When Brian Stack was a 25-year-old political operative in 1991, he managed Albio Sires’ campaign for Mayor of West New York against five-term incumbent Anthony DeFino. Sires was a political outsider in those days – he lost races for Congress in 1986 and Hudson County Freeholder in 1987 as a Republican. Stack was on the outs with the Democratic organization in his hometown of Union City. Sires lost by just 36 votes; that was the campaign that put Sires and Stack on the political map.
With the filing deadline on Monday, Sires is waiting to see if Stack is serious about backing an opponent against him in the June Democratic primary.
In Hudson County, most party bosses started out as renegades trying to overthrow the machine. Bob Menendez tried to take out Billy Musto and Steve Fulop tried to take out Bob Menendez. That’s how Hudson works. After DeFino replaced four-term mayor John Armellino in 1971, he refused a seat on the Hudson County Democratic Organization executive committee because the machine was still tainted by corrupt politicians. By the time he left office in 1995 – he had been ousted in a 1993 Sires-led recall, then re-elected by voters the same day – Sires was the easy winner.
Sires became the ultimate insider: he switched parties, backed Republican Governor Christie Whitman in 1997, seized an Assembly seat in 1999, became Speaker two years later when Jim McGreevey wanted to dump Joe Doria, and then went to Congress when Joe Roberts wanted to be Assembly Speaker.
Jump ahead to 1997: Sires was now in Congress and Freeholder Sal Vega replaced Sires as mayor and as Assemblyman. Bernie Kenney was retiring – not really his own choice – and Stack, the Union City mayor and assemblyman, wanted the Senate seat. So did Vega. Sires and his top staffer, Weehawken mayor Richard Turner, were feuding with Vega. Vega got the HCDO endorsement, and Stack ran against him off the line. Stack annihilated Vega, winning 77% of the vote – probably the most lopsided defeat of a line candidate in Hudson County history.
There was some talk among Jersey City Democrats of replacing Sires in 2008; it’s happened before: in 1978, freshman Rep. Joseph LeFante of Bayonne, also former Speaker, lost the support of the HCDO and the seta went to former State Sen. Frank Guarini (D-Jersey City). Stack stood up for Sires and helped quash any effort to dump him.
In recent years, there was talk of Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus), with the backing of North Bergen Mayor/State Sen. Nicholas Sacco’s political organization, replacing Sires in Congress. Stack again stood up for Sires and get him another term. It was as much a favor to Turner as it was to Sires.
Now Hudson County Democrats are looking like they are ready to go to war – not a warette, but a full-fledged war like 1987. Stack is trying to dump County Executive Tom DeGise; Sires is standing with DeGise. And Turner, Sires’ top political advisor, has gone way, way underground. He’s the only Hudson mayor not to take sides in the county executive race.
One source suggested that Turner is has made an overture of support toward Stack, which could be to protect Sires – possibly facing a primary challenge in June. But Turner sucking up to Stack isn’t working – or as one insider put it: “If everyone agrees on one thing, it is that Richie Turner is the biggest weasel in politics”