There’s a strange twist in the reported race for a new chairman for the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO). Rumors now claim that former North Bergen Freeholder Vincent Ascolese, one of the assistant superintendents of North Bergen Schools, might be considered as the chair. This would be somewhat of a strain since historically, Ascolese is not on the best of terms with state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco. They have something like a love-hate relationship, and the two powerful North Hudson politicos are less at odds than reports claim.
But Ascolese is aging at a time when the next generation is taking over, and realistically, the fight for the spot is most likely between state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack and County Executive Tom DeGise.
While Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith was considered, his municipal election in May could get in the way. He is opposed by Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone and some are concerned that Smith could lose and would become a weak chairman.
Although the recent trip to Bayonne by Gov. Christopher Christie is being touted at a political coup for Smith in the run-up to the May municipal election, some political observers say Christie came to warn Smith not to mess with state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, who was one of 10 people Christie named to his transition team.
Christie’s aid cuts may hurt Republican districts as well as Democratic ones, but the cuts will keep Democrats focused on their own backyards and prevent them from rebuilding a statewide organization to challenge the Republicans for the next few years. This, coupled with redistricting, could allow Republicans to take control of the state legislature again.
Who controls the Democratic organization in Hudson County will matter in whether or not Democrats in the state can rely on a solid base in Hudson for a future revival. Some believe Stack, who has been an opponent of those who currently run the HCDO, might dismantle the organization and render it ineffective. On the other hand, many see DeGise as too closely aligned with the current chairman, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, and will keep on many of the same players such as Harold Demellier and Craig Guy, who have shaped Democratic operations for the last few years.
Unfortunately Stack will be distracted during the next six weeks as he is forced to defend his mayoralty and commission seats from a challenge by his arch rival, Frank Scarafile, in the May 11 elections.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, however, is breathing easier now that he found his ticket unopposed. Reports suggest that opposition started too late and was still too disorganized to mount a serious challenge to Turner during this election cycle anyway.
Secaucus Democrats are a mess
Secaucus remains the most interesting race going into this election cycle, partly because some old-line Democrats are in revolt against their own party chairman. Democrats like Vincent Prieto as their state assemblyman and fear that an in-fight could lose the seat to a Democrat or even a Republican outside Secaucus, but many old timers believe Prieto has sold his soul to their political enemy: Mayor Michael Gonnelli.
Although Gonnelli claims he played no role in the Democratic primary challenge last year, people who supported his election were deeply involved in trying to take control of the Democratic Party. But the effort gained only two seats out of 32 on the town committee, and none of the alternative Democrats were able to unseat the candidates then backed from then-Mayor Dennis Elwell.
This year is different. With Prieto as head, the Secaucus Democrats seem to be attempting to purge old-time Democrats, excluding a certain list of committee people, many of whom were the strongest workers against Gonnelli in the last election. The old order is fighting back and apparently is planning to unseat Prieto and to replace him with the well-seasoned Carmen Ross. Meanwhile, the two factions will put up competing tickets in June for primary for council and for committee, the winners of which will determine if the Democrats will be in any shape to take on the Gonnelli ticket in November.
Although rumors said former Councilman Bob Kickey might join the traditional Democrats in opposing the Prieto ticket, committee people said they do not want Kickey and will likely seek another candidate, which might be Frank Trombetta in the 2nd Ward. Traditional Democrats are also seeking to get Dawn McAdam to run again. She successfully turned back a primary challenge last June, but failed to win in last November’s 1st Ward election. Incumbent Councilman John Shinnick, who appears to be Prieto’s number one target, is expected to run in the 3rd Ward on the traditional Democratic ticket.
Dirty tricks in Bayonne?
The old adage about not facing a political opponent you don’t have to took a new twist this month as one of the independent candidates in the Bayonne municipal elections claimed that supporters of incumbent Mayor Mark Smith tried to derail his campaign by using duplicate petition signatures.
Prior to the March 18 filing, representatives of the Smith campaign requested and received the petition forms of their independent opponents who had already filed. If the same resident’s signature appears on petitions for two opposing tickets, the signature is disqualified.
One independent claims that the Smith campaign was using the document to target voters who had signed the independent petition to get them to sign the Smith-backed candidate as well.
The Smith campaign denies this, but if true, then a challenge of signatures later would force the city clerk to discard signatures from both candidates. The result would be that the Smith-backed candidate would still have the necessary number of signatures to qualify for a place on the ballot, while the independent would not.
You can bet that this matter will end up in court if independent candidates start getting disqualified as a result.