Usually, the June Democratic primary for state Senate and Assembly in the New Jersey’s 32nd state legislative district is a relatively ho-hum event. There is generally unity between the Democrats in Hudson County, making the hand-picked candidates virtual shoo-ins to get through the June primary and on to the general election in November.
And once they reach the November election, Republican opponents never come close to toppling the mighty Democrats.
However, the upcoming June 5 primary poses to be quite a different scenario than others in the past.
There has been a major split down the ranks of the Hudson County Democrats, with two full tickets knocking heads in the more than contentious primary.
There is the long-established Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), which includes the incumbents in the 32nd District, where North Bergen lies.
Three incumbents are running together under the HCDO banner for re-election, namely long-time State Sen. (and North Bergen Mayor) Nicholas Sacco, Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, and Assemblyman Vincent Prieto.
The contentious and highly contested upcoming election has forced the incumbents to work a little harder.
Sacco, who is also running unopposed for re-election as mayor in his own town this week, said that he plans to vigorously campaign for both seats.
“We’ve been busy going out to meet the people in the North Bergen election first,” Sacco said. “That’s the primary concern right now. We’re meeting as many people as we can. Once this election is over, then we can concentrate on the June primary. But I pledge to be very active in my support of the HCDO candidates, meaning the Tom DeGise [for county executive] ticket with Sal Vega [for the 33rd District Senate] and Sandra Cunningham [for 31st]. In this contested battle, I feel very confident with Joan and Vinnie on my side. I feel confident with all my allies throughout Hudson County.”
The 60-year-old Sacco has been a member of the New Jersey State Senate since 1994, when he defeated former Sen. Thomas Cowan in the last real heated Democratic primary. Ironically, Sacco’s opponent in this year’s senatorial primary is Jersey City detective Sean Connors, the nephew of former Sen. Cowan.
In his term as senator, Sacco has served as the chairman of the state Transportation Committee and is also a member of Law and Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs committees.
As a senator, Sacco sponsored the bill that created the Urban Enterprise Zone, which has helped develop business in urban areas and generated revenue for capital improvements in many municipalities, including North Bergen. Sacco was also influential in passing the legislation that called for DNA testing in criminal cases.
Quigley was elected to the State Assembly in 1994 in the same election that carried ally Sacco into the state Senate.
“The last time there was a race like this, Nick Sacco and I were the insurgents,” said Quigley, a Jersey City native and full-time hospital administrator. “There really had been solid unity in Hudson County for a long time. A few months ago, the New York Times wrote an article and called us, ‘The Hudson County Nine,’ because we were so unified. For some reason, that has all changed. This is a serious election and we face a serious challenge.”
The 66-year-old Quigley believes that it’s vital for the current legislators to stay in office.
“In order to get things done in Trenton, you have to be there for a while to establish contacts,” she said. “When I was a freshman in the assembly, we were in the minority and there was plenty of time to learn about things not going through. Now, we’re finally in the majority and we have the strength to get things done. That comes through seniority and leadership.”
Quigley said that she enjoys having Sacco as a running mate.
“Nick Sacco has been a wonderful mentor to me and he taught me a great deal about politics and about what goes on in Trenton,” Quigley said. “I’m very fortunate to be able to work together with Nick.”
Quigley also said that she has enjoyed working with Prieto, who took over as an Assemblyman in 2004, replacing Anthony Impreveduto, and gained election in 2005.
“Vinnie has been delightful and he’s a quick learner,” Quigley said. “He’s worked very hard from the beginning and came in with the natural ability to be very successful.”
Quigley said that she looks forward to the battle she will face from opponents Marisa Suarez of North Bergen and Tom Troyer of Secaucus, the Assembly candidates on the DFHC ticket.
“I think it keeps us on our toes,” Quigley said. “We have to prove to the people that we’re worth their vote. I’ve had a chance to look back and reflect on the things that I’ve been able to accomplish and it makes me want to do more.”
Quigley currently serves as the Majority Conference Leader starting with the 2006-2008 legislative session. She was the Assembly’s Deputy Speaker from 2004-2006 and was the Minority Parliamentarian from 1999-2001.
Quigley serves as the chairperson for the Assembly’s Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee, as well as serving on the Budget Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee.
Quigley serves full-time as a hospital administrator at the newly formed Hoboken University Medical Center. Her experience in the health care industry is a plus, especially in the current election.
“We just learned that the biggest issue for Assembly Democrats has become health care,” Quigley said. “Various hospitals are closing and insurance bills are going up and up, but the care is not there. It’s always been my main issue and will continue to be. People want to talk to me about health care and they’re very worried about their health care.”
The 46-year-old Prieto, who serves as the township construction code official in Secaucus, has become very involved in his short tenure in the State Assembly. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Assembly’s Telecommunications and Utilities Committee and also serves on the Regulated Professions and Independent Authorities and Transportation Committees.
“I have a lot of respect for the issues,” Prieto said. “I know how difficult it is once legislation is introduced to see it through. It can be frustrating, but it’s also a wonderful thing when things get done. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to get a lot done. I think we have a well diverse group to represent the district and the state.”
Prieto also showed concern about the rift in the Democratic Party in Hudson County.
“We worked so well together that we were a force to be reckoned with,” Prieto said. “We needed to be recognized as a group, as a whole. It’s a serious election and we’re not taking anything for granted. It’s going to be a hard election.”
It should be interesting to see what happens to the Democratic Party in Hudson County once the smoke clears June 5.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com