State Assemblyman and Bayonne Councilman Anthony Chiappone filed a last-minute challenge against Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria - who was elected by a Democratic Committee vote earlier this year as interim senator.
In the 2003 Democratic primary, Chiappone, running on a ticket headed by Cunningham, beat then-incumbent Doria in the state Assembly race. Now, Doria is running for the Senate seat as the Hudson County Democratic Organization's candidate.
During a news conference held to explain his reason for running for the Senate, Chiappone said the HCDO refused to back him for re-election to the state Assembly, so he made up his mind to run for the Senate.
"I have nothing to lose," he said. "Mayor Doria and other HCDO officials have made it clear to me they are not interested in brokering a peace and are determined to replace me in the state Assembly election next year."
State Sen. Bernard Kenny of Hoboken, who serves as county chair for the Hudson Democrats, has refuted Chiappone's claims, saying no determination had yet been made. But he said Chiappone's challenge in the Senate race did not improve changes for HCDO support later.
Chiappone said he had tried to heal old political wounds with Doria - at the urging of fellow Assemblyman Lou Manzo - with the idea of winning the HCDO endorsement for Assembly.
Doria's people said Chiappone had made demands Doria could not live with.
Doria, who served in the Assembly from 1980 until January of 2004, said, "I am proud of my 25-year record delivery for Bayonne and Jersey City. Assemblyman Chiappone tried to cut a political deal. I don't cut political deals."
Chiappone described the upcoming battle for the state Senate as both political and personal, and said it could also lead to a challenge in the Bayonne mayoral contest slated for 2006.
Doria, however, said, "This election shouldn't be about personal issues. It should be about who is the best fit to represent the people of Bayonne and Jersey City."
Manzo, meanwhile, has endorsed Doria for the seat, which Chiappone said may even motivate people to support him, especially in the Jersey City portion of the district where he claims Doria is unpopular.
"Mayor Doria is seen as someone who represents the HCDO," Chiappone said during a brief interview.
Chiappone believes that Manzo's endorsement of Doria will have a backlash in Jersey City, especially among the African-American voters - who he claims Doria angered with a legal challenge of the Assembly primary results in 2003. Doria's challenge claimed significant voter fraud.
Jersey City accounts for about 60 percent of district vote and figured prominently in Chiappone's 2003 primary election victory against Doria.
Two other challengers
But Chiappone has two challengers for the Senate seat in Jersey City, Jersey City NAACP President Kabili Tayari and mortician John Watson - both African-Americans. Both are listed as independents for the November special election.
"I have to tell you, I wouldn't be in this race if I didn't truly believe I could win," Chiappone said. "Yes, it will be an uphill battle, especially with Doria on the line, but at the same time, I feel that I have much more than a 'slim chance.' "
Old elections, like tea leaves, could predict the future
The 2003 Assembly primary gives Chiappone hope.
"True, I did lose Bayonne by two and a half to one in the primary against Joe Doria," Chiappone said. "However, I was extremely pleased with those numbers for several reasons."
First, it was a Democratic Primary in which people are accustomed to vote column A. Yet many still broke with previous voting patterns to vote against Doria.
"This was really the first time in quite some time where there was an opposition Democratic ticket," he said. Secondly, the primary pitted Doria against Cunningham, not against Chiappone, thus making it an election that pitted Bayonne against Jersey City. Some people tried to make it look as if Chiappone would become a puppet of the Jersey City mayor, Chiappone claimed. Despite this, Chiappone managed to pull good numbers in some districts where Cunningham did poorly - giving Chiappone hope he might be able to do well again.
"The votes I received in Bayonne were votes that I generated through hard work, and not - as was the case with Joe Doria - votes that were party- and money-driven," Chiappone said.
Chiappone said the November special election for state Senate should become a litmus test of how voters feel about him and Doria.
"During our non-partisan municipal election where I ran for council-at-large and Doria ran for mayor, we drew about the same amount of votes," Chiappone said. "My job will be to make sure that people know that there is a special election between Doria and myself and the other candidates, and to then let them know where they can find me on the ballot."
While Chiappone has objected to Doria's prominent position on the ballot in line with the Democratic candidates with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry at the top, voters may not vote straight Democratic - especially in Jersey City, where there are 12 mayoral candidates running.
"People will be all over the ballot boards, so to speak," Chiappone said. "This election in my opinion will be less party driven."
Chiappone hopes to sway Jersey City voters to help him overcome Doria. "I believe I will get good numbers out of Jersey City," he said.
Chiappone said his campaign will focus on two issues: taxes in Bayonne and some of the campaign tactics employed by the HCDO during the 2003 primary.