Bergen County Republicans view Joe Biden’s mid-term election as an opportunity to end their nine-year losing streak and four candidates have stepped up to challenge two-term County Executive James Tedesco.
One of the candidates is a familiar name: Todd Caliguire, a 66-year-old former Bergen County freeholder who is seeking a political comeback after losing two races for State Senate, one for county executive, and one for governor.
Caliguire will have to fight off Linda T. Barba, a Fort Lee realtor and GOP fundraiser who appears to have impressed a number of Republican insiders as a fresh face. Barba is well-known as a writer for Dining Out magazine.
Paul Duggan, who nearly captured the GOP nomination for Bergen County Executive in 2018, announced this week that he will again seek the Republican organization line. He came within 123 votes of defeating Bergenfield Mayor Norman Schmelz in the county executive primary. Duggan lost a race for Bergen County Freeholder in 2007 and a primary for State Assembly in the 37th district in 2017.
Also running is Timothy Walsh, who is making his third bid for office. He lost a Republican congressional primary to Billy Prempeh in 2020 and a run for county commissioner in in 2021. He came within 13,445 votes of ousting incumbent Tracy Silna Zur.
All four are seeking the organization line and will compete at a vote of the Bergen County GOP Policy Committee and at the Republican county convention next month.
Last year, Gov. Phil Murphy won Bergen by 15,506 votes, a 52%-47% margin. That was way down from his 34,361 vote win (57%-42%) in 2017. Republican countywide candidates had their best showing since 2013.
Five Republicans are seeking organization support for three county commissioner seats this year: Ronald Lin, who ran a strong race in 2021; Dierdre Paul, an educator and Republican leader in Englewood; Doug Holden, the Saddle River GOP municipal chairman and a physician; Michele Han, who sought an Edgewater council seat last year; and Russ Doherty.
Caliguire had been viewed as a rising star in Bergen County politics in the 1980s when he worked for Cary Edwards as an assistant counsel to Gov. Thomas H. Kean. He considered a challenge to then-Rep. Bob Torricelli (D-Englewood) in 1984 and won 46% of the vote against State Sen. Matthew Feldman (D-Teaneck) in the 1991 anti-Florio GOP wave.
He served two terms as a freeholder.
In his 2005 bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Caliguire received 6% of the vote in Bergen and finished seventh in the primary statewide with 2%.
Caliguire defeated then-County Clerk Kathleen Donovan in the 2006 GOP county executive primary by 577 votes but went on to lose the general election by 52,524 votes (61%-39%) against Democratic incumbent Dennis McNerney. Donovan had been viewed as the more electable candidate against McNerney and she unseated him four years later.
He challenged Assemblyman Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove) in the 2007 Republican primary for State Senate in the 40th district but lost by a fourteen-point margin.
Gov. Chris Christie hired Caliguire as the executive director of the North Jersey District Water Commission. After Murphy took office, he was replaced by Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Maywood) and became the deputy executive director. That post carried the same salary.
Once Caliguire qualified for his state pension in 2020, he left the commission.