If Hudson County were to name a man of the year, former County Executive Robert Janiszewski might be it. Few moments in politics this year equaled the drama of his mysterious Sept. 6 written resignation or the weeks of speculation that had led up to it.
Janiszewski’s resignation was submitted after he had vanished in August. Political watchers said he had become part of a federal investigation and had been wearing a wire since the beginning of the year.
In the closing months of the year, people pondered the significance of the events leading to the resignation and waited with baited breath for the next shoe to drop: Which bigwigs from the political or business world did Janiszewski tape, and had they said anything incriminating?
A federal raid on the office of Hoboken’s Applied Housing in August, and a subpoena of the Hudson County Improvement Authority in November only fueled the speculation as to whom the federal authorities would target next.
Meanwhile, in the year’s elections, there were further results of a Democratic civil war conducted in Hudson County since 1999, pitting U.S. Rep. Bob Menendez (D-13th Dist.) and his North Hudson coalition against Janiszewski, as well as against then-Mayor and Assemblyman Raul Garcia (D-33rd Dist.) and other western and southern Democratic leaders. Janiszewski – who had supported the bid of Sen. Robert Torricelli for governor in 2001 over Menendez’s candidate Jim McGreevey – had allegedly also supported Garcia’s attempt to undermine Menendez’s political base in Hudson County.
Garcia had had to resign as Union City mayor in 2000 after being criticized for budget problems and giving a tax hike. Over the last two years, Menendez sought to end Garcia’s political empire. New blood in the Jersey City and Hoboken mayoralties signaled that various Garcia allies were fading from power. In Jersey City, former U.S. Marshal Glenn Cunningham routed Garcia ally Tom DeGise for the seat left open by gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler. Cunningham is Jersey City’s first African-American mayor.
In Hoboken, the mayoral election of Councilman and businessman David Roberts over two-term incumbent (and Garcia ally) Anthony Russo, signaled a possible end to politics as usual in that city.
While Democrats control Hudson County, the results of local elections promise to divide the party in the near future. The unopposed elections of Dennis Elwell as mayor in Secaucus and Garcia-foe Brian Stack in Union City maintain a strong opposition to Menendez in the Democratic ranks. Stack, in fact, received more votes in his re-election than Menendez. With long-time North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco (a Cunningham and Elwell ally) convincingly re-elected to the state senate, Menendez will need to seek coalitions to make moves.
Mayor David Delle Donna managed to beat a Republican challenger in Guttenberg 2 to 1, showing the dominance of Democrats in that town. Delle Donna is expected to forge strong ties to Menendez allies state Senator Bernard Kenny (D-33rd Dist.) and Freeholder Chairman Sal Vega.
While there were no general elections held in Weehawken this year, Mayor Richard Turner – who also serves as town administrator for Mayor Sires in West New York – may face a challenge in the upcoming year by Weekhawken Initiative Now (WIN), a group being put together by development activists. Meanwhile, former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler managed to come from behind to win the Republican primary for governor in the spring, but lost the election to Jim McGreevey of Woodbridge in November.
Also in the fall, lawyer and Democratic gubernatorial aide Bernard Hartnett was named to replace Janiszewski as county executive. Although Cunningham jointed North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco (D-32nd Dist.) and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell in defeating Menendez’s choices for that slot, naming Hartnett to the position instead, Cunningham caved in during an October vote, electing Menendez as the chairman to the Hudson County Democratic Party. November’s election of McGreevey to governor solidified Menendez’s hold on the party.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the post-election period was McGreevey’s selecting Assemblyman (and West New York Mayor) Albio Sires (D-33rd Dist.) as assembly speaker. Sires, who got elected to his second assembly term, was named as a comprise candidate between Bayonne Assemblyman (and mayor) Joe Doria (D-31st Dist.) and a Camden County assemblyman. Most Democrats before the election had assumed Doria – because of his length of services in the assembly – would get the top spot. Although Menendez tentatively supported Doria, the Sires appointment adds evidence to the increased power of North Hudson in statewide Democratic politics in the post-Janiszewski era.
Doria’s failure to obtain the position of assembly speaker also affected his closest ally, 32nd District Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto, who was expected to become the second ranking member of the assembly behind Doria, but has been named as chair to several committees instead, an additional loss of clout.
In the state senate, Bernard Kenny of Hoboken took the position of Democratic senate majority leader. His position in the state senate, along with Sires’ in the assembly, shows Hudson County’s influence and power statewide.