Although the annual reorganization meeting of the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders is often an indication of rising and falling political fortunes, this year’s negotiations over leadership held out almost to the end, although the unanimous election of Freeholder Jeff Dublin as chairman on Jan. 3 seems to indicate a truce in political hostilities going into the new year.
Dublin, whose cause had been championed by mayors in several parts the county, won critical favor when he received support from HCDO Chairman and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy late last year.
Dublin is the second African American to hold the post of chairman. Former Freeholder Bill Braker served a year as chairman in the 1990s, but was denied a second term when then Freeholder Sal Vega worked behind the scenes to secure the votes to get elected instead in 1999. Vega retained chairmanship until he stepped down as freeholder to become state assemblyman and West New York mayor in 2006.
North Bergen Freeholder Tom Liggio, who nominated Dublin on Jan. 3, took over as interim chairman, and a year later was elected as chairman.
Although a freeholder’s elected term of office is three years, leadership posts are voted on every January at the annual reorganization meeting.
Although of limited value in regards to seeking reelection, the chairmanship exerts a significant influence over the policies of the board. The chairman makes the appointments to the various freeholder committees and often has a large say in directing matters to those committees. In overseeing the meetings, the chairman can influence the length and the depth of discussions over various issues. More importantly, the chairman can also set specific priorities such as fighting homelessness, creating job training opportunities or even setting new policies for county workers.
Under Vega, for instance, one priority involved the upgrading of county facilities, and working with the county executive and other department heads toward expanding the county jail and creating a new centralized county facility.
Although still too early to say what agenda Dublin will pursue, he has already indicated the need for the county to take a more significant role in helping to preserve the county’s health care network, and the possible retooling of older hospitals, such as Greenville Hospital in Jersey City, for new uses incorporating elements like veteran’s healthcare.
“First of all, I want to thank God, my parents, all the mayors and other people who made this possible,” Dublin said in accepting the nomination. “I want to thank Chairman Liggio for the great job he did in keeping this board going and keeping us all together. That was not easy.”
Dublin was first elected as a freeholder in 2004 by the Democratic Committee of Freeholder District 3 to fill the unexpired term of Braker, after Braker was charged and convicted of crimes related to his term in office. Dublin was later elected in November of 2005 to a three-year term, which will end in 2008. He has already indicated he will seek reelection in the June primary and, if successful there, in the November general election.
A graduate of Lincoln High School in Jersey City and the Betty Owen Paralegal School, Dublin also attended Jersey City State College. He currently serves as a member of the Jersey City Board of Education, and is a founder or member of several key Jersey City civic organizations, as well as a member of the Mount Olive Baptist Church.
Fitzgibbons, prior the meeting, said Dublin’s close ties to his community and his experience in several of the more critical freeholder committees made him a good candidate for chairman. Some these committees dealt with homelessness, the jail, the Hudson County Planning Board, the Hudson County Improvement Authority, as well as others.
Bayonne gets vice chair
Elected Vice Chairman Dr. Doreen M. DiDomenico will fill in at meetings when and if Dublin cannot attend, and serves several other similar roles in Dublin’s place if he cannot attend or has other matters. Elected to the Freeholder Board in November of 2005 to fill a seat vacated by retiring Bayonne Freeholder Barry Dugan, DiDomenico moves up from pro temp – the third highest officer last year – and she thanked the freeholders, the mayors of the various cities, and her husband and family for their support.
“I am trying to do the best job I can, and I see this as a vote of confidence,” she said.
DiDomenico grew up in the Greenville section of Jersey City, where she attended St. Paul’s Parochial School, and then St. Dominic’s Academy. She attended St. John’s University, where she graduated summa cum laude in 1984 with a BS in Psychology and the President’s Medal, and earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1995. At present, Dr. DiDomenico is a licensed clinical psychologist employed by Rutgers University for the past 15 years. Freeholder DiDomenico is the coordinator of the Child and Adolescent Program at the Rutgers Anxiety Disorders Clinic, where she also treats Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Vietnam and Iraq veterans under a contract with the Veteran’s Administration. She has been a trustee with the Bayonne Board of Education since 2000, is a member of the board of the Bayonne Community Mental Health Center, and serves on the advisory board of the Windmill Alliance as chair of their Capital Campaign.
West Hudson gets pro temp
Freeholder Al Cifelli was elected to pro temp, acting as the third level of leadership on the board in case duties or other things keep the chair or vice chair from being involved.
Cifelli represents a portion of Secaucus, and all of Kearny and Harrison. He received his Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Rutgers University, graduating magna cum laude, and pursued his Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers Law School.
Cifelli practices law with partner Ken Davie in Harrison. He is a member of the Hudson County Bar Association, New Jersey State Bar Association and is past president of the West Hudson Bar Association. He has served as public defender and as a municipal prosecutor in Kearny. He also has served as a member of the West Hudson Hospital Board of Governors for 10 years, serving two terms as chairman of the board.
Cifelli serves as chairman of the Contract Review Committee, Chairman of the Ethics Committee and as liaison to the Hudson County Improvement Authority. He also serves on the following committees: County Government, Personnel, Senior Citizens and Veterans Affairs, and Transportation.
One of the key issues the freeholder may face in the upcoming year could involve a possible take over of ferry operations in Jersey City. If so, Cifelli would likely play a prominent role.