Doing the freeholder shuffle
Feb 09, 2014 | 3156 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print

All hell is expected to break out this year in the races for freeholder as new candidates emerge to unseat some long-standing office holders.

Part of this upcoming Democratic primary battle has to do with the aftermath of recent municipal elections in Hoboken and Jersey City, as Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer attempts to replace Freeholder Anthony Romano with someone from her inner circle, and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop attempts to dump Freeholder Jeff Dublin for Dublin’s outspoken support of Fulop’s opponent last year.

But Freeholder Thomas Liggio is reportedly being replaced by Anthony Vainieri in order to allow Fulop’s ally Freeholder Junior Maldonado to become chairman in 2015, ahead of a move by the Fulop camp to support Freeholder Bill O’Dea’s bid for county executive.

Adding complexity to an already complicated game of musical chairs, Fulop may also back a candidate to challenge Bayonne Freeholder Doreen Di Domenico, partly as political payback for Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith steering funds to support former Mayor Jerramiah Healy in last year’s election against Fulop, but also as a move to control a majority of the vote. Fulop needs five votes to have control, and currently has two. This would explain why he is supporting Zimmer’s move to replace Romano as well.

On top of this, West New York Mayor Felix Roque apparently won the support of state Sen. Nicholas Sacco to name WNY Commissioner Caridad Rodriquez as the freeholder candidate against Freeholder Jose Munoz.

This comes at a time when Munoz has been leading the political attack against Roque, successfully backing candidates for Board of Education in a power struggle to take control of a board previously controlled by Roque.

Even without the upcoming school board election that will put four of the remaining seats up for grabs, the board is largely split over pro and anti-Roque members, with a fifth vote technically in the Roque camp, but seen as a wild card.

Roque’s move to replace Munoz as freeholder comes at a time when former WNY Mayor Sal Vega reportedly got the blessing from U.S. Senator Robert Menendez to seek Munoz’s seat, while former WNY Commissioner Gerry Lange was seeking support from Rep. Albio Sires and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner.

Munoz represents WNY, Weehawken and Guttenberg, but since Sacco’s senatorial district also covers WNY and he is seen the power behind the Democratic chairman for the county, his support will hold sway.

This will likely force Munoz to run against Roque for mayor in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Bayonne municipal election became infinitely more interesting as James Davis hired Union City political heavyweight Joe Lauro, and Joe DeMarco, the current business administrator of WNY.

DeMarco is apparently looking for a new place to land and would likely serve a similar post if Davis is elected.

Apparently Roque has already met with people who might replace DeMarco.

People supporting Smith, however, do not believe Davis or Anthony Zanowic can win, citing very positive polling numbers.

The Davis ticket is hoping to ride a wave of dissatisfaction by teachers, who blame the Smith administration for a lack of a contract.

But Smith has a significant war chest, and Davis camp has yet to do its election reports, despite having two fundraisers. So it is unclear at this point how much campaign cash they have.

To this point, the municipal election in Bayonne has three tickets, although the makeup of those tickets is still not clear.

The Smith team will be announced sometime next week, and could possibly see a new candidate for the 1st Ward. Meanwhile, Leonard Kantor, who was running in the 1st Ward, has joined the Zanowic ticket as an at-large candidate.

A national spotlight?

Sires has announced he will be running for reelection in the 8th congressional district. This puts the onus on Fulop to either support him or come up with another candidate to challenge him.

Some have suggested Zimmer, with her recent national attention might be drafted to run, although this would pose a problem for the Zimmer camp, which has the votes to name an interim mayor, but would push the city into yet another municipal election and a rerun of the 2013 election Zimmer won with less than 50 percent of the vote.

If Zimmer can’t break 50 percent in a citywide race, it is unlikely anyone on her ticket can, either.

Rumors claim that union officials regret their endorsement of Zimmer after the debacle over the Rockefeller project.

Zimmer claimed that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno tried to tie Sandy aid to the city to approval of project – which has ties to Republicans – in particular David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority.

Newly elected State Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia claims Zimmer may have tried to hold the project hostage.

Garcia, along with state Sen. Brian Stack, are among those who doubt Zimmer’s claims, but they are also the people who endorsed Gov. Chris Christie’s reelection.

Public opinion weights heavily against Christie, as indicated by his being booed at one of the Super Bowl events last week. The polls show his approval ratings crashing – even though at this point, no one has actually proved anything against him.

The Democratic strategy against him seems to raise as many questions as possible in as many areas as possible, leading to the public perception that something must be wrong somewhere. They are scrambling to assemble a jigsaw puzzle of possible Christie misdeeds, and yet have not yet been able to make the pieces fit.

To date, the most damaging witnesses against Christie are Zimmer and David Wildstein, the man who is allegedly responsible for the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last September.

Zimmer has a diary entry to support her claims. Wildstein claims he has proof connecting Christie to the closing of the lanes, but won’t produce it until Wildstein is granted immunity. This sounds like a Catch-22. Democratic legislators don’t get to see the evidence until they protect the one person who allegedly did the act.

Christie continues to deny knowing anything about the bridge lane closings until after the fact.

In the absence of objective evidence, it seems most people believe who they want to believe. But this is a standoff with consequences. Someone isn’t telling the truth, and no one can afford to back down. Zimmer has accused Guadagno of a crime. Wildstein has accused Christie of being a liar. In this is a high level political poker game, someone is bluffing, and everybody has a lot to lose. But sooner or later, everybody is going to have to show their hands and the loser won’t walk away unscathed.

Al Sullivan may be reached at

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