A day after Mayor Mark Smith led his candidates to victory in two council runoff elections, he was named the head of the county’s Democratic party.
A committee vote held in School 6 in Jersey City on June 16 officially named him the new chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization.
At the meeting, he said that the county organization has to try to stay relevant and fight for Democratic values, now that the Republican governor seems to be attacking some of those values.
What the HCDO does
Smith, who is the first Bayonne resident to serve as chairman since James Fitzpatrick in the early 1960s, succeeds Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy for a two-year term.
The HCDO is largely a fundraising organization for Democratic candidates in Hudson County, as well as on a state and national level. For years, it was considered among the most powerful organizations in the state, but has declined over the last few years.
“In these difficult economic times, a weary public has responded to a message that pits us one against the other.” – Mark Smith
Smith said he was “honored and humbled” at the show of support, but said he intends to jump right in and get to work.
“The time for pomp and circumstance is over,” he said last week. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. There’s a lot of talk going on around the state that Hudson County doesn’t matter anymore, that we’re a paper lion, that we can’t deliver for our statewide Democratic candidates like we used to. Some call us ‘HC-Dead-O.’ We’ve got to work to change that perception.”
Smith is bringing a large contingent of his Bayonne Democratic Organization to the HCDO, including his chief of staff, Steve Gallo, Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority Chairman Chris Patella, prominent nursing union activist Donna Benjamin, and Joe Taglerini as some of the vice chair people.
Jenny Davis, a key person in Smith’s reelection campaign in May, was named recording secretary, while Mike Embrich, another key member of his campaign, was among the sergeants at arms for the HCDO.
Hoboken Attorney Ed Florio, whose firm also represents the Bayonne Parking Authority, and Bayonne Attorney William Northgrave, who recently represented the BLRA, were named co-legal counsel for the HCDO.
Democratic values under attack
Smith said he hopes to pull the HCDO together.
“We can begin that process by agreeing tonight that we will stand together, that we will work together to avoid internal strife and conflict,” Smith said after the vote. “If Hudson County is to be powerful, we must be united. I pledge to work with our mayors and legislators to support our Democratic candidates at election time and throughout the year.”
He said Democratic values are under attack in Trenton.
“Those things that we believe in have suddenly become vilified,” he said. “In these difficult economic times, a weary public has responded to a message that pits us one against the other. It was not so long ago that we were cheering our first responders, our police and firefighters, and EMTs as our first line of defense against evil in this world. What did they do to suddenly become the enemy? What did our teachers do to become public enemy No. 1? We must work to change these mistaken perceptions.”
The HCDO, he said, must respond to changing times.
“Now we do need to recognize that the governor [Republican Chris Christie] has struck a powerful chord with the general public,” Smith said. “And in many ways, the governor is right: New Jersey needs to change. The question is: are we going to watch that change, or are we going to drive that change?”
He added, “Are we willing to stand up for Democratic values? Are we willing to fight for our schools? And our seniors? And our working families? Are we willing to fight for Hudson residents? Superheated rhetoric must give way to a reasoned dialogue where cooler heads prevail and compromise is reached.”
Smith said part of his focus will be to rebuild the party.
“As we prepare for next year’s elections, where we will nominate our entire legislative delegation, freeholder board and county executive, we must begin the work of reenergizing and rebuilding our party,” he said, inviting fellow Democrats to join him as they begin a new era for the HCDO. “If you are like me, you’re here tonight because you believe in the Democratic Party and Democratic values, you believe that government can be a powerful force for positive change.”
He added, “Let us stand together as we work together to make a difference in our world today. And let us never fail to be proud to say we are Hudson County Democrats.”