Bergen County Republicans have not yet weighed changes to their county convention in response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the county, BCRO Chairman Jack Zisa said.
“We haven’t considered that,” Zisa said. We’re still waiting for some dialogue from the county and what the county is doing … At this time, no, we have not made any decision to change or dispense or move it. At this point, it’s still on for the 23rd.”
On Wednesday, Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe announced his organization would hold its convention via telephone town hall.
McCabe’s county has only had two individuals return presumptive positive tests for the novel strain of coronavirus.
Bergen County, on the other hand, is host to 11 presumptive positive cases of the virus, including the only COVID-19-related death in the state.
State health officials have not yet issued recommendations against mass gatherings, though they have advised those with heightened risk of contracting the virus to practice social distancing.
Members of Bergen’s Republican organization also skew older than those of the MCDC.
But there are other differences between the two counties and their political organizations.
Middlesex Democrats’ convention was uncontested. Progressives challengers there decided not to seek the party line.
Eight Republicans have announced their intent to seek the GOP nod to run against Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Former investment banker Frank Pallotta, Montvale Mayor Mike Ghassali and former Cresskill Councilman John McCann are chief among those.
The organization’s bylaws require it hold a convention before filing day — it’s March 30 this year — and do not provide for a situation in which a convention cannot be held.
“Could we dispense with the bylaws and make believe they don’t exist? Maybe. I don’t know that we’d get challenged or not,” Zisa said. “Sometimes I think that the losers would love to then be in a position to challenge. I think we’ll play it by ear and see in the next week or so what the prognosis is.”
Zisa said he expects a decision by the middle of next week.
Bylaws for some other county parties stipulate that the county line goes to the candidates recommended by screening committees if no convention is held, but no such measure exists within the BCRO’s rules.
Still, Zisa suggested dire circumstances could force the organization to act independently of those rules.
“We do have bylaws that dictate what we can do,” he said. “I would hate to not abide by the bylaws, but we’ll see.”
The Republican chairman said he did not believe the BCRO could hold a tele-town hall, citing concerns about verification.
“I am not aware of a way that we could do that comfortably and be able to justify an outcome and be comfortable with an outcome that I could defend. You don’t know who it is. How would I know who it is?” he said, referring to prospective callers.
Bergen Republicans’ policy committee is set to meet Wednesday night. That acts as a screening committee and will recommend candidates to Bergen’s Republican committee members.
The Bergen County Democratic Committee is set to hold its convention Thursday night.
Arati Kreibich, a progressive mounting a primary challenge to Gottheimer, has called for the Democratic organization to allow committee members to cast absentee ballots.
“Providing remote access to large events to protect public health is quickly becoming a widespread practice in our community,” she said. “So, while I’m excited for the Convention and confident that our campaign will overperform, I’m calling on the Democratic Committee of Bergen County to allow absentee voting. Otherwise, we will have a low-turnout convention that puts the Democrats who do attend at risk.”