Having served the 32nd New Jersey legislative district as its state senator since 1994, Nicholas Sacco doesn't feel like he has to prove himself in the upcoming Democratic primary June 5.
The 32nd District includes Secaucus, North Bergen, and several nearby towns.
Sacco, who was just sworn in a week ago Tuesday for his sixth term as North Bergen's mayor, is prepared to let his record as a state senator speak for itself.
He says he's not going to get into a war of words with his opponent, Jersey City Police Detective Sean Connors.
"I feel that the district has benefited greatly with me as a state senator," Sacco said. "I felt that the district wasn't being represented well when I first ran for state senator in 1993. We were kind of being left to the side of things, not only North Bergen, but the towns in West Hudson as well. I felt it was time to make a change, to give the area a voice."
Sacco said that he decided to run against incumbent Sen. Thomas Cowan in 1993 - who ironically is the uncle of Connors, his opponent on June 5 - after being asked to run by former State Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto.
"We decided to run together that year and we won," Sacco said. "I've been a senator ever since."
Sacco, 60, has served as a state legislator for the last 13 years and would prefer to stay right where he is.
"I think I've been able to do things as a state senator that have affected a lot of people in the community, not just North Bergen," Sacco said. "I authored the state DNA [criminal database] bill that then Gov. [Christie] Whitman didn't want to support, because it was a Democratic bill, but she saw it was necessary. It changed the face of law enforcement in the entire state. Because of it, more criminals are being caught and wrongly convicted people are having their sentences overturned; [and] innocent people being freed. It was one of the landmark laws and I'm very proud that it was my bill."
On Tuesday, a Superior Court judge in Union County overturned the 20-year-old rape and murder conviction of Elizabeth native Byron Halsey, after DNA evidence proved that Halsey did not commit the crimes he was convicted of committing.
"It's just one example of the power of DNA to find the truth in some of our toughest criminal cases," Sacco said. "The ruling shows just how powerful a tool the State's DNA database is for our law enforcement community. Not only has it helped an innocent man get out of a life sentence, but it will ensure that the real perpetrator of these horrible acts will answer for what he did 20 years ago."
Sacco currently has another bill that would expand the DNA program to include those individuals who are either convicted or arrested for violent crimes, and to have the DNA samples and records destroyed if the charges are dropped or the defendant is acquitted at trial.
Cutting DMV lines
Another bill of Sacco's changed the old Division of Motor Vehicles, forming the new Motor Vehicle Commission.
"The lines at the offices were cut severely and made visits to get new licenses and registrations more friendly," Sacco said. "It used to be a complete nightmare. It was a very consumer friendly piece of legislation. We have also made it more difficult to get a false driver's license, which has made it safer for everyone."
Sacco also authored the bill that led to the formation of Urban Enterprise Zones in the state and also was behind the bill that assisted non-Abbott designated school districts to receive state funding, helping out urban districts that didn't qualify for special state funding.
Sacco has also served as the state Senate chairman for the transportation committee. His affiliation with the Transportation Committee has enabled the 32nd District to receive designation for several state Department of Transportation projects, including the two overpasses that were built in North Bergen and a planned third one at 69th Street and Tonnelle Avenue.
Responds to charge of holding too many offices
Connors has said publicly that he doesn't think Sacco has enough time to devote to his three positions - namely mayor, state senator, and assistant superintendent of schools in North Bergen.
"Tell that to the man who was released because his DNA didn't match the crime he was convicted for if I'm able to do my job," Sacco said. "Ask the criminal who got caught because of DNA if I'm doing my job. Ask the senior citizens who receive half fare on NJ Transit buses. That was my bill as well. A lot of people have benefited from legislation I introduced. Things I've done have made all our lives better."
Sacco said that when he was first elected as a state senator, there was a lot to learn. But now that he's a respected veteran, one of the pure powerbrokers in the state Democratic party in a state with a Democratic majority for the first time in 12 years, Sacco feels he should be re-elected to continue the regular progress being made.
"Now that we have leadership in the state, it's easier to get our agenda across and passed through," Sacco said. "I never thought it could happen. Now that we have it, we have to continue to be effective and constructive, introducing legislation that will make a difference. We can't just throw things out there with bills that are not important. I think we're finally being taken seriously in Trenton. I want to be as effective as I can be there."
Added Sacco, "Everyone knows that I spend as much time dealing with a legislative matter as I do with a local matter. I'm getting things done for the entire district."
Sacco said that his experience as a mayor has helped him pass legislation in Trenton.
"I am there for the local mayors, because I know what they're going through," Sacco said. "I understand the mayor's position and what they need. These are the types of things that make me want to run for the chance to serve in an elective office and I truly believe that I am more than efficient in Trenton."
Now, it's up to the voters in the 32nd District to decide that come June 5. Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org