Like it or not, there is going to be a political war in Hudson County – unless cooler heads prevail.
The more that opponents of state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack provoke him, the closer he edges toward putting together his ticket for the Democratic primary in June.
Several people have been asked to run in the 32nd district against Stack’s arch rival, state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
The question is: will Stack be able to find the same quality candidates that he did in his previous unsuccessful effort in 2008?
Anyone who runs with Stack in the 33rd District will be swept into office with him. Less certain is whether or not he can find quality running mates in the 31st or the 32nd. Who can Stack get who’ll be willing to sacrifice himself or herself against the all-powerful Sacco in the 32nd, and if state Sen. Sandra Cunningham runs for re-election in the 31st, who will he get to oppose her?
But the war will most definitely be over the single countywide seat up this year, which is the sheriff’s office – currently occupied by a strong Sacco ally, Frank Schillari.
Schillari beat incumbent Juan Perez three years ago, partly because Sacco and Stack both agreed to get rid of him. But a fight over the sheriff’s seat this time would be different, partly because Stack and Sacco would bring to each candidate about the same number of votes, and so the fight would depend on how the rest of the county divides over the seat.
Several things have changed since the 2008 civil war when Stack and Sacco shared a portion of Jersey City, and so also largely split the vote there as well. Stack, however, had a distinct advantage in North Hudson where West New York fell into his political territory and he could rely on that vote.
Since then, redistricting has caused a crucial change. In the upcoming election, Stack’s senatorial district includes half of Jersey City, but he has lost West New York. And his holdings in Jersey City do not have the same cachet as those in West New York, where Stack was nearly as popular as in Union City.
Until recently, Stack’s alliance with West New York Mayor Felix Roque helped the senator’s cause. But if Roque resigns over the next two or three months – part of a potential deal to plead to lesser charges in his website hacking case and to retain access to Medicaid and Medicare for his medical practice – then West New York will be in chaos as various factions scramble to become mayor. The real power could fall into Rep. Albio Sires’ hands, a very popular former mayor who would then become kingmaker.
Sires and his chief of staff, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, have not been the guaranteed dance partners for Stack they had been in the past, partly because Roque angered U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez last year. And a move by a gathering of anti-Sires forces in North Hudson is apparently underway in North Hudson to pressure Sires and Turner back into the Stack camp, a kind of implied threat that if they do not do the right thing by Stack, there might be political retribution to pay later in, say, races for freeholder or even Weehawken mayor.
This implies, of course, that Stack is looking to West New York or Weehawken for his candidate for sheriff, despite his previous courting of former Sheriff Perez in Bayonne.
Sacco neutral in Jersey City race – for the moment
This Democratic civil war between Stack and Sacco will also influence the Jersey City mayoral election in May, where Stack and Sacco will likely back separate candidates.
So far, Sacco has played coy, claiming he is still neutral in the fight between Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop and Mayor Jerramiah Healy, but he reserves the right to decide later if he wishes to back one over the other.
This comes when many political figures closely aligned with Sacco have taken the Fulop side in the race, including the Chasan Leyner & Lamparello law firm, which employs Sacco’s town attorney, Herb Klitzner, and the Kenny, Florio, law firm, of which long time Sacco ally Bernard Kenny is a principal partner.
In some ways, the Jersey City mayoral race becomes symbolic of the whole Democratic split, since Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, in his role as chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, has already endorsed Healy – as have a number of other political people associated with Smith.
Stack, who once asked Fulop’s hand in a political dance many expected to turn out to be a long term marriage, has pulled back and will likely side with Healy – even though over the years, Healy and Stack have had issues of their own. If Healy wins with Stack’s help in May, Stack might see strong support from Healy in helping to get Stack’s slate elected in the June primary, in particular support for Stack’s pick for sheriff.
But political memories are short in instances like these, and even if Healy joins Stack, people like Smith might be unwilling to cross Sacco and back a sheriff’s candidate who Stack wants elected, leaving Bayonne to most likely follow whatever party line Smith chooses.
Both the Jersey City mayoral election and the Stack revolution will hinge strongly on what state Sen. Sandra Cunningham does in the 31st District that includes the other half of Jersey City.
Although once rumored as a possible mayoral candidate, Cunningham is expected to support Healy for mayor, a move that could also help Healy. And while Stack has courted Cunningham in the past, she did not run with Stack in the 2008 primary fight, something that many people believe made the difference in Stack’s losing in two of the three state legislative districts. And with the rest of the county split, Cunningham could be the one who decides who the Democratic candidate for sheriff will be next November: Stack’s guy or Sacco’s.