The war that will determine control of the Roseland Democratic machine pits two powerful New Jersey politicians who share a hometown – and an extraordinary hatred for each other.
Former Governor Richard Codey has filed a slate of candidates for nine of the twelve county committee seats against the Essex organization ticket backed by County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. The competition comes with little reward—Roseland has about 5,000 people and is controlled by Republicans—other than winning a trophy for the man with the greatest testicular girth. But the trophy appears to be of monumental importance, with both Codey and DiVincenzo preparing to devote considerable resources to win. Neither is willing to let the other beat him.
Codey spent part of last weekend ringing doorbells getting petitions signed. DiVincenzo has tasked his chief of staff, Phil Alagia, one of the state’s top political operatives, to run the Roseland county committee race. Sources say that Alagia, who was on vacation this week, is already reviewing the list of about 1,600 registered Democrats to see who can be recruited to help the organization slate.
There’s a good chance that this race will get expensive—five veteran political insiders agree that $50,000 is a conservative estimate. Absolutely no transparency is required because it’s a party office. County Committee races are not subject to state campaign finance laws. There are no reports filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission. There are no limits on campaign contributions, and no disclosure of donors or expenditures. Hypothetically, some guy in say, Camden County, could just deliver a bag full of cash and it’s totally legal.
Because the Codey slate filed for nine of the twelve seats, the former governor needs to win seven of the nine to oust Democratic Municipal Chairman Julius “Jay” Coltre, a staunch DiVincenzo ally. DiVincenzo needs to win just three additional seats, since Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones would break a 6-6 tie.
DiVincenzo’s candidates will also have a better ballot position: historically, the organization candidates run on Line A. That allows them to be bracketed with Bob Menendez, congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill, Sheriff Armando Fountoura, and DiVincenzo. With the extra Senate and House candidates, it looks like Codey’s candidates will wind up further down the ballot, around Line G.
On vote by mail ballots—which many insiders say would be a good strategy for both sides—county committee candidates receive no benefit from the organization line. Since it would be cumbersome and expensive to print individual absentee ballots for every district, the names of all Roseland county committee candidates are printed on the back of the paper ballot. Any coattails from the rest of the Democratic ticket are essentially eliminated. Further complicating the issue is that the burden of knowing which county committee candidates to vote for in their individual district falls on the voter.
Reminder: relatively recent New Jersey election law limits the number of absentee ballots any one person can pick up at three.
Codey is only challenging the county committee seats, not the Democrats running for mayor and borough council. Coltre, who has been chairman for just a couple of years, saw some success at the local level in 2017. Democrat Christopher Bardi ousted Council President Mark Vidovich while another Democrat, Roger Freda, came within 55 votes out winning the second borough council seat.