Two key Hudson County Democratic leaders are not backing Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise for re-election next year, exponentially increasing the likelihood that DeGise will retire.
Sources say that Union City Mayor Brian Stack and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop think it’s time for DeGise to go. Both think county government has become a bit stale and are looking to make a change.
DeGise has been facing criticism recently for the county’s response to five deaths at the Hudson County jail over the last eight months.
Stack, also a State Senator, is in line to replace former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) as Hudson County Democratic Chairman in June. He seems a lock on the post after a sometime rival, North Bergen Mayor/State Sen. Nicholas Sacco, said he would back Stack for the post. The discussions with Fulop on the county executive post represent a second alliance for Stack.
One name being mentioned as a DeGise replacement is longtime Hudson County Freeholder Bill O’Dea. His role as a renegade in county government seems to fit the Stack mold, and he was the first elected official to publicly endorse Fulop for mayor in 2013.
While the county executive post has been held by Jersey City since 1987, there is reportedly no agreement in place that he post stay in Jersey City. North Hudson could get the position, especially if Democratic leaders decide to go in a new direction and elect the state’s first Hispanic county executive.
The Hudson County congressional seat, now held by Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York), is not part of the DeGise discussion. Sires would not be affected by a deal to dump DeGise, despite speculation that Fulop views Sires’ seat as a Jersey City seat.
A recent Tweet by former Jersey City council candidate Jake Hudnut on the events at the county jail suggested DeGise was “less progressive” than Fulop or Gov. Phil Murphy. That prompted Fulop to respond: “I agree with everything you wrote… Clearly what is happening there isn’t acceptable.” Fulop promised that O’Dea would be on it.
Hudnut wrote that Fulop “has a strong pulpit to call on county leadership to step up the response.”
“This issue is not far outside his wheelhouse,” Hudnut wrote. “His administration has demonstrated a progressive commitment to re-entry and job placement for offenders returning from jail and prison. That’s an important cause, but it’s meaningless if the conditions in these facilities are such that re-entry into society becomes a moot point.”
The jail has been a tough department for DeGise. Last summer, he helped push the county corrections director, Tish Castillo Nalls, into retirement after “she was allegedly involved in an expletive and racially charged confrontation with a Hudson County sheriff’s officer.” The new director, Ronald Edwards, is DeGise’s guy.
DeGise, 66, has been expected to seek re-election to a sixth term next year. A former Jersey City council president, DeGise ran for mayor in 2001, but lost the runoff to Glenn Cunningham. County Executive was his consolation prize; he won a 2002 special election after Bob Janiszewski resignation and has been re-elected four times.
The 58-year-old O’Dea was elected to the Jersey City Council in 1985, at age 26, and has been a Freeholder since 1997. He won that race by a single vote after Hank Gallo’s death. O’Dea was involved in an incident last November when he used his freeholder badge to pull over a motorist and claimed to run the Sheriff’s department. By Hudson standards, that is no big deal.