They say the elephant has a long memory, but last week, West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque proved that he has a long memory too, when he embraced the GOP elephant and endorsed Monmouth Republican state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez for the U.S. Senate seat.
The move has shocked Hudson County, where Democrats might flirt with Republicans – such as what goes on between Republican Gov. Christopher Christie and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack – but it has rarely gone beyond flirting until now.
In a statement, Hudson County Democratic Organization Chairman Mark Smith expressed disappointment at the surprise endorsement of the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate by Roque.
“Sen. Bob Menendez has been a tireless advocate not only for Hudson County but all of New Jersey during his tenure in the United States Senate,” said Smith. “Senator Menendez has deep roots in North Hudson and I am perplexed that any Democrat would oppose his re-election.”
Democrats did it to themselves
Dr. Roque’s overwhelming defeat of former Mayor Sal Vega and Vega’s ticket last May was the culmination of Democratic infighting for nearly a decade – going back to the original feud between Stack and State Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Stack’s belief that Sacco and then-state Sen. Bernard Kenny had attempted to pass anti-dual office-holding legislation in an alleged scheme to keep Stack from becoming state Senator.
This only made Stack move sooner than he apparently intended. Kenny retired. Vega, bolstered by Sacco and the Hudson County Democratic Organization, became the sacrificial lamb to run against Stack.
Then-Mayor Vega had inherited the West New York mayoralty from Albio Sires – who himself took the House of Representatives seat vacated by Menendez, who in turn had taken the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Jon Corzine became governor.
Although Vega had been close to Sires, he apparently started to replace Sires appointments with his own people, and when dealing with the budget blamed Sires for necessary tax increases, causing a break between Sires and Vega that could never be repaired.
When Vega got crushed by Stack in the state Senate election a few years ago, some people in West New York saw Vega as vulnerable on the municipal level. Many believe that Stack, still angered over the negative election Vega had waged against him, secretly supported Dr. Roque’s campaign last May. While Sires and his chief of staff, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, never officially endorsed Dr. Roque, Caridad Rodriguez, a former office manager for Sires, ran on Dr. Roque’s ticket, giving it the additional credibility it needed to beat Vega.
Unfortunately for all concerned, Menendez misread the tea leaves and endorsed the reelection of Vega. This week, he got his payback when Dr. Roque returned the favor by endorsing Republican Kyrillos.
Although Sires has distanced himself from Dr. Roque and claimed he supported Menendez, Dr. Roque’s endorsement puts Sires in a bad position since some Democrats had already been looking towards Assemblyman Ruben Ramos as a possible replacement for Sires. This might cause the HCDO to look more closely at that option.
This also puts Stack in a curious position, since he more openly supported Dr. Roque, and yet is also very close to Menendez – despite playing footsie with Gov. Christie. In the upcoming election, Stack is going to have to make up his mind who matters more, Roque or Menendez.
This is also a slap across the face of the HCDO, which was already embarrassed by its inability to beat Roque in the mayoral election last year.
New chief for North Hudson Regional?
But behind the scenes is also another battle brewing between Stack and Sacco, which Dr. Roque apparently stumbled into the middle of.
Sacco and Stack appear to be at odds over who decides who will be the next chief for the North Hudson Regional Fire Department. Stack apparently has asked his commissioners who oversee the force not to renew a contract with a Sacco-friendly public relations firm, while Roque has made it a policy not to support the appointment of Sacco people and perhaps is still feeling the sting of the nasty campaign waged against his ticket last year. The combination of votes loyal to Stack and Roque is enough to block the PR firm’s reappointment.
In some ways, Dr. Roque has become the new political bad boy of Hudson County, taking a title previously held by Stack, and the HCDO is helpless to do anything about it.
Hoboken, oh yes, Hoboken
Hoboken Mayor Zimmer’s successful state of the city address may have had a little help from Trenton, some sources claim.
“We’re pretty sure someone from the Christie administration worked with her on it,” said one source.
If so, she might do well to continue to get that help.
Hoboken political consultant Perry Belfiore – who has been part of a group screaming for open government – sent out a blanket email to political operatives in Hoboken to stop leaking information.
“Someone is talking to Al Sullivan and it has to stop,” Belfiore’s email said. “Few people know the candidates’ names spoken about at last Saturday’s meeting, what Frank said, and the encounter I had with Stack. This is no coincidence. The person who thinks ingratiating themselves with Sullivan accrues a political benefit is wrong. Stop it or I will refuse to be in the same meeting with you.”
Last week, this column printed the name of a possible candidate for the Board of Education who might be backed by Assemblyman Ramos and others from what we called “the Old Guard.”
Belfiore said in his email that he didn’t want anyone leaking information to this column about what went on in brainstorming sessions. He also apparently took exception to the term “Old Guard,” claiming it played into Zimmer supporters’ hands, since the battle for control of city government is really all about a portion of the newcomer vote.