In a game of high stakes political poker, Carmelo Garcia, state Senator Brian Stack and the Hudson County Democratic Organization pulled the fat out of the fire, managing to eke out an appeal that allows Garcia to remain on their slate for state Assembly candidate in the upcoming Democratic primary in the 33rd District.
The big loser in this is Hoboken Councilman and rival candidate Ravi Bhalla, who is allegedly behind a legal maneuver by five Hoboken residents to have Garcia dumped from the ticket because the New Jersey Administrative Code prohibits people in federal employment from seeking state elected office. While the federal government revised the Hatch Act earlier this year to make it easier for employees like Garcia to run for statewide office, the state administrative code – which mirrors the original Hatch Act – was never changed. Thus, an earlier court ruling invalidated Garcia’s candidacy. In his appeal, however, the court ruled that it was the intent of the state to be in step with the federal law, not more restrictive, and allowed Garcia to run.
And running on Stack’s ticket almost guarantees Garcia a primary and general election victory. Barring the end of the world before November, he will likely take his place as an elite member of the state Assembly next January.
This is Bhalla’s second attempt to get a foothold in state level government. Two years ago, he also ran as an independent, and while not running with Stack, his literature showed a picture of him and Stack as if he was.
This loss in the lower court has not stopped the politically ambitious Bhalla. The attorney representing the plaintiffs confirmed on Thursday he will appeal the case to the state Appellate Division to halt printing of the ballots, one step away from a state Supreme Court appeal. This gives Bhalla the hope that he can win there an election he – as an independent Democrat – won’t likely win at the polls. And would it be in the best interest of the voters for him to disqualify Garcia, when it is clear federal legislators felt they wanted to make it easier to run?
This also creates a lot of subsurface movement in Hoboken municipal politics. Garcia will likely back Assemblyman Rubin Ramos in the November municipal election against Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who had supported Bhalla for the assembly seat.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Some people attending the April 28 fundraiser for State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco had to rub their eyes twice when they spied West New York Mayor Felix Roque sitting at one of the tables.
“Over one shoulder I saw Roque, over the other I saw Sal Vega, Count Wiley and Jerry Lange,” said one attendee. “I kept thinking a fight might break out.”
Why Roque went to Sacco’s event is a matter of speculation. Roque’s legal troubles – he faces federal charges for allegedly hacking into an opposition website – got worse after the State Department of Education issued a report claiming he had allegedly improperly interfered with the West New York School District, had an alleged hit list of people to be demoted or removed, or promoted, and had allegedly required employees to purchase tickets to his own political events.
Some insiders in West New York believe that Sacco is behind some of these legal troubles, a mistaken notion, but one that has such cachet that even Roque may be seeking to make peace after his chief ally, Brian Stack, did so with Sacco.
The problem is Stack may not like this move, and certainly some very strong Sacco supporters and anti-Roque people are very upset.
Stack himself may feel that Roque may be seeking to trade his vote to allow former Assemblywoman Joan Quigley to become the new head of the North Hudson Action Corporation, a move that might just start a whole new war.
Many believe Roque is looking for a strong ally against Gov. Christopher Christie, whose administration issued the negative report against him two weeks ago. Sacco has stood up to Christie in the past.
In seeking out Sacco, Roque may well have cast away Stack as his last strong political ally. Stack is too close to Christie and would not likely intervene in Roque’s behalf.
Insiders in West New York say low-level city workers are in disarray, listening to orders from strong political operatives around Roque who are the real puppet masters, pulling strings for political hiring and contracts to favored vendors.
Already overburdened with lawsuits from employees who claim they have been the victim of political retribution, West New York will likely see even more now that the state has provided them with ammunition to make their case. The legal bills will be staggering.
Meanwhile, former WNY Mayor Sal Vega appears to be poised to make his own run to fill Roque’s commissioner’s seat if the law, or a recall, remove Roque from office. Vega is tied into a new group called the West New York Alliance for Change which has its first fundraiser at The Lighthouse on June 13.
Nose job for Fulop?
A story recently reported at hudsonreporter.com notes that political dirty tricks may have hit a new low in the race of Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy vs. Councilman Steven Fulop. Anti-Fulop literature put out by his opponent, Mayor Jerramiah Healy, has poorly cut-out photos of Fulop that seem to give him an ugly, bumpy nose.
Modifications of this kind are nothing new to Hudson County politics, but proving intent in the middle of a race many are saying is too close to call may just be impossible.
Past races were rife with similar nastiness, such as the supposed picture of a naked Healy that his opponents once produced in prior election cycles. Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, when running as an independent, once claimed his opposition deliberately printed his picture dark to suggest that he was African-American – during a campaign when the big issue was the new train station and the misperception that it would bring an unsavory element into Secaucus – thus playing to base prejudices that seemed to exist among some voters at the time.
But the nose job isn’t the only anti-Fulop tactic going around. Last weekend, false rumors said that Tom Bartoli, one of the key people in his campaign, had been fired and replaced by a high priced firm. When contacted, Bartoli shrugged it off, saying that the other side wanted to give the impression that the Fulop camp was in disarray.
“We’re far from it,” he said, predicting a Fulop victory over Healy and the others running for mayor in Jersey City.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.