If the Hudson County warette turns into a full-scale war, there are five major battles on the road to victory:
1. APRIL 2018
The filing deadline is 4 PM on April 2. That will be the real indicator of whether the rumors of war are real will be how many districts face competitive races for county committee.
In Hudson County, eight towns elect county committee for one-year terms: North Bergen (78 seats), Union City (74 seats), Kearny (60 seats), West New York (58 seats), Harrison (22 seats), Weehawken (20 seats), Guttenberg (12 seats) and East Newark (4 seats).
Bayonne (102 seats) elects county committee for two-year terms in even-numbered years, so their seats are up in June. Jersey City (362 seats), Hoboken (80 seats) and Secaucus (28 seats) also elects county committee to two-year terms, but in odd years – those seats are not up until 2019.
Former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto is stepping down as county chairman in June, and Union City Mayor/State Sen. Brian Stack is the leading candidate to replace him. That looked like a done deal in January, when North Bergen Mayor/State Sen. Nicholas Sacco said he would back Stack. That may not be so certain now.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop is backing Stack, and Fulop controls most the county committee seats in Jersey City. Stack controls all the seats in Union City, and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla has signed commitment cards from 60 county committee members.
A few key things to watch: will Fulop and Stack try to peel off a few of Sacco’s county committee seats from Sacco, maybe through Larry Wainstein, who won about 36% of the vote against Sacco in 2015 and is planning to run again next year? Can West New York Mayor Felix Roque and the alliance of Commissioners Cosmo Cirillo and Gabriel Rodriguez face off in a fight for control of the county committee? How real will the challenge to Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York) in the Democratic primary be? Do Fulop and Stack take on Sacco in the 32nd district in a special election for Prieto’s Assembly seat? And will the battle extend to the few towns that have partisan primary elections: for mayor and council in Harrison, and for council in Secaucus, Guttenberg and East Newark?
The big wildcard is whether Fulop makes a last minute decision to challenge Sires. He says he won’t.
Hudson County Clerk Junior Maldonado was a Fulop pick, so it’s worthwhile to note that Maldonado can design the ballot in a way that is advantageous to the Fulop/Stack side.
2. MAY 2018
The municipal election in Bayonne between Mayor Jimmy Davis and former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell will determine where most of the city’s 102 Democratic County Committee members go in the race for Hudson County Democratic Chairman. Davis is now the municipal chairman; O’Donnell was his predecessor. In Bayonne, there are a lot of seats filled by town employees and their extended families, so as goes the mayoral election, so goes control of the local Democratic organization.
Davis has endorsed Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise for re-election; in turn, most of the people who have sided with DeGise are also for Davis. Stack, the leading candidate for county chairman, has not taken sides in Bayonne – and he doesn’t need to. O’Donnell, who has not weighed in on county politics, knows who has been working against him.
A Jersey City + Union City + Hoboken + Bayonne alliance is unbeatable. It would be game over.
3. JUNE 2018
This battle is divided into three parts: the June Democratic primary; and a week later at the reorganization of the municipal committees, followed by the election of a county chairman.
The results of individual county committee races and, if any, municipal chairman fights will give a clearer picture as to Stack’s margin in the county chairman race. While Fulop doesn’t control all Jersey City seats, he does have a solid lock. It looks like Jersey City + Union City + Hoboken will put Stack over the magic number of 451 — a majority of the 900 county committee seats, assuming there are no vacancies – and unrealistically assuming perfect attendance. That number becomes more solid if Roque can deliver votes out of West New York.
The assumption is that Stack, even during a war, is the next Hudson County Democratic Chairman.
Note that there will be a battleette in the November general election as it relates to the United States Senate race. If Bob Menendez were to lose, it would have an undetermined impact on the war: either by removing the potential peacemaker from the process, or by giving him more time to make Hudson County politics his full-time job. The other thing to watch is the voter turnout and margins in the twelve Hudson towns in 2018. Win or lose, Menendez will memorize those numbers, and that will be heavily factored in his 2019 actions.
4. MAY 2019
It’s possible that the Hudson County version of the Siege of Yorktown will be a month before the Democratic primary, when voters in North Bergen and West New York go to the polls to elect new commissioners. Each faction has one of the towns.
Wainstein is expected to challenge Sacco in what will again be the most toxic race of the year. These two guys hate each other. Sacco beat him handily last time. A real war means that Stack and Fulop go all in and try to take Sacco out as mayor; if they don’t, then this is just a warette. Sacco has the clear advantage. The worst kept secret in New Jersey is that Wainstein has met with George Norcross and that the South Jersey Democratic leader might be interested in helping to remove Sacco.
If Wainstein pulls off an upset, shifting North Bergen to the Stack/Fulop column, it would be game over.
In West New York, Roque is part of the Stack/Fulop alliance. He will likely face a challenge from Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo, who had been his ally in 2015. Right now, the anti-Roque faction has a 3-2 majority and could seek to remove Roque as mayor early. With Sires engaged, this could be the race to watch.
If the DeGise/Sacco team picks up clear control of West New York – and holds North Bergen – it could be a game changer, since an ousted Roque will have little influence in the June primary.
5. JUNE 2019
This is Hudson’s version of the Battle of Appomattox Court House – the Democratic primary.
Here’s what’s at stake: one line will have County Executive Tom DeGise, Sheriff Frank Schillari, and Surrogate Joseph Ryglicki. It’s possible that Sacco will pull Ryglicki, who turns 72 next year and already has a healthy pension from multiple public jobs over the years; that would give him the chance to find a little more geographic and ethnic balance to his ticket, since Schillari is from Secaucus and Ryglicki is from North Bergen.
The other line will feature challengers who have not yet been named. Sources say the reason they haven’t been named is that Stack and Fulop haven’t gotten that far.
A war will also feature primaries for State Assembly in the three Hudson legislative districts.
The 31st district depends on where State Sen. Sandra Cunningham lands in the War of 2019. Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) will likely align herself with Cunningham. Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Bayonne) will be on the DeGise line – his career his entirely dependent on Davis winning a second term in Bayonne. If O’Donnell wins, Chiaravalloti is a goner – which is how he got there when Davis beat Mark Smith and then deposed O’Donnell.
The 32nd district will go the way the May North Bergen mayoral race goes. If Sacco prevails, his legislators – Assemblywoman Anjelica Jimenez (D-West New York) and whomever Sacco finally picks to replace Prieto – will be just fine, even in the worst of the war. Stack will likely file an opposition slate; if Sacco were to lose, Jimenez and her future seatmate are toast.
In district 33, which is anchored by Union City and Hoboken, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City) and Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-Hoboken) are closely allied with Stack. Given Stack’s ability to turn out massive pluralities in Union City, his team would be the heavy favorites. Sacco could recruit Hoboken City Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, a fierce rival of Bhalla, to run for Assembly. Ditto for Freeholder Anthony Romano or Hoboken Councilman Michael DeFusco.
Hudson’s three State Senators and nine Freeholders are not up in 2019.
Noteworthy: there could be peace at any stage, denying political observers to witness an amazing war up close. To get a better understanding of Hudson County Democratic primaries, read: Hudson County By the Numbers.