Hartnett already has been serving in that position after being appointed in October by the Hudson County Democratic Committee - thanks to strong lobbying by Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham. The committee unanimously selected Hartnett to fill the position after the abrupt resignation of Robert Janiszewski amidst a federal investigation into political corruption.
But there is no more unanimity among county officials. Currently, Hartnett finds himself the underdog after 11 of the 12 Hudson County mayors have offered their support to former Jersey City Council President Tom DeGise for the position. Hartnett and DeGise will face off in a June 4 Democratic primary fight that will send one of them to a special election in November for Janiszewski's unexpired term, which is up next year.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, amid the hubbub of lunchtime on Newark Avenue, the rattle of a begging blind man's cup, and office workers and kids rushing into the local McDonald's, Hartnett and Cunningham attempted to stir up a thin crowd. A few county workers chanted "Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!"
Hartnett, a 71-year-old attorney from Jersey City, took the high road as he outlined his reasons for wanting another year in office. But Cunningham blasted U.S. Rep. Bob Menendez (D-13th Dist.) in escalating attacks, calling Menendez - who is also the current County Democratic Chairman - a "tyrant" and a new Frank Hague. The late Frank Hague, the long-serving mayor of Jersey City, is among the most well-known of America's corrupt political bosses.
"Frank Hague is dead!" Cunningham said, his microphone cutting out at odd moments. "I know I've seen his grave. And we don't need another Frank Menendez Hague in this county."
This was the second public attack on Menendez in a week, and came four days after an 11-to-1 mayoral vote to support Menendez's candidate against Cunningham's. Although several mayors claim they are only lukewarm in their support for Menendez's candidate, they said Cunningham's moves seem to be designed to bring back power to Jersey City.
Over the last decade, mayors throughout the county - especially in the northernmost municipalities - have been able to dole out a greater share of county jobs and other patronage, and after Janiszewski's resignation, the individual mayors became even more powerful, acting as an unofficial political legislature.
"We started to vote on matters rather than have a single political leader telling us what to do," said Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell last week, during a separate interview. "We can't go back in time and pretend that Jersey City is the center of the universe. While we realize Jersey City is a significant part of Hudson County, it is not all of Hudson County."
A moderate candidate
Hartnett, in declaring his candidacy, said he still has work he needs to accomplish.
"When I was elected by the County Democratic Committee to the county executive position, I expressed to everyone that I would not seek to extend my stay," Hartnett told the crowd. "But I feel that it is imperative that I remain in the post for one more year to ensure that the dignity and confidence that I have restored in our county government continues."
Hartnett said he has tried to "improve the quality and effectiveness of county government," and with that goal in mind, to "set forth several executive initiatives and priorities" that would leave the county in better shape than when he found it.
Among the things he did already, he said, was to meet with every mayor in the county. This, Hartnett said, was a first for several municipalities. Hartnett said he expanded the Hudson County Improvement Authority to include members from Bayonne, Hoboken and Harrison.
He also noted that Janiszewski, "who seemed preoccupied" last year, had let several labor contracts lapse, and that Hartnett's administration had successfully negotiated them.
Hartnett's administration also saw the adoption of the county's master plan. In addition, Hartnett said, he has set up a management and budget review committee that would provide him with guidance and recommendation.
"The reason I need another year in office is to make sure these recommendations are followed through," he said.
An uphill battle
Hartnett - despite Cunningham's support - faces an uphill battle since even the Jersey City Democratic vote will likely be split. DeGise came close to beating Cunningham in last year's mayoral election and is expected to do well in Jersey City in the June 4 primary.
Although Assemblyman Joseph Charles (D-31st Dist.) and Freeholder William Braker were among Hartnett's supporters during the announcement, most of the others were former or current Jersey City councilpeople, bureaucrats or political advisors.
Usually-savvy political observers pondered Cunningham's harsh rhetoric, wondering if the fledgling Jersey City mayor is bent on political suicide, or as some suggest, he could have a political ace up his sleeve.
Quoting from a Hudson Reporter headline, Cunningham said, "The enemies of my enemies are my friends," and promised to court anyone with a vendetta to settle against the powerful Menendez.
While Menendez's candidate seems to have solid support among the county's mayors, many of those mayors claim they are not completely comfortable with Menendez's leadership. But when caught between Menendez and a power-hungry Jersey City, they have vowed to stick with Menendez.
Still, the seeds of a possible rebellion were evident during the March 15 meeting of mayors in Harrison. When pressed by Cunningham, North Bergen Mayor and state Senator Nicholas Sacco admitted he had opposed Menendez as late as last October.
Bayonne Mayor Joe Doria also has a political gripe with Menendez. Doria, according to one source close to him, is still bitter over the loss of the statewide post of assembly speaker. Doria previously believed he would be named to the post, but in last-minute dickering - in which Menendez is believed to have played a part - the post was given to West New York Mayor Albio Sires instead.
Reportedly, Cunningham has apparently also sought support from Union City Mayor Brian Stack, despite Stack's acting as spokesperson for the mayors' committee. Is it possible one of the mayors might switch sides at the last minute? "This is Hudson County," an observer said. "Political betrayal is common here." Hartnett signs bill amending Living Wage ordinance
Joined by members of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders, a Home Healthcare Workers union, and local labor leader Ed Pulver, County Executive Bernard Hartnett signed into law on March 12 an amendment to the county's living wage ordinance.
The amendment adds healthcare workers to a law passed in 1999 requiring that in new contracts and renewals of existing contracts, employees of private firms providing food, janitorial and security services to the county must be paid at least 150 percent of the prevailing federal minimum wage. The ordinance also requires private companies to provide health benefits and at least one week's paid vacation for affected employees.
"Amending our living wage ordinance to include healthcare workers demonstrates the county's commitment in ensuring that these individuals, who provide these much needed home healthcare services, are adequately compensated for their dedication and work," Hartnett said. "This amendment will give these workers the opportunity to obtain better housing, education and healthcare for themselves and their families." - ADS