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Westwood Mayor John Birkner

Bergen Dems recruit local officials to challenge Schepisi, Auth

Westwood mayor John Birkner and Emerson council president Gerald Falotico to run for Assembly

By David Wildstein, March 08 2019 12:03 pm

Bergen County Democrats will run three-term Westwood mayor John Birkner and Emerson council president Gerald Falotico for State Assembly in the 39th district.

They will race Republican incumbents Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) and Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan) in a district Democrats have not won in more than 40 years.

With Birkner and Falotico, Democrats get a team that has won local elections in Republican towns.  Donald Trump won Emerson in his 2016 presidential bid, while Hillary Clinton took Westwood.

Birkner was elected mayor in 2007, defeating Republican John Sciara by 39 votes. Mayor Thomas Wanner, who was ousted by Sciara in the GOP primary, served as a spoiler by receiving 169 votes as a write-in candidate.

In 2011, Birkner was re-elected by a wide margin against council president Bob Miller and Wanner, who ran as an independent.   He was unopposed in 2015.

Birkner also has ties to the influential building trades unions.  He served as president of the Utility Workers Union Local 535 (AFL-CIO).

Republicans have a 4-2 majority on the Westwood borough council.

Emerson has a Republican mayor and a split 3-3 council.

Falotico spent 27 years as a police officer in Mahwah, which is also in the district.  He ran the juvenile bureau and the DARE program and served several terms as the PBA president.

Falotico flipped an open council seat in 2013.

Birkner and Falotico are giving up their local posts to run for the Assembly.

Schepisi has been in the Assembly since 2011, winning an open seat after Charlotte Vandervalk (R-Montvale) retired.  Auth replaced Robert Schroeder (R-Washington) two years later.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto made a play to pick up two Assembly seats in the 39th to save his speakership.  Schepisi (34,158) and Auth (32,739) defeated Democrats Jannie Chung (29,126) and Annie Hausmann (28,862).

Democrats have not won the 39th since 1977, when Greta Kiernan defeated Gerald Cardinale by 2,939 votes.  In a 1979 rematch, Cardinale defeated Kiernan by 6,183 votes.

The 39th has 2,767 more Republicans than Democrats.

Trump carried the 39th by 4,653 votes against Hillary Clinton – a solid number, but a sizeable drop from Mitt Romney’s 10,078-vote win against Barack Obama in 2012.

The district includes 20 towns in Bergen County – Closter, Demarest, Dumont, Emerson, Harrington Park, Haworth, Hillsdale, Mahwah, Montvale, Norwood, Oakland, Old Tappan, park Ridge, Ramsey, River Vale, Saddle River, Upper Saddle River, Washington, Westwood and Woodcliff Lake – and Bloomingdale, Ringwood and Wanaque in Passaic.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Trump won Westwood.  Clinton won it.

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