his reelection as county executive in 2019.

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“You win some and you lose some.” – Mayor Steven Fulop

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This led to a fight for control of the chair this year since the chair eventually gets to decide whom county Democrats will support in the Democratic primary in 2019 as well as candidates for many county, state and federal seats in the future.

DeGise’s victory as a significant blow to Stack, Fulop, Bhalla, and Roque.

This bodes ill for Roque’s reelection in 2019 since the majority of the West New York committee votes went to DeGise, despite heavy campaigning by Stack. Several of Roque’s allies in the West New York Democratic Committee have broken from him.

Sires, the former mayor of West New York, joined forces with Sal Vega, also a former West New York mayor, to campaign for DeGise.

Sires along with Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner are thought to have accounted for 70 votes in DeGise’s favor.

Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis is reportedly credited with bringing in 99 of Bayonne’s 102 votes to DeGise.

Fulop, who may well see a significant loss of political influence as a result of this vote, seemed philosophical about the outcome.

“You win some and you lose some,” he said. “That’s the way this works.”

He added, “Truth be told, we hit our numbers in every city including Jersey City (which supported Stack he said 230 to 67), but we underestimated the turnout from Bayonne by 40 votes and we never thought it possible they would get 100 percent turnout from all of their towns.”

He called the turnout in towns overseen by state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, “strange.”

“But it is what it is, and we were allowed to check credentials,” Fulop said. “Like I said, you win some and you lose some, but both ways, life goes on.”

DeGise said she intends to rewrite the HCDO bylaws to better reflect the diversity of the party in Hudson County.

Reiterating some of the promises she made when campaigning for committee votes, she said she intends to bolster the party and bring more people into the process.

In an interview prior to the vote, she said she would restore power to people on a committee level, where many of the day to day interactions with the public take place.

One very serious concern will be the impact of the 2020 U.S. Census. In the past, urban and predominantly Democratic areas like Hudson County have seen an undercount. This affects funding and other services provided from the federal and state governments. It also affects how legislative districts are configured. As chair of the HCDO, she said she will use her position to make sure as many people are counted as possible.

In a tweet, Amy DeGise thanked those who supported her.

“I'm so excited to get to work moving our party in a progressive, new direction and to work with every other Hudson Democrat to re-elect our Senator Bob Menendez,” she wrote.

One of the underlying issues in this campaign was the need for Hudson County Democrats to support Menendez, whose reelection as U.S. Senator in November may be threatened by a well-funded GOP challenger.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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