Where do I sign?

When reports surfaced that Sandra Cunningham had filed her petitions for the wrong election, a lot of theories emerged.

Cunningham apparently filed petitions to run for 31st District state senate seat in the general election in November rather than in the Democratic Primary in June.

The most ludicrous of these theories involved speculation that Cunningham deliberately misfiled the paper work as an act of revenge.

Cunningham’s recent peace treaty with the Hudson County Democratic Organization seemed somewhat suspicious after years of bad feelings.

The wounds left from a political feud that extended back to 2002 seemed magically healed so that no one really believed Cunningham would run on a slate she and her husband, former state Senator and Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, has slammed for so long.

As playwright William Shakespeare once pointed out, revenge is a dish best served cold. This means that you should never get even with someone in the heat of anger, but wait until later when no one expects it.

Perhaps the theory of revenge was fueled by the intense disappointment some people felt when Sandra Cunningham agreed to run on the HCDO line.

How could she feel comfortable among a group of people who had worked so hard against her now deceased husband?

Had Cunningham deliberately misfiled her paperwork, she would have destroyed the HCDO from the inside, removing herself from the top of a ticket that was needed to help HDCO retain control of the three countywide seats up for grabs.

Unfortunately, the Cunningham camp has a history of misfiling paperwork. A similar mistake was made during a filing in 2002. Last year, in putting up a candidate for County Registrar, Cunningham advisors actually turned in petitions that whited out one name and several signatures and wrote in another on top of the old names, voiding the petitions entirely.

Making a case for Cunningham

To get Cunningham reinstated as a candidate, the HCDO was expected to go to court this week and make a case that voters would be disenfranchised if she is not in the race. This is similar to the argument state Democrats made when they replaced U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli with Frank Lautenberg a few weeks before the 2002 election. In that case, courts ruled that voters would be deprived of a choice if Lautenberg was kept from running.

Unfortunately for the HDCO, voters in the 31st District did have a choice.

Although Assemblyman Louis Manzo is the most prominent challenger for the seat, Sean Cotter, a Bayonne resident, was also seeking the seat.

This is where the tail gets complicated.

Manzo people believed from the start that Cotter was a creation of the HCDO, someone designed to help steal Bayonne votes from Manzo so as to swing the election to Cunningham.

This is an argument Manzo’s attorney George Sommers tried to make in Superior Court last week, pointing to the fact that people connected to Bayonne Councilman Anthony Chiappone – including Chiappone’s family members – had signed or gathered signatures for Cotter’s nominating petitions.

Since Chiappone is running on the same ticket with Cunningham, why would those close to him support another state Senate candidate if not to cut Manzo’s vote?

Chiappone when contacted said there was nothing underhanded or secretive about his support for Cotter.

“It was Sean Cotter’s decision and desire to run for Senate. I was approached by him to do so,” Chiappone said. “He felt that a Bayonne candidate should be on the ballot. He wanted to test the political waters.”

While Chiappone was included on the HCDO line as part of a deal negotiated by Cunningham, many of Chiappone’s supporters were not. Some of these supporters are running for committee seats in Bayonne and wanted to have a candidate at the top of their line, and backed Cotter.

Manzo people, however, point out, that Cotter withdrew from the race just when Cunningham needed him to leave, so that when her case was heard in court, she was the sole opposition to Manzo.

This would likely cause the courts to leave her name on the ballot despite her misfiled petition forms.

Accusations galore

Taking political theater to another level, Sommers’ court complain claims the state Attorney General’s office had taped conversations between Cotter and Manzo in which Cotter allegedly claimed he had been offered jobs and money from Cunningham and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy (the acting chair of the HDCO) to act as spoiler.

“Allegations that Mayor Healy and Sandra Cunningham offered him jobs are completely untrue,” Chiappone said. “In fact I don’t believe that Mr. Cotter had any conversation with them at all. And certainly no `illegal deals’ were brokered by anyone on our side. As to Mr. Cotter’s alleged taped meetings with Manzo, the only knowledge I have regarding conversations Cotter had with Manzo were those that Sean himself informed me about in which a panicked Lou Manzo made repeated pleas and offers to Sean not to run.”

Chiappone called the allegations “as political ploy.”

“I am sure Manzo would like nothing more than to eliminate all competition for him and his running mates,”

Of course, HCDO fired back with a volley of its own, challenging the petitions Manzo’s running mates, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Sheila Newton-Moses, who running for the state Assembly in the 31st District. Chiaravalloti, however, who has experience with local, state and national campaigns apparently filed two sets of petitions, one for the general and another for the primary. The HCDO is expected to take back the inappropriate petitions.

Political tidbits

Although not confirmed, Secaucus Town Administrator Anthony Iacono appears to be a frontrunner for the town administrator’s job in West New York. This is apparently part of a move by West New York Mayor Sal Vega to tighten political control over his constituency, and to begin building a coalition that will try to unseat Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner and Rep. Albio Sires. If reports are accurate, Iacono will attempt to build a campaign around his father, former Weehawken Mayor Stanley Iacono, for the first serious challenge against Turner in a decade. Iacono is apparently apartment hunting in Weehawken.

email to Al Sullivan


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