A freeholder sits on the county's nine-member Board of Freeholders, voting on county policies, contracts, and budgets. Members of the board earn a $39,174 salary and get use of a county car.
Bayonne is one of the few contested races on the county level this year, but may well serve as a test of how the public feels the county government is doing.
The Democratic primary election for the seats is this June 3. The general election will be in November.
Freeholder Incumbent Doreen DiDomenico, who has the strong support of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), is fending off challenges by former Councilwoman Mary Jane Desmond and longtime tax critic David Longenhagen.
Unlike challenges elsewhere in Hudson County, the Bayonne freeholder race is overshadowed by other elections, including the special Bayonne mayoral election slated for November and a contested Democratic primary June 3 between U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and challenger 1st Congressional District Rep. Rob Andrews.
DiDomenico is running on the HCDO line with Lautenberg, while Desmond has endorsed Andrews.
While DiDomenico has received the endorsement and support of HCDO Chairman and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, and Bayonne Mayor Terrence Malloy, Desmond is being supported by state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, state Assemblyman, and Bayonne Councilman Anthony Chiappone, as well as a mayoral hopeful, retired Judge Patrick Conaghan.
Longenhagen, as a candidate unaffiliated with either camp, said he believes he has the support of the people.
DiDomenico is running on her record
When DiDomenico entered public life as a Board of Education member seven years ago, she said she was relieved at the fact that it was an appointed position, not an elected one.
She said she wanted to serve, but not become part of a popularity contest. When she decided to run for freeholder three years ago, she had to learn to campaign. But DiDomenico said she is more of a worker than a politician, someone who gets into the job, learns as much as she can, and tries to get things done without fanfare.
Running for her second term comes a little easier because she now has a record of accomplishments - nuts and bolts issues she tried to solve over her first term in office - such as seeing through plans for the restoration of Stephen Gregg Park and a variety of traffic safety issues up and down Kennedy Boulevard.
Unfortunately, projects large and small do not always correspond to the election cycle, DiDomenico said, and she still has things she wants to accomplish.
"That's the reason I'm running," she said. "I want to finish what I've started."
DiDomenico is a clinical psychologist and has been a behavioral specialist at Rutgers University for over 15 years. She has brought this knowledge to the freeholders' Health and Human Services Committee, which oversees some of the critical programs regarding health, employment, and housing in the county.
When elected, DiDomenico said she wanted to focus on open space issues in Bayonne and the county. She did, although this often provided her with curious side issues, such as the management of wildlife.
"This includes how do you deal with the issue of goose droppings in the park," she said.
But open space and the environment can also be found in issues such as how to install solar panels on newly acquired county buildings so as to reduce energy costs.
Currently vice chair of the freeholders, DiDomenico said she has a number of goals for her next three years, such as the development of a nature conservancy that will allow each park to set up its own not-for-profit organization to help garner additional grants for maintenance and improvements of the parks. Some goals are very down to earth, such as the repaving of Kennedy Boulevard, improvements to the tennis courts in Stephen Gregg Park, or expanding college and other educational opportunities for people with learning or other disabilities.
Desmond seeks change
Desmond, who has worked in the Hudson County government since 2003 up until last year, believes that as a freeholder, she can bring more resources to help in dealing with the everyday problems people face in Bayonne, such as the lack of employment.
"One of the reasons I ran for county clerk last year was to help people," Desmond said. "I believe government should help people and not be a source of patronage jobs."
She believes that over the last few years, there has been a lack of real leadership leading to low moral among county workers, and this translates into less effective service to the taxpayers and others.
She said it is up to elected officials to inspire people and to help them believe in themselves and their duties.
Desmond has always seen herself as something of a troubleshooter, someone who looks at problems and finds solutions.
As deputy clerk, Desmond said she tried to make the system work better.
Born and raised in Bayonne, Desmond attended local Bayonne schools, including Holy Family Academy, before attending St. Peter's College, the New Jersey Professional School of Business, the Securities Training Institute, the New York Institute of Finance, and the Rutgers University of Government Studies.
Longenhagen knows he's a long shot
This is Longenhagen's third attempt to seek elective office. In the 1990s, he challenged then Assemblyman Joseph Doria in an attempt to unseat him.
"I got more than 10,000 votes. Unfortunately, Joe Doria got 50,000," Longenhagen said.
Two years ago, Longenhagen ran for an at-large council seat.
His campaign centers on one core issue: taxes.
"People pay too much," he said.
A resident of Bayonne for 30 years, Longenhagen is currently a teacher for heat and air conditioning at the Hudson County Schools of Technology. He previously worked as an engineer at the former Military Ocean Terminal and led a staff that provided heating and air conditioning services, which he believes gives him insight into the redevelopment of the base.
This year, Longenhagen is also focused on job creation, claiming that the shrinking industrial base in Bayonne is making it more and more difficult for people to live here. He believes that as a freeholder, he might be able to help generate jobs.
If elected, he would use his position to lobby for changes at the former Military Ocean Terminal that would reduce or eliminate housing development there in favor of industry or other job-producing development.
"We need jobs, not more housing," he said.
Taxes and the hospital are big issues
The biggest issue in this year's freeholder campaign is taxes.
Desmond claims DiDomenico is supporting a county budget that calls for a more than 5 percent increase in county taxes. Since Bayonne is seeing the third largest increase in county taxes this year, the issue resonates with voters.
DiDomenico, however, said she voted to introduce the budget so that it can be reviewed and so that cuts can be proposed. But she also said that the county is suffering from the downturn in the real estate market, a downturn that has drastically reduced county revenues. Otherwise, no increase would have likely occurred.
Desmond has been sharply critical of DiDomenico over the rescue of Bayonne Medical Center.
Desmond - who was among the most outspoken critics of the old owners and helped lead the rescue effort - claims DiDomenico was not involved.
Mayor Terrence Malloy, who has endorsed DiDomenico, said she played a critical role at the county level.
"When Bayonne Medical Center was in danger of closing last year, Doreen DiDomenico played a crucial role in supporting a $9 million rescue package from the County of Hudson," Malloy said. "At a time when Bayonne Medical Center needed a demonstration of serious financial support, she shepherded that $9 million rescue package successfully through the Hudson County Freeholder Board. In the end, the former management of Bayonne Medical Center decided to file for bankruptcy instead of accepting the rescue package."