Politics as usual? 2002 may see resumption of old political feuds

For Hudson County Democrats, 2002 could finally resolve some of the issues plaguing the more powerful political figures over the last six years. When Sen. Bill Bradley retired from the U.S. Senate in 1996, two people sought to take his seat: then-Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-9th Dist.) and Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) Hudson Democrats – particularly former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski – backed Torricelli, creating a riff in the party that festered for years.

Playing the role of dutiful Democrat, Menendez, who grew up in Union City, did not press his wish for a senate bid in 1998. That year, Jon Corzine got the bid to replace retiring Sen. Frank Lautenberg. But in late 2000, as the Democrats geared up for the 2001 gubernatorial election, Menendez withstood an attempt by Janiszewski to have Torricelli named over Jim McGreevey (whom Menendez supported) in the race for governor. This battle reportedly contributed to Janiszewski’s loss of power in the Democratic Party and Menendez’ rise.

Torricelli is up for re-election to Congress this year. Although the FBI said last week that an investigation into his campaign finances found nothing, re-election can never be taken for granted, nor can backing from the Hudson County Democrats – of whom Menendez is now chairman.

Menendez, indeed, previously had been called a "backup candidate" for the Democrats if the investigation had made Torricelli ineligible to run.

Still unresolved in the upcoming year is Janiszewski’s more permanent replacement as county executive. Because Janiszewski delayed his official resignation until Oct. 1, 2001, Democrats escaped an election last November and were allowed to name a temporary replacement. Bernard Hartnett – a lawyer and figure prominent in Governor Jim Florio’s administration in the late 1980s and early 1990s – took over after a heated backroom battle among Democrats. Menendez’ faction agreed to a temporary truce, centering on state Senator Nicholas Sacco (D-32nd Dist.) to avoid Democratic infighting during a year in which Democrats sought to elect a governor. But in November 2002, Hudson County will have a special election to determine who will fill Janiszewski’s unexpired term, which ends in 2003. While Hartnett could be asked to continue in the role for another year, contenders could include current Freeholder Chairman Sal Vega, current state Senator Bernard Kenny (D-33rd Dist.) and others. Republicans – who put a significant battle for the seat in 1995 – will be expected to take advantage of the federal investigation that is rumored to have caused Janiszewski’s resignation.

Municipal landscape

In what may appear to be a deja vu, Brian Stack – who won re-election last November to fill the term of former Union City Mayor Raul Garcia – will have to run again for municipal commission in May. Under this form of government, people run for commission and the commission votes on who will serve as mayor. If Stack wins, he is expected to continue as mayor.

Although nothing is definite yet, Christopher Irizarry – who ran with Stack for the commission in 1998 when they lost and has worked with Stack during subsequent successful elections – will likely run with Stack again this year. Another possible candidate for commission is Lenny Calvo, a Board of Education member and firefighter. But if he runs, he will not likely run on Stack’s ticket.

It is debatable whether Ralph Fraguela, who was elected to the state Assembly in November, will run for re-election. He has attended only one commission meeting in the last six months.

Other commissioners who may run for re-election include Michael Leggiero and Tina Yandolino. Neither has announced their intentions yet. Ray Lopez, who is a police officer on leave and a former Garcia supporter, is expected not to seek re-election.

West New York, Hoboken, Jersey City, North Bergen, and Guttenberg have no municipal government elections slated for 2002. Annual school board elections will take place in Hoboken, North Bergen, Guttenberg, and Jersey City in April. West New York and Union City have appointed boards.

In Secaucus, municipal elections are expected to become a dogfight, as Democratic incumbents in the town’s three wards fend off a challenge from an independent slate. This election has grown more significant because of a change of state law last year that increased the terms of office from two to four years. While the law came too late for independents to raise a slate in 2001, Councilman John Bueckner – the leading spokesperson for the Independents in Secaucus – has promised to put up a complete slate in 2002. If they don’t put up a slate this year, the Independents will not be able to run candidates again until 2004. Democrats facing re-election this year are Michael Grecco, Robert Kickey, and Fred Constantino. While no Independent candidates have yet declared, former candidate George Brommer is expected to run again. Board of Education members Tom Troyer and Paul Amico have also been rumored as possible council candidates.

In Weehawken, the mayoral election is in May. Three-term Mayor Richard Turner is expected to run for another four-year stay in Town Hall. Although Weehawken utilizes the township/council form of government, when the mayor is appointed after running for election as a councilman, it’s readily known that Turner is the political bigwig in the town and will head any re-election efforts.

While Turner has run unopposed in each of his campaigns, there is a strong possibility that his administration could face opposition this time around. A new civic organization called WIN (Weehawken Initiative Now), headed by married actors Eric Conger and Gayle Humphrey, is exploring whether they can form a ticket to oppose Turner and his administration.


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group