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Bergen County Surrogate Michael Dressler. (Photo: Facebook.)

Bergen Democrats seek to keep relatively new blue wall

By David Wildstein, November 01 2021 10:29 am

Bergen County was once a swing county, where both parties fought out competitive and expensive general elections in countywide elections and in competitive local contests across the county’s 70 municipalities.

Just seven years ago, Bergen had a Republican county executive and sheriff and

It was a must-win for Republicans until twelve years ago when Chris Christie became the first GOP gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey history to win a statewide election without carrying Bergen County.  He did so after accumulating lopsided margins in Ocean and Monmouth; some think Christie would have won Bergen too had Gov. Jon Corzine not picked favorite daughter Loretta Weinberg as his running mate.

Over the last decade, Bergen has tilted Democratic.  That’s a big deal, since its nearly 690,000 registered voters in the largest county block in the state.

Joe Biden carried Bergen County by 81,550 votes in 2020, 59%-39%.  In 2017, Gov. Phi Murpohy won it by 34,361 votes, 57%-42%.

Democrats flipped the county executive post in 2014, took back the sheriff’s office in 2016 when the Republican incumbent, Michael Saudino, switched parties, and defeated the last two Republican freeholders in 2016.  Since then, county government has been all-Democratic.

Saudino resigned in 2018 after getting caught on tape making racist and homophobic statements and was replaced by Anthony Cureton, a career law enforcement official and the president of the Englewood NAACP.  Cureton defeated Hasbrouck Heights Mayor Jack DeLorenzo by

Cureton faces Republican Robert Kugler, the longtime Saddle Brook police chief.  Kugler had unsuccessfully challenged Cureton for the Democratic nomination in 2019, ran as an independent – he received 4% of the vote) and since switched parties.

Earlier this year, before the GOP picked their candidates, the state attorney general charged Kugler with official misconduct, alleging that he regularly used local police officers to serve as funeral motorcade escorts for a funeral home he owns.   A grand jury has since indicted him and Kugler is awaiting trial.

Some people from both parties privately say that the charges against Kugler are overblown, citing a tradition of police escorts for funerals.

Democrat John S. Hogan has been the Bergen County Clerk for ten years and is seeking his third term.

He’s a former mayor of Northvale who served briefly as a freeholder more than a decade ago.  In 2011, he unseated interim County Clerk Elizabeth Randall, a former assemblywoman and Commissioner of Banking and Insurance in Gov. Christine Todd Whitman’s cabinet, by 2,016 votes, 51%-49%.  Hogan received 60% of the vote when he sought re-election in 2016.

This year, he faces Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie and a longtime behind-the-scenes player in Bergen County GOP politics.  Kelly won national attention as a defendant in the Bridgegate scandal, but the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned her conviction.

The race against Hogan for county clerk represents Kelly’s bid for a political comeback She raised over $100,000, but Hogan and Democrats have taken her challenge seriously and have outspent her.

Surrogate Michael Dressler Is seeking his sixth term, continuing a political career That began in 1974, as a 22-year-old junior at Fairleigh Dickinson University running for the Cresskill council.  He was the top vote-getter in that race.  Nine years later, he unseated a Republican mayor.  He’s been surrogate since 1996 and won his last race by 61,217 votes.

Dressler has overcome tremendous adversity.

Just before his high school graduation, Dressler dove into water at the Jersey Shore to find that he had hit a sandbar just a couple of feet from the surface.  He was administered last rights but survived.  Paralyzed, he spent almost two years undergoing physical rehabilitation.

Against Dressler, the Republicans are running Simone Tsigounis, an attorney who lost a race for Bergen County freeholder in 2020 by 64,795 votes.

Democratic County Commissioners Steven Tanelli and Tracy Silna Zur face GOP challengers Timothy Walsh and Ronald Joseph Lin.

Tanelli, a former North Arlington mayor, and Silna Zur are seeking their fourth terms.  In 2012, they flipped two GOP freeholder seats — Zur took out Republican Robert Hermansen by 26,773 votes – and they both won three years ago by about 67,000 votes.

Walsh is the grandson of former New York Giants general manager Ray Walsh, Sr. A former Republican National Committee field staffer who coordinated Bergen County in 2018, he ran for Congress in 2020 but lost the GOP primary.

Twelve of 53 towns that Donald Trump won in 2016 and lost in 2020 are in Bergen County: Hasbrouck Heights, Hillsdale, Ho-Ho-Kus, Mahwah, Montvale, Northvale, Ramsey, River Vale, Rochelle Park, Upper Saddle River, Waldwick, and Wood-Ridge.

In Teaneck, voters will decide whether they want to move their non-partisan municipal elections from May to November.

Editor’s note: David Wildstein testified against Kelly at her 2016 trial.

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