But don't expect the council to vote to officially name him interim mayor. He became acting mayor automatically after former Mayor Glenn Cunningham's death May 25, and a council vote to then name him or somebody else interim mayor had been expected within 30 days. But state law says if they fail to vote on someone, Smith will retain the acting mayor seat until November. In November, there will be an election to fill the rest of Cunningham's term ending July, 2005.
This is a strategic move by the Hudson County Democratic Organization to avoid giving supporters of former Mayor Glenn Cunningham a new foothold. If the council votes to make Smith interim mayor, Smith must give up his council seat, leaving a vacancy. Here, race plays a role in politics. This vacancy may be seen as an African-American seat and allow Cunningham's forces to run a ticket for the council and the mayor in November. Without such an opportunity, the Cunningham forces may have lost their opportunity to launch a campaign - despite the fact that the HDCO seems to have become divided.
For now, Smith can remain council president and acting mayor, although he can't vote as a councilperson because of the conflict of interest.
The naming of Judge Jerremiah Healy as a possible mayoral candidate for November may show a crack in the surface of what has previously been seen as the unbroken HDCO. Healy has significant ties to County Executive Tom DeGise, raising the stakes in next November's election. The election may see Smith seeking the HCDO endorsement - and if to make matters worse, Jersey City Councilman Junior Maldonado has been making the rounds of civic events looking and sounding like a candidate as well.
Despite the fact that the HDCO (i.e. Rep. Bob Menendez) once sought to enlist former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler as a candidate against Glenn Cunningham in the 2005 mayoral election (Schundler was a Healy ally at one time), Menendez would not likely feel comfortable with Healy as mayor of Jersey City - Healy would likely become too independent of the HDCO.
But Healy, who ran for City Council in 2001 on a ticket headed by Lou Manzo, may agree to support Manzo's mayoral bid in November and perhaps against next May.
In 2001, when Manzo's ticket lost in the first round of elections, Healy scrambled to find a spot on the run-off ballot. Since the Cunningham slate was full, Healy ran with DeGise. Although DeGise lost the mayoral, Healy secured his seat on the council. Now, with Manzo the likely front-runner for mayor, Healy may return to the Manzo ticket.
Healy has run for mayor in the past with the alleged support of the HCDO. Then-County Executive Robert Janiszewski supposedly backed Healy for mayor - a lukewarm effort that allowed Bret Schundler to sweep into re-election as mayor. Several sources said Janiszewski was not comfortable with having a Democratic mayor, fearing a challenge to his dominance of the Democratic Party similar to one posed in 1991 by then-Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann. Adding insult to injury, Janiszewski even charged Healy for printing flyers Healy never authorized.
Hello, this is Mayor Manzo?
Manzo, currently an assemblyman in the 31st District, jokingly identified himself as "Mayor Manzo" during a recent telephone interview, but then quickly grew serious and said, "I'll only serve if the voters elect me. I won't accept an appointment to the position."
Manzo's loyal ally, Freeholder Bill O'Dea, has also reportedly been deluged with phone calls asking him to run for mayor, an unlikely scenario as long as Manzo remains in the race.
The scope of the mayoral race grows each day and recent reports of a possible candidacy of former Jersey City Councilman Melissa Holloway add a new wrinkle. If true, Holloway would become the third possible African-American candidate including L. Harvey Smith and Sandra Cunningham, splitting the significantly African-American vote in Ward F and almost guaranteeing that a white or Latino candidate will sit in the mayor's seat in November. With a strong following in Wards A, B and F, Manzo will be a hard candidate to beat.
Still standing despite adversity
After the last two years as Hudson County Democratic chairman, State Senator Bernard Kenny could easily serve as the model for a new "Rocky" boxing movie. In the original Rocky, released in the mid-1970s, the boxer vowed to stay in the fight until the finish: win, lose or draw.
"This has been the most challenging two years of my political life," Kenny admitted with something of a weary laugh. "But I'm still standing."
More than that, Kenny has come away with an increased reputation as a peacemaker, someone capable of communicating with the various political factions in the Democratic Party without causing friction. In some ways, Kenny has grown in stature as a result. Always considered one of the leading "thinkers" of the Democratic Party, Kenny's last two years have earned him a reputation as a "doer," and taught him a whole different side of the political world.
"It is a case of whether you can rise to the occasion or not," he said. "You never really know how you will do until you're there."
With something that sounded like a sigh, Kenny said, "It has been a challenging two years, and sometimes it has been very difficult. But I learned a lot from the experience, and I hope the people I serve and the elected officials I work with are pleased with the effort."
Kenny oversaw a significant Democratic turnout in the June Primary, bringing out more than 35 percent of registered Democrats, 96 percent of whom voted in favor of John F. Kerry for president.
The HCDO's victories throughout the county may put to rest the turmoil that has plagued the Democratic Party almost from the moment former County Executive Robert Janiszewski resigned in early September 2001.
"I'm hoping that our victory last week [in various primaries] will lead to peace," Kenny said. "Obviously it's too soon to tell, but we need to be united for November to make certain we get out our vote for Kerry."