The race for Hudson County Democratic Chairman on June 12 between Brian Stack and Amy DeGise remains too close to call. The race really comes down to three key factors: the results of Tuesday’s county committee election in West New York, where there are 116 candidates for 58 county committee seats in 29 districts; and DeGise’s ability to win a significant number of votes in Jersey City – the motherload of Hudson County – which has 362 county committee seats, 41% of the 900-member electorate.
The entire point of Stack’s alliance with Fulop was based on Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s promise to deliver county committee votes in Jersey City.
The vote is set for 7 PM in Kearny, an extraordinarily tough place for much of Hudson County to get to. The outgoing county chairman, former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, deliberately made the time and location difficult for Stack. But the move comes with some risk: it’s hard to get from Bayonne to anywhere at that time, but Bayonne to Kearny poses some real logistical challenges. Stack has tried to force a Jersey City venue.
There is some talk of individual voting machines for each town; both sides probably like the accountability that town-by-town results offer.
DeGise starts off with a sizeable block of votes: North Bergen (78), Kearny (60), Secaucus (28), Guttenberg (12), and East Newark (4). That’s 182 votes, less any no-shows — and the possibility that a handful of county committee members will vote for Stack in the privacy of the voting booth – but DeGise will get nearly all these votes.
Even though Kearny has a home-court advantage, Mayor Alberto Santos is not especially good at voter turnout, at least by Hudson County standards. He’ll be under a lot of pressure – mostly from North Bergen mayor Nicholas Sacco – to turn out everyone, but don’t be surprised if DeGise loses ten votes or so on a less than stellar turnout.
In Weehawken, where Mayor Richard Turner is technically uncommitted, look for most of the 20 votes to DeGise, with a few for Stack. But there is some speculation that Turner – if there is a dedicated Weehawken voting machine – could play King Solomon and give each candidate ten. There’s also the possibility that some of the Weehawken county committee just doesn’t show up.
Recently re-elected Bayonne mayor Jimmy Davis has endorsed DeGise and is expected to deliver most of the county committee votes to his candidate. Two things to watch for: the results of a handful of contested races for county committee between Davis supporters and opponents, and the traditional challenge of getting Bayonne Democrats to show up for a county reorganization meeting. Both sides seem to think Stack peels off 12-15 votes in Bayonne, but DeGise’s total is important. There’s a significant difference in coming out of Bayonne with 70 rather than 90.
In Hoboken, Stack has the solid support of Mayor Ravi Bhalla and claims to have commitments from 60 of the 80 county committee members. This is a critical number for Stack: he absolutely needs to come out of Bayonne with about 60 votes, especially if DeGise does better in Jersey City than he expects. Some Hoboken Democrats allied with the anti-Bhalla faction are supporting DeGise.
Harrison has a contested Democratic primary for mayor and town council between slates led by incumbent James Fife and his opponent, councilman Anselmo Millan. Fife is backing DeGise and could deliver between 14 and 18 more votes – there are only four contested county committee seats on the ballot on Tuesday. The wildcard here would be a Millan upset, which could potentially cause some leakage for DeGise if county committee members jump about the new mayor’s slate. In a small town like this, with no polling data available, it’s impossible to know how real Millan’s challenge his.
Stack’s base comes from his hometown, Union City, which will bring him 74 votes. The only certainty in this race is that all 74 will be there, that they will be there on time, that all Union City county committee members will be and fed and hydrated, and not a single voter will travel off the reservation.
The results of West New York will be known on Tuesday night. Stack is backing an off-the-line slate allied with Mayor Felix Roque, while DeGise is supporting the Hudson County Democratic Organization ticket backed by Rep. Albio Sires and Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo. Stack needs to come out of West New York with about 20 of the 58 seats.
The intra-party contest, went to court in April after Roque alleged that Democratic Municipal Chairman Jonathan Castaneda, his onetime chief of staff, cut a deal with Cirillo and threw away the Roque slate petitions; the race is viewed as a precursor of the 2019 mayoral campaign between Roque and Cirillo.
The West New York county committee fight might also be the harbinger of Rep. Albio Sires’ political future. There has been speculation that Stack won’t support Sires for re-election in 2020, and a DeGise win will allow Sires to hold on to his congressional seat.
Sires has been predicting a sweep of all 58 seats. He’s been going door to door all weekend and is staying in West New York until the polls close. Interestingly, the fight with Stack and Roque has brought two once-bitter enemies, Sires and former mayor Sal Vega, into an alliance.
So DeGise will probably head into Jersey City with a lead of about 125 votes – note that this is not a hard count, just an estimate. But if that number is close to being right – which it is – then Stack needs to keep DeGise’s Jersey City vote tally under 100 to win. That number, of course, is dependent on what DeGise’s plurality will be in the other eleven municipalities.
Turnout for Jersey City will be a challenge. In Ward E, where Fulop is supposed to have a lock on what was his political base, many of Fulop’s people don’t work locally and getting to Kearny by 7 PM will be difficult – one of the reasons the DeGise team scheduled it that way. There are 46 votes out of Ward E.
Stack has the strong support of State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, whose political base is the vote-rich 62-vote delegation from the heavily African-American Ward F. Again, turnout is critical; Stack can’t afford to lose more than a handful of Ward F votes.
DeGise’s best opportunities come from the 58-member Ward D block — the Heights — which is part of the old political base of her father, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, and former Jersey City mayor Jerramiah Healy. Former Assemblyman Sean Conners and the rest of the DeGise team have been working to secure this block.
Stack has been working Jersey City hard – he’s been knocking on the doors of county committee members for moths – but ultimately, he needs to depend on Fulop’s ability to deliver. With whatever turnout model exists, the bottom line is Stack needs a 175-vote margin over DeGise in Jersey City to win the county chairman election.