Amid chirping birds and vivid blue skies, members of the Hudson County Democratic Organization gathered in historic Stephen Gregg County Park on March 29 to unveil their ticket for the 31st Legislative District, as well as county-level offices.
The 31st District includes all of Bayonne and a southern third of Jersey City, and, according to County Executive Tom DeGise, has been a political battleground over the last few years in its primaries and its elections.
At a time of day when the park is usually dominated by joggers, fisherman and people walking dogs, candidates dressed as if going to church posed at the top of the great stairs to announce the candidates they will be running in the June 9 Democratic primary.
Sandra Bolden Cunningham, who is the HDCO candidate for state Senate in the 32nd District, pointed out that she frequently comes to this park to workout.
“I run here regularly,” she said.
Calling this “a historic unity” press conference, formerly conflicting Democrats gathered to declare an end to former feuds and to promise healing of old wounds.
Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who serves as chairman of the Jersey City Democratic Organization and is expected to be named the chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization in June, introduced the candidates to a small audience that included the media, political supporters and passing park patrons.
At the top of the HCDO ticket will be Sandra Cunningham, who is running for state Senate.
“I’m personally very happy that we have come together to make this the best ticket we can have,” she said.
She will be running with Bayonne Councilman Anthony Chiappone, who four years ago won a seat in the State Assembly on a ticket led by Cunningham’s husband, Glenn Cunningham.
The ticket, however, is expected to be opposed by an independent slate that is scheduled to be announced on April 3 with Assemblyman Louis Manzo challenging Cunningham for the state senate seat.
Common issues bring old foes together
L. Harvey Smith, who Glenn Cunningham beat in the 2003 primary, is also running for state Assembly on Sandra Cunningham’s slate.
Smith who is a former teacher, basketball coach and guidance counselor, joined the ticket in mid-March, setting the stage for a remarkable ticket that promises to heal many political wounds of the past.
“Harvey just asked me why we keep bringing up the past,” Cunningham said. “I told him we have to remember the past because it helps us see where we are going. I believe this is a new day and that we have come together. We have done something in the 31st District that has not been done in a very long time. We put aside personal differences for the interests of our people.”
Glenn Cunningham and Smith had sharp disagreements in a deeply divided Democratic Party several years ago, and Smith said it was time to put aside those differences in order to come together for the good of the community.
“This isn’t my plan, it is God’s plan,” Smith said. “I believe people recognized my general high regard for the people and my willingness to serve the public.”
Smith served as council president in Jersey City during Glenn Cunningham’s first three years as mayor and later became the candidate against Cunningham in the 2003 primary for state Senate. At times, the conflict between the two men became very personal, and remained unresolved at the time of Cunningham’s death in May 2004.
Although rumored originally as a possible candidate for a slate headed by Incumbent State Senator Joseph Doria – who later declined to run for reelection – Smith eventually joined the Cunningham ticket.
Chiappone, who served on the state Assembly from 2004 to 2006, on the Cunningham ticket, was defeated by the HCDO in the 2006 primary.
Smith and Chiappone said each candidate has personal issues to promote, but also share a common philosophy that residents of the district deserve the best representation possible.
“There are a lot of common issues faced by both Jersey City and Bayonne,” Chiappone said. “These things we will address together.”
Cunningham said the group has a lot of areas of common ground, such as the development of affordable housing and the fighting of crime – especially gang violence, and other quality of life issues.
“We have the same basic desire to make some real changes and make something happen in this district,” she said.
Although Cunningham has made it clear that she will be running on her own merits, she said she would seek to restore funding to some programs her husband started when he was state Senator, and to push for programs that help people get jobs in the district.
Healy played a big part in the unity ticket
Cunningham agreed last week to run with the support of the HCDO after meetings with HCDO leadership.
County Executive Tom DeGise, who is running in the Democratic primary to retain his seat, celebrated Cunningham’s decision to join the HCDO ticket.
“We welcome Sandra with great respect and enthusiasm as our newly united Democratic Party brings full closure to the bitter struggle of the 2003 primary battle,” DeGise said. “Four years later, we move forward together, joined by our commitment to the highest ideals for the people of Jersey City, Bayonne and all of Hudson County.”
Healy has been credited with bringing the ticket together.
“We are stronger today because we are together and that would not have happened without Mayor Healy’s leadership,” Cunningham said.
DeGise said that in Hudson County there has never been a woman (state) Senator.
“This is going to change in June and later in on the general election, and I’m very proud to be a running mate and colleague of Sandra Bolden Cunningham,” he said.
Part of a countywide ticket
Healy said the HCDO ticket is presenting a slate of candidates for the three Legislative Districts and county seats that includes five women as featured candidates.
“That’s the first time ever,” he said. “It is unprecedented in Hudson County and may be the first time ever in the state.”
Along with Sandra Cunningham in the 31st District, the HCDO is supporting Carol March and Nichole Garcia for assembly tickets in the 33rd District, and the reelection of incumbent Assemblywoman Joan Quigley in the 32nd Dist. The HCDO is also supporting Barbara Nechert for county clerk
DeGise said Hudson County is the most ethnically diverse county in the nation, and it is important for a ticket to represent that diversity.
“It is very necessary for us to represent the all of the mosaic of Hudson County in our election officials,” DeGise said.
Since Hudson County has a significant and growing population of Latinos, DeGise said Juan Perez, who is the HCDO candidate for Hudson County sheriff, will help the ticket reflect another aspect of that diversity. Perez is currently the deputy director the Jersey City Police Department.