If Hudson County Democrats thought the 2002 election cycle solved the deep party divisions caused by the scramble for county executive after Robert Janiszewski's resignation in 2001, the coming year will be a rude awakening.
Voters will once again be asked to vote for a county executive, because Tom DeGise's November victory was merely to fill the unexpired year left in Janiszewski's term. But this is not likely to have the same weight the 2002 race did. Instead, the county executive's position on the ballot will be fourth under more prominent races such as those for state senate and assembly.
Each local assembly district (31st, 32nd and 33rd) has two assemblypersons per district, and each district also has one state senator. These will all face primary elections in June and a general election in November. With Hudson County being heavily Democratic, the biggest battles are often over who gets the nomination in June.
Since State Sen. Joseph Charles is expected to step down from his legislative seat this year in favor of a seat as a judge (part of a rumored agreement worked out previously that had him support the appointment of Edward DeFazio as Hudson County prosecutor), the 31st electoral district, which includes Bayonne and part of Jersey City, should be the battleground for the heart and soul of the Hudson County Democratic Party. The assemblypersons representing this district are Joe Doria and Elba Perez-Cinciarelli.
Who will vie for the seat? That question might not be as important as who gets to choose who vies for the seat.
Last year, Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham wrestled with Rep. Bob Menendez for control of the party. The election of Tom DeGise as county executive, and the political battles between Cunningham and his own City Council over appointments to city boards, tentatively gave Menendez the victory. But Cunningham's balanced budget and lack of increase in municipal taxes give the mayor firm ground upon which to build a new political coalition. DeGise's firings in the county offices - especially of Director of Consumer Affairs Willie Flood - will provide a strong political force with which to do battle in the 31st District. In fact, Willie Flood may run for Charles' seat.
But while Cunningham faced strong opposition in 2002 from members of the Jersey City Council, much of this opposition will be less effective in 2003 when council members such as Bill Gaughan and Junior Maldanado have to explain their new county jobs with six-figure salaries. Other DeGise supporters may have to explain such new prosperity, too.
Bayonne Mayor and 31st District Assemblyman Joe Doria - after being passed over for the post of speaker of the assembly - may not be motivated to run for re-election to the assembly. Former freeholder and Jersey City mayoral candidate Lou Manzo has already expressed an interest in running. With his strong support on the west side of Jersey City and with Willie Flood running for Charles' seat, Cunningham may be able to swing the state to his side, giving him much needed clout against Menendez.
North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco also faces re-election to his seat in the 32nd district, which includes Secaucus, Kearny, Harrison, and parts of Jersey City and North Bergen. Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto and Jersey City Assemblywoman Joan Quigley also face re-election in that district. Short of a major catastrophe, all three should see easy re-election in the June primary and later in the November general election.
In the 33rd District, which includes Hoboken, Weehawken, Union City, West New York, Guttenberg, and part of Jersey City, the same can be said for West New York Mayor and Assembly Speaker Albio Sires. Assemblyman Rafael J. Fraguela however, has been the center of speculation. Will he step down in favor of Union City Mayor Brian Stack? Rumors have painted a strange domino theory that would have Fraguela vacate the assembly for Stack and Stack vacate his freeholder seat for his wife, Katia. Only time will tell if the rumor has any validity.
State Sen. Bernard Kenny of the 33rd District will most likely be re-elected to the senate.
North Bergen, which was not scheduled for a municipal election last year, will see elections for all five commissioners' seats this coming May. The city can expect a three-way race for all five seats. This includes the commission seat held by Mayor Nicholas Sacco, as in North Bergen, voters pick commissioners, and then the commissioners elect the mayor.
The election period may duplicate and even expand on the campaign twists and turns of a 2002 special election conflict. The municipality was forced to hold a special election in November after Peter Perez pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. Allen Pascual got the seat after Edward Scannavino and Denis Jaslow clashed for the right to challenge him. Scannavino got Jaslow bounced off the ballot, then lost by a four to one margin to Pascual. Jaslow vowed to return for the regularly scheduled commission election in May with a full slate. Scannavino has vowed the same thing.
In tiny Guttenberg, all three council seats and Mayor David Della Donna will run in a June primary and November general election. Guttenberg re-elects the mayor and council every two years, just as Secaucus used to before state law changed terms to four years.
In Hoboken, all bets are off. Mayor Dave Roberts doesn't face re-election this year, but six of the nine City Council seats are up for grabs, one in each ward. Several factions have emerged as contenders.
In this contentious town of activists, Roberts is wedged among various forces, each pressing for his administration to take a particular direction. Council members Carol Marsh and Tony Soares are pushing for Roberts to live up to the inclusive mandate that got him elected. Confronting the realities of administering the city, Roberts has sought out professionals that mirror previous administrations. Various special interest groups may propose slates for the May elections. Even apparently loyal Roberts people such as young councilman Ruben Ramos (who may or may not have ambitions to become mayor someday) seem to negotiating with the mayor to avoid open political confrontations.
Although Roberts saw significant successes in the April, 2002 Board of Education election, this fracturing of his coalition may make the 2003 school board election more of a challenge.
With that change of law two years ago that gave the Secaucus mayor and council four year terms, 2003 will be historic in that it will be the first year since the founding of the town's charter in 1900 that no Town Council election will take place. This will create an additional focus on the Board of Education as the stage on which local political dissatisfaction could manifest itself. Three seats are up. At least one board member may not be running for re-election.