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Bergen races to watch

By David Wildstein, November 05 2018 6:09 pm

Bergen County will elect a new Sheriff on Tuesday in an unplanned election triggered by the unexpected resignation of three-term Democrat Michael Saudino.

Saudino was captured on tape making racist and homophobic comments.

Bergen County now has nearly 90,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Democrats have nominated Anthony Cureton, a former Bergen County NAACP president.  The Republican candidate is Hasbrouck Heights mayor Jack DeLorenzo.  Both are former police officers.

Complicating an already confusing race are the presence of three independent candidates: Saddle Brook police chief Robert Kugler, retired state trooper Robert Tormo, and James Ahearn, lawyer and former Rutherford police officer.

In a move that likely means very little, The (Bergen) Record endorsed Tormo.  More helpful is that Midland Park Mayor Harry Shortway, an 80-year-old former Bergen County undersheriff who challenged DeLorenzo at a GOP convention, is backing him.

Kugler sought the Democratic nomination against Cureton.  He has filed a lawsuit to stop the election, but so far has been unsuccessful.

Saudino was elected as a Republican in 2010, ousting two-term incumbent Leo McGuire by 9,210 votes (52%).  He was re-elected by 21,117 votes (55%) against Democrat James Mordaga in 2013.  After switching parties in 2016, Saudino won a third term with an 88,447-vote margin (63%) against Republican Michael Afonso.

Bergen County was one New Jersey’s premier swing county, but Democrats now control all five countywide elected offices.  There are 219,582 Democrats, 129,935 Republicans, and 253,897 unaffiliated voters.

The contest will be a for a three-year term under a quirk in state election law that prevents county constitutional officers from running for unexpired terms.  Instead, the full term resets if there is a special election.

County Executive

Democrat James Tedesco is seeking re-election to a second term as Bergen County Executive.  He faces Republican Norman Schmelz, the mayor of Bergenfield.

Tedesco unseated incumbent Kathleen Donovan in 2014 by 17,003 votes, a 54%-46% margin.

Donovan, a five-term county clerk and former assemblywoman, defeated two-term incumbent Dennis McNerney in 2014 by 14,051 votes (53%-47%).   McNerney had won the post in 2002 when he beat State Sen. Henry McNamara 51%-47%, a margin of 10,259 votes.

Schmelz won the June Republican primary by just 186 votes (50,5%-49.5%) against Paul Duggan, 10,371 to 10,185.  He had run on the GOP organization line along with congressional candidate John McCann, while Duggan was allied with McCann’s primary opponent, former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan.


Democratic incumbents Steven Tanelli and Tracy Silna Zur faces Republicans Eric Kulmala, an Oakland councilman, and Hector Olmo, a councilman in Cresskill.

Democrats have held all seven seats on the Bergen County Board of Freeholders since 2016, when Maura DeNicola lost her re-election bid and a second GOP freeholder, John Felice, did not seek re-election.

Local Races to Watch

Allendale: Republican mayor Liz White is not seeking re-election.  Republican have picked Ari Bernstein, a longtime councilman, as their candidate for mayor.  He faces Democrat Carolina Curbello.

Bergenfield: Democratic councilmen Thomas Lodato and Hermando Rivera Mejia face Republicans Joan Gelb and John Gallagher.  Both parties have hometown favorites on the ballot: Mayor Norman Schmelz is on the GOP ticket as the candidate for county executive, and Democratic assemblyman Chris Tully, a former council president, is running for an unexpired term in the State Assembly.

Elmwood Park: Republican councilwoman Magdalena Giandomenico is seeking re-election on a ticket with former councilman Keith Work.  The GOP holds both seats now.  Democrats are looking to expand their council majority with Denise Ingui and Doris Wechtler.   Woodland Park mayor Keith Kazmark, a Democrat who served as Elmwood Park administrator and borough clerk, has endorsed the Republicans.

Englewood: Democrat Michael Wildes is seeking a return as mayor, a job he won in 2004 and walked away from in 2010.  He faces Republican Deirdre Paul and independent Horace Ragbir in a heavily Democratic city. Running off the organization line, Wildes beat Englewood Democratic Municipal Chairman Phil Meisner 2,675 to 1,504 – a margin of 1,171 votes – in a contentious and nasty primary.  Incumbent Frank Huttle is not seeking re-election to a fourth term.

North Arlington: Republican mayor Joseph Bianchi died on October 10, after voting had already begun.   A Superior Court judge allowed Republicans to switch candidates.  Now Republican Daniel Pronti faces Democrat Mark Yampaglia; both are currently councilmen.  A former Democratic councilman, Albert Granell, is running as an independent; so is Lilliam Saldanha.

Palisades Park: The race for mayor in a heavily Democratic borough features councilman Christopher Chung against Republican Howard Donovan and independent Willie Sabogna.  Chung narrowly defeated incumbent mayor James Rotundo in the Democratic primary.  If elected, Chung would become the first Korean-American mayor in a town that has a majority Asian population.  The 2010 census reported that 51% of Palisades Park residents are of Korean ancestry.  Sabogna made headlines this summer after alleging that Chung was advocating “Korean Power” in his campaign.  “This is not the year to vote for any Korean candidate.  None of them have the vision or knowledge to be serving on our town council,” Sabogna wrote on his Facebook page.

Paramus: Mayor Richard LaBarbiera, an early supporter of Phil Murphy’s campaign for governor, is seeking a second term against Republican councilwoman Jeanne Weber.  The races for Borough Council feature a matchup between Democratic incumbents Holly Tedesco-Santos and Pat Verile and Republican challengers Jorge Quintana and Mohammed Reda.

Ramsey: Republican mayor Deirdre Dillon faces former mayor Richard Muti, a Democrat who had been elected as an independent.

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