Bergen County Democratic Chairman Louis Stellato is expected to resign his post in the coming weeks to take a seat on the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
“If I’m going to be the chairman of the Sports and Exposition Authority, I don’t want the illusion of a conflict,” Stellato told the New Jersey Globe.
Stellato’s resignation will trigger a special election for county chairman, between Fairview superintendent of Public Works Paul Juliano and Mahwah Democratic municipal chairman Todd Sherer.
Some Democrats have mentioned Bergen County freeholder Tom Sullivan, the vice president of IBEW Local 164 and a former councilman in Bergenfield and Montvale.
“It’s time to pass the baton,” Stellato said.
Gov. Phil Murphy nominated Stellato to the authority last September to replace former Bergen County Republican chairman Robert Yudin, but the Senate has not yet moved to confirm him.
Murphy has not said that Stellato would replace former carpenter’s union leader John Ballantyne as chairman, but the pick is the governor’s prerogative.
Several sources confirm that Senate President Steve Sweeney has agreed to advance Stellato’s nomination when the Senate returns in May on the condition that he resign the chairmanship first.
There has been speculation that Sweeney might challenge Stellato’s residency.
Stellato is registered to vote out of a funeral home he owns in Lyndhurst, where he spent twenty years as mayor and Democratic municipal chairman. Property records show that he owns a home in Woodland Park, in Passaic County. Stellato allies dispute that, saying he lives in an apartment above the funeral home.
As Senate President, Sweeney unilaterally has the authority to recognize which senators have courtesy over gubernatorial nominations. Had Sweeney decided that Stellato lives in Passaic County, he could have assigned courtesy to the two Passaic senators, Nellie Pou (D-North Haledon) and Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa).
Sources say that Sweeney has agreed not to address the residency issue if Stellato moves quickly to leave the chairmanship.
Other sources say that Stellato will commit to stepping down after the Senate Judiciary Committee approves his nomination.
Stellato says his likely departure – he declined to put a timeline on his plans — is based on his desire for a smooth transition.
“I don’t see the purpose for me to be chairman of the Bergen County Democratic Organization,” Stellato said. “I would rather do it the right way. It’s just a title. I’m not going to stop being a Democrat.”
When former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto became CEO of the agency, he also gave up his post as Hudson County Democratic chairman.
Stellato has presided over an unprecedented Democratic domination of Bergen County in recent years.
When Stellato won the chairmanship in 2011, Democrats were in a rough patch following the conviction of party boss Joseph Ferriero on federal corruption charges.
Democrats had lost the County Executive and Sheriff posts in 2010, when voters tossed incumbents Dennis McNerney and Leo McGuire; they also lost three Freeholder seats that year, giving Republicans control. The new Republican majority was propped up by a Republican governor.
Stellato helped protect State Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Fair Lawn) and the two 38th district Assembly seats in a tough year, won two Freeholder seats, and engineered the victory of John Hogan for Bergen County Clerk against the incumbent, Lisa Randall, a former assemblywoman and Whitman cabinet member. Democrats won back control of the Freeholder Board in 2012 when Steve Tanelli and Tracy Zur beat a pair of GOP incumbents.
By 2014 – a Republican year nationally – Stellato had transformed Bergen to solidly Democratic. Paramus Mayor James Tedesco ousted GOP County Executive Kathleen Donovan. Democrats now have a 7-0 majority on the Board of Freeholders. Democrat Josh Gottheimer unseated Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) in 2016.
In 2016, Stellato played a key role in convincing Sheriff Michael Saudino to switch parties and seek re-election as a Democrat. When Saudino resigned last year after being caught on tape making racist and homophobic comments, Stellato installed his own candidate, Anthony Cureton.
Stellato has also put the party on a solid financial footing, eliminating debt left behind by his predecessors. Democrats have beaten over 50 Republican incumbents on the municipal level since Stellato took the helm.
Juliano, 48, served as the Fairview Democratic municipal chairman and as Bergen County Public Works Director. The 51-year-old Sherer served as a Paramus councilman before moving to Mahwah.