The political year to come Appointments, elections and rumors 2006

If you thought last year was a curious political circus, 2006 may prove even more curious as Hudson County politicians take advantage of their role in successfully electing Jon Corzine as New Jersey’s next governor.

Nearly every election in Hudson County in 2006 – with the exception of Secaucus’ municipal election in November – will be affected somehow by the expected appointment of Rep. Bob Menendez to replace Corzine in the U.S. Senate.

The appointment has caused a flurry of Menendez critics to come out in protest, not merely at the perception that machine politics has once again worked its magic and taken the choice out of the hands of voters, but also by the perception that candidates like Menendez may have touched up their resumes in an attempt to make the past look better than it actually was.

This is particularly true in regards for former Union City Mayor and State Senator William Musto, whose conviction on corruption was aided by Menendez’s testimony in the early 1980s. Menendez boasts of being the locomotive that helped bring down Musto; critics claim he was the caboose, dragged into the situation and not given much choice but to testify. While Menendez portrays himself as hero; critics claim he betrayed the godfather that helped Menendez get a foot in politics. You can bet 2006 will see more heat generated for the June primary as Menendez seeks to outright win the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat Corzine so generously has appointed him to for now.

If State Sen. Rob Andrews – backed by South Jersey Democratic politic boss George Norcross – challenges Menendez in the Democratic primary, a lot of old Union City cronies may have their memories tapped for election fodder.

Then, if Menendez survives the June Democratic Primary, he can expect Republican State Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. and the Republican Party to scour the past for potential scandals for the November general election.

Sires will face challenge in House of Representative race

Tied closely to the Menendez election is the possible election of Assembly Speaker and West New York Mayor Albio Sires to replace Menendez.

Early in 2006, Sires will likely be named to replace Menendez and then run as an incumbent against Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas, who announced in December that he will challenge Sires for the post.

The question is: will another candidate in Hudson County emerge, prompted by promises of future patronage, to help cut Sires’ vote and boost Vas into the position instead of Sires?

Although some have speculated that Assemblyman Louis Manzo might make the run, he absolutely refuted this suggestion.

“I’m supporting Sires all the way in this,” he said.

The other potential spoiler, of course, would be Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop – although most believe any effort on this point would come with a heavy political price tag. Fulop might be asked for support if Assemblyman and Union City Mayor Brian Stack actually makes a move to unseat Hoboken’s State Sen. Bernard Kenny the following year.

North Hudson is divided over Menendez, with State Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell unenthused by Menendez, and the Weehawken, Hoboken, and West New York mayors and Kenny supporting him. Therefore, Stack could put together a powerful anti-Menendez coalition if backed with campaign help from South Jersey and other parts of the state.

Meanwhile Kenny, despite pulling some political rabbits out of his hat in the 2005 Democratic primary and again in the November general election for Corzine, could see a challenge for his role as the Democratic chairman for the county in 2006, as Jersey City seeks to regain its traditional role as the center of political power.

Will Turner run for re-election in Weehawken?

Tied closely to the Sires election effort is the Weehawken mayoral in May, 2006.

A significant amount of Sires’ success is due to the efforts of Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who transformed West New York’s government when he came in as paid business administrator under Sires.

This close relationship has many speculating what Turner will do if Sires moves up to the House of Representatives.

In a lot of ways, the Weehawken political scene revolves around Turner’s abilities. If he chooses to move on with Sires to some post – such as chief of staff – a huge vacuum will form behind him in both West New York and Weehawken. While Freeholder Chairman (and West New York Commissioner) Sal Vega is expected to replace Sires as mayor and Assemblyman, who will replace Turner if he leaves remains a significant dilemma.

Turner, when contacted earlier, said he intended to run for mayor, but had not yet declared. But in the political universe, things change rather quickly.

This leaves the question as to who will replace Vega as freeholder, and who will become the new chairman.

Bayonne will pick a mayor in May

Perhaps the most heated municipal race in Hudson County will take place in Bayonne, where Mayor Joseph Doria is expected to run for re-election in May elections that will also have council candidates up for re-election.

Doria has not yet announced. But challenger Vincent Militello has, as has long-time critic Leonard Kantor. While Militello has significant backing from southern New Jersey’s Democrats and equally powerful allies among state and national Republicans, his is seen as an uphill battle – although he said Doria can be beaten.

One significant question centers on Anthony Chiappone, who lost his seat in the state Assembly and must seek re-election as councilman in May. What side will he take?

Militello could use Chiappone’s incumbency as a badge of legitimacy for any slate he puts up. But Doria might take in his long-time rival just to reduce Chiappone’s contributions to a Militello campaign.

Secaucus elections in November

In an oddly structured election schedule, Secaucus will see three ward candidates running for re-election in the November general election – a mere year after Mayor Elwell won re-election along with three other council members. (Secaucus has six council members, two in each ward.)

Thanks to a change of law in 1999, Secaucus council and mayoral terms changed from two to four years. So instead of having an election every year as was formerly the case or every two years as in most towns with four-year terms, Secaucus elects its government in two sequential years.

Despite some dissatisfaction with the increasing pace of development in Secaucus, opposition candidates have not be able to derail the Elwell Team. This is partly due to the fact that Elwell has not raised taxes in a record seven years in a row, and the prospects of increasing development may delay tax increases for several years more.

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