When the year began, Hudson County's Democrats hoped their various factions would work together. Not only did they expect to help re-elect Robert Torricelli as U.S. senator, but they also hoped to reunite divisions that had occurred the previous fall after the resignation of former County Executive Robert Janiszewski amidst a corruption investigation.
All such hopes were dashed. They year was filled with continued conflict and constant surprises.
On a national level, Torricelli was expected to be re-elected as long as a federal probe into his fundraising activities did not torpedo his plans. But he withdrew from the race after talk of the probe heated up and a poll of voters showed him trailing Republican candidate Douglas Forrester. Former Sen. Frank Lautenberg replaced Torricelli on the ballot and won.
Rep. Bob Menendez, who was expected to jump into the senate race if Torricelli bowed out, refused the opportunity. Instead, he won re-election to Congress, and then, by a single vote, won chairmanship to the prestigious Democratic Congressional Caucus, making him the third most powerful man in the House of Representatives. Menendez has become the spokesperson for the national Democratic Party.
Who rules Hudson County?
Hudson County was full of contention in the months leading up to the June primary for county executive. Bernard Hartnett - the man appointed county executive for one year in the wake of Janiszewski's resignation - was on the ballot, and he was strongly endorsed by Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham.
That's not how most of the other local public officials felt, however.
Robert Menendez backed former Jersey City Council President Tom DeGise, who had run and lost against Cunningham for mayor in 2001, for the county executive seat. So did most of the county's mayors as well as most of Jersey City's council members.
The campaign was thick with speeches on the steps of Brennan Court House or Jersey City Hall and numerous accusations from both sides claiming the other side was corrupt or power-hungry. Amidst the rancor, little talk about actual issues emerged. Some county employees who were supporting DeGise were fired by Hartnett. In the end, DeGise beat Hartnett in the primary by a three to one margin.
But this was for only a one-year term. There will be another race this year.
As for the fired county employees, the county freeholders - after several sessions in Superior Court - reversed the firings. Later in the year, after DeGise was elected county executive, he undid some of the raises given to county workers and fired several workers he claimed were "political appointments." The freeholders did not reverse these moves.
The freeholder incumbents ran for three-year terms this year, and the Cunningham/Menendez feud caused opposition in almost every race. Of nine seats, seven were contested in the Democratic primary. All nine incumbents won primary slots, and won again in the fall against Republican challengers. Gerry McCann, former Jersey City mayor, tried to slip into the primary race but was booted out for lack of proper signatures on his nominating petitions.
Republican Ira Jersey ran for county executive against DeGise. Jersey and his full slate of challengers lost in every district despite Democratic Freeholder Nidia Davila-Colon's being indicted in the fall in connection with the Janiszewski scandal involving bribes for contracts. Democratic Freeholder Bill Braker, also under investigation, was re-elected despite his issuing a letter of resignation before the election. After being re-elected anyway, Braker took back his resignation and was promptly indicted.
Restructuring the county
Perhaps the most bitter moment of the Cunningham/Menendez feud had come when Cunningham - standing on the steps of Jersey City City Hall - demanded Menendez step down as the chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization. Menendez ended up doing so after the primary, but relinquished control to state Sen. Bernard Kenny of Hoboken, and Menendez's most loyal follower, Kay La Calsi, was named deputy chairperson.
Although Jersey City had no major elections last year, Cunningham lost numerous battles with his own council. He gradually lost control of key boards throughout the city to people backed by Menendez and DeGise. At one point, the mayor accused the council of racism for not choosing his appointee to a board.
Redistricting took effect this year as a result of the 2000 census. A bit of political maneuvering by Janiszewski's wife, Beth, before her departure, actually placed Jersey City Councilwoman Mary Donnelly outside the district to which she'd been elected. This was later corrected. But redistricting also had large implications on the freeholder races. Davila-Colon found herself stripped of her usual Latino and African-American base. Secaucus wound up with two freeholders as the town got split between two districts.
North Bergen was not supposed to have a municipal election. But Peter Perez resigned and eventually pleaded guilty to federal charges in July. His replacement, Allen Pascual, faced off against Edward Scannavino and Denis Jaslow in a special election. Candidate Bo Scannavino managed to get Jaslow thrown off the ballot on a technicality, but still managed to lose the election to Pascual by an overwhelming margin.
Gutternberg also saw its share of political turmoil as Ramon De La Cruz, appointed to the Town Council in March to replace Carlos Garcia who had resigned in February under allegations of improper salary issues, led a slate to victory in the June primary against Thomas Barnes. De La Cruz then resigned in July to take a job with Gov. Jim McGreevey. Barnes was appointed to take his place on the Town Council and eventually won election to the council in November along with Jennifer Credidio over Republican challengers Bond Blake and Joseph Aponte.
Guttenberg's opposition party saw victory in the April Board of Education election, as Vasillio Scoullos and Wanda Lanzo won seats.
Mayor David Roberts in Hoboken managed a significant victory in the April school board election as John Raslowsky II, Frances Rhodes Kearns and Carmelo Garcia were elected on a Roberts-backed slate. Raslowsky then replaced David Anthony as board president. Anthony had served in that position for seven years and led the board through times of division.
The Secaucus school board election in April seemed simple right up to the February filing deadline: three candidates were running for three seats. Minutes before the board offices closed for the day, local businesswoman Susan Pirro filed, and Board President Paul Amico withdrew from the race - guaranteeing Pirro the seat.
But Amico did not run for Town Council as expected. Board Member Tom Troyer did, challenging Democratic incumbent Bob Kickey - and lost by significant margin in the November election. Businessman Sal Barone took on Democratic Incumbent Mike Grecco, and did surprisingly well.
In Weehawken, Mayor Richard Turner's slate found itself with opposition for the first time in years. Turner and James Terrlizzi ran against challengers Dr. Ben Goldman and Arielly Lasslo for at-large seats. Louis Ferullo, Rosemary Lavagnino, and Robert Sosa ran against Robert Terhune, Karen Brady and John Hubbard for the ward seats. Turner's team won handily.
In Union City's May municipal elections, Brian Stack, Chris Irizarry, Michael Leggiero, Tilo Rivas and Luis Martin won uncontested seats for the city commission.