When it comes to holding seats in Hudson County government, the tiny town of Guttenberg generally gets the short end of the stick.
In fact, the last time a Guttenberg native held a prominent elected role in countywide politics, it was when former Mayor Robert Sabello was elected to the state Assembly as a county at-large candidate in the 1950s, long before the state Assembly and Senate became segregated by districts.
While politicians of Hispanic heritage, such as Rep. Robert Menendez, State Assembly Speaker Albio Sires and Freeholder Silverio “Sal” Vega, have risen to prominence locally, there has never been a Hispanic candidate elected to countywide office.
However, it appears as if all of that is about to change.
The Hudson County Democratic Organization has unanimously decided to support the candidacy of Guttenberg native Javier Inclan for the position of county clerk in this November’s election.
Inclan, 32, has been tabbed to replace the late Janet Haynes, the former county clerk who died in July after earning the Democratic nomination in the June primary.
For the past year, Inclan, who is also a councilman in Guttenberg, has served as the executive director for the Hudson County Democratic Organization, overseeing the political activities of the HCDO.
The organization, chaired by State Sen. Bernard Kenny, decided that Inclan was the best man to replace Haynes in an official meeting Tuesday night.
In fact, it was Inclan who first put the idea in Kenny’s head that he would be the best candidate.
“I actually brought my name forward,” Inclan said. “I feel those who don’t speak are not heard. So I approached the idea with Senator Kenny and other officials and I was pleasantly surprised with the support from all the mayors. I think the mayors had input, as did County Executive Tom DeGise. I guess I’ve been in the right place at the right time and I’m truly honored that they’ve decided to choose me. Actually, I’m in awe that they’ve considered me.”
Inclan will now replace Haynes on the Nov. 4 ballot, running against Republican candidate Theresa DeLeon in the countywide election.
At the same meeting where Inclan was selected as the candidate for county clerk, the HCDO also passed a resolution to request of Gov. Jim McGreevey that Inclan be appointed as interim county clerk as soon as possible, pending approval from the state Senate.
Joan Arango has been serving as the interim county clerk since Haynes’ passing.
If McGreevey takes heed of the HCDO’s resolution and appoints Inclan, he can begin in the role of county clerk as early as next week.
“I absolutely feel qualified to handle this role,” said Inclan, who has been a member of the Guttenberg Town Council for the last three years. “I think my administrative ability and being able to handle the staff of the HCDO for the last year is a big asset. I feel that being involved in the elections in each of the county’s 12 municipalities over the last year is a factor. I have a keen interest in the law, especially election law.”
As county clerk, Inclan will oversee all countywide elections, serving as the final say in all disputed election results and tallies. Ironically, Inclan has been embroiled in a heated election fraud claim that stems from last June’s Democratic primary for the 31st District state Senate seat, a primary election won by Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham over Jersey City councilman L. Harvey Smith in a battle still being litigated in court.
Inclan will also oversee countywide passport distribution, notary publics, and will be the county’s official keeper of records.
While Inclan could continue to serve as a councilman in Guttenberg if elected – one-time county clerk Frank E. Rodgers served both as county clerk and the mayor of Harrison simultaneously for more than 40 years – Inclan said that he would step down as councilman if elected.
“But I will always continue to be a voice for Guttenberg,” Inclan said. “I will keep Guttenberg first and foremost in my mind. It’s where I’m from and where I live. It’s where I grew up and where I served. I have a responsibility to all 12 municipalities, but I feel I can be more of a voice for Guttenberg in county government.”
If elected, Inclan will receive a five-year term as county clerk and will create a piece of history, for Guttenberg and for Hispanics.
“I would be proud to become the first Latino to be elected to a countywide office,” Inclan said. “It has been difficult for politicians to be recognized on the county level. Maybe this is a start.”