Politics of the personal

Try as state Sen. Ray Lesniak might to make peace in Hudson County, something always gets in the way.

For over two years, Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham and posse of deputies have been pursuing and attacking Rep. Robert Menendez’s mostly North Hudson gang, charging them with holding hostage county contracts and patronage.

This has not been a pleasant shootout to watch, and Sweet Ray from Union County has a significant chore in cooling down the boys at the tavern and keep them from yanking out their revolvers every time someone makes a crude remark.

For Menendez’s part, it is difficult to overcome the bad feelings Cunningham engendered when as mayor of Jersey City, he stood on the steps of Jersey City City Hall and called Menendez and Menendez’s sidekick, Donald Scarinci, crooks.

While both sides have taken potshots at each other during the Hudson County Democratic feud, some of the dirtiest deeds came from Cunningham supporters, who blasted Menendez’s allies by going as far as to call specific officials (in a pro-Cunningham newspaper) pedophiles, Uncle Toms, and worse. One unfortunate attack claimed a North Hudson official was the father an illegitimate child.

It is hard to forgive such language, no matter how powerful Cunningham becomes. And it is all the more troublesome for Menendez, who has a lot to lose in national credibility by letting such strong ill feelings get in the way of common political sense.

Justified in his anger (in the way that ancient Greek Achilles was), Menendez has become something of a joke among Democrats statewide who are dubbing the third most powerful Democratic Congressman in the House of Representatives “The chairman of the ABC Board” – ABC signifying “Anyone But Cunningham.”

Just who floated the trial balloon suggesting Menendez would support former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler remains a mystery – although it is clear Menendez needs someone to take the role L. Harvey Smith accepted in facing off against Cunningham in the state Senate race. In the context of the heavy religiousness that both Schundler and Cunningham promote, this would not be the lion lying down with sheep, but one more sheep led to slaughter.

Perhaps there is some justification in questioning just how the county awards its contracts and how much an influence people like Menendez play in that process, but the attacks have become personal.

One-time Freeholder and now State Assemblyman from the 31st District Lou Manzo once defined the difference between North Hudson politics and South Hudson politics by saying politicians from the southern half of the county could shake hands after their dispute and still maintain a level of decorum. North Hudson has a reputation of finishing you off, ruining opponents for any future political aspirations.

Some might blame this hostility on former County Executive Robert Janiszewski. So talented was he in keeping the peace by balancing one contender against another that his vanishing from the scene created a vacuum and a sucking sound you could hear all the way to Trenton.

Oh, Kay Perhaps running Kay “Bulldog” Licausi out of Hoboken City Hall two weeks ago by opponents of Mayor Dave Roberts and the 16th Street redevelopment plans had justification, but it also fed the perpetual vendetta that is being waged between north and south Hudson, leaving behind a ruin for lives from which the public does not benefit. Licausi, a one-time aide to Menendez, has become a development consultant with ties to a controversial housing development on the Hoboken-Weehawken border. A last-minute council resolution regarding zoning in the area seemed suspicious partly because the usually well-versed Fred Bado, the city’s development pointman, seemed unable to explain it.

Opening a Pandora’s Box?

Cunningham’s filing suit last week against Jersey City Councilman Bill Gaughan takes the battle one step further and threatens to open a Pandora’s box of political problems. Gaughan also serves as chief of staff for county executive, which was highlighted last year during a council protest in front of the county administration building. When asked why they had picked the county building to conduct their protest against Mayor Cunningham, someone noted that most of those council members were also paid employees of Hudson County.

Cunningham has decided to take Gaughan on in court, claiming that Gaughan’s position as chief of staff to the county executive (a political foe of Cunningham) was a conflict of interest when it came to performing his duties as a councilman. Former U.S. Marshall Cunningham claims this gives Gaughan an unfair influence over the other council members who are on the county payroll. He says there is a law prohibiting an elected municipal official from holding an appointed seat anywhere else.

Leaving aside the personal animosity existing between Cunningham and Gaughan, does anyone truly believe long-time political operatives such as Councilman Junior Maldonado and Mariano Vega will be intimidated by Gaughan or DeGise, after having sat on the same council with both men for many years?

The ludicrousness of the suit is magnified by the fact that Cunningham ally Bernard Hartnett was thwarted from firing his county employees in 2002, one of whom was actually Mariano Vega.

Is Cunningham, in filing this suit, admitting he and Hartnett erred when seeking to remove county employees for political reasons? After all, he doesn’t want Gaughan to be able to do the same.

You can, of course, take the next logical step, which involves multiple office-holders, of whom Cunningham is one. Is Cunningham’s suit implying that an official on one level of government should not hold an office or position in another? If so, when can we expect Cunningham’s resignation as mayor, since he now holds title as state senator as well?

And will Cunningham be the one to tell North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Saccoto give up his own seat on the state senate or perhaps his job as an employee in the North Bergen school system?

Even newly elected Assemblyman Brian Stack may need to re-evaluate his position as mayor of Union City if Cunningham is promoting this new and sensible philosophy of one person, one political office.

Peace in the works for Bayonne?

In what appears to be a peace gesture out of Bayonne, Mayor Joe Doria actually suggested Manzo and fellow assemblyman Anthony Chiappone help Bayonne get state aid needed for some of the work at the Bayonne Military Ocean Terminal.

Not only did Manzo and Chiappone beat Doria in a very close and still disputed primary last year for the state Assembly, but Manzo has been an open critic of some of the plans for the terminal.

Meanwhile, Manzo has received his committee assignments that include positions on the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee, the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, and the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

“I am excited by my assignments, as two of them are within the health and environmental field, paralleling my life’s work, which has been safeguarding the health of people and preserving the environment,” he said.

He also said he looked forward to working on Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

“This is something fresh for me, and I have some ideas that will greatly impact New Jersey and the 31st District for the better, namely my new legislation relative to the ports in the state,” he said.

Of course, not all is peaceful in Bayonne, as Vincent Militello, the independent Democrat in last year’s primary for the state Senate in the 31st District, has met with banking interests in Bayonne about a possible run against Doria in an upcoming mayoral contest.


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