Committee people from the 31st Legislative District voted on July 26 to appoint Jason O’Donnell to fill the state Assembly seat vacated by the resignation of Anthony Chiappone earlier this month.
Chiappone resigned on July 16 after pleading guilty for misdirecting aide funds to his campaign account in 2005. This left committee people from Jersey City and Bayonne with 45 days in which to name a replacement.
The 31st District includes all of Bayonne and a large portion of Jersey City. Each state legislative district has one state senator and two Assembly members to represent it.
At a meeting at a Bayonne school Monday night, Lisa Cerbone-Gallo from Bayonne nominated O’Donnell for the slot. Her nomination was seconded by Jersey City Freeholder Jeff Dublin.
O’Donnell was sworn in minutes after the vote, although he was scheduled to travel to Trenton for a ceremonial swearing-in on July 27.
“I have a lot of reading to do, besides what I’ve already read in the newspapers.” – Jason O’Donnell
Committee people comprised of individuals from Bayonne and the southern portion of Jersey City voted unanimously for O’Donnell after both leading contenders, Jersey City Democratic Chairman Joe Conte and former legislative aide James Dugan, withdrew their names from consideration.
“I wanted the party to be united,” Conte said, explaining his withdrawal two days prior to the vote.
In a letter to Mayor Mark Smith, who also serves as chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, Dugan explained why he was withdrawing.
“I will be starting a new position as first vice president of the North Jersey Automobile Club of America on Aug. 1,” he said. “This will require my full attention.”
O’Donnell thanked Mayor Smith for his support, as well as for the support of other Democrats in Hudson County.
In a brief interview with the Community News, O’Donnell said he would seek to get up to speed on the issues.
“I have a lot of reading to do, besides what I’ve already read in the newspapers,” he said.
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham of the 31st District could not attend, but Assemblyman Charles Mainor, also of the 31st District, was on hand to greet his new colleague. Also on hand were State Assemblywoman Joan Quigley from the 32nd District, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, former state Sen. Bernard Kenny, and others.
O’Donnell praised the Hudson County Democrats and hoped to be part of an effort rebuild the group as the most powerful Democratic organization in the state.
In comments to the Community News, he said he would be lobbying hard for the 31st District.
“I’ve already spoken to the speaker and the majority leader, and I will be sitting down with them over the next couple of days to learn my role in Trenton,” he said.
O’Donnell said the new post will change his life, but also that he has been involved with public service most of his adult life.
“This is just a new twist,” he said.
Cunningham – who had remained in question as to who she would support until late last week – said she refused to stand in the way of Mayor Smith’s choice. Smith also serves as the Democratic chairman for Hudson County.
For weeks, O’Donnell was rumored to be Smith’s choice. But because two-thirds of the votes had to come from Jersey City, Smith was expected to have to make deals to get enough votes to get his candidate elected. Jersey City committee votes are largely divided among other politicians, such as Jersey City Mayor Healy and various council members, freeholders, and other city and county figures.
Conte’s withdrawal left the choice firmly between O’Donnell and James Dugan – a former aide to former Mayor Joseph Doria. But just prior to the vote on Monday, Dugan issued a letter saying he was also withdrawing from the race, leaving O’Donnell.
O’Donnell is currently director of the Bayonne Department of Municipal Services, which oversees recreation, planning, zoning, building, and health, the Bayonne Public Library, and the Office on Aging. He earned a bachelor of arts in fire science at New Jersey City University, from which he graduated summa cum laude. He joined the Bayonne Fire Department in 1995.
He has previously served as a member of the city of Bayonne’s Planning Board, a past president of the County Donegal Association, and as a member of the Knights of Columbus.
Paul Swibinski, official spokesperson for the Hudson County Democratic Organization, said more than 200 people showed up for the vote.
“Mayor Smith is very pleased about unity and the strong sense of purpose showed at this event,” Swibinski said. “We feel this is another sign of the HCDO’s revitalization, started with Mayor Smith’s selection as chairman. Following this up with Jason’s selection to the Assembly, we feel the HCDO is on the road back to becoming a stronger organization. We’ve had a tough year. We think that is behind us and we’re moving forward more unified.”
Swibinski said O’Donnell is a part of the HCDO’s bright future.
“He is the new Democratic leader that we need,” Swibinski said. “He is a well-educated, well prepared, dedicated public servant.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.