Everybody was a winner at the Chandelier catering hall in Bayonne after the polls closed on Tuesday, June 2. The laughing, hugging, handshaking, and tears were all part of a vast political celebration to a low-turnout primary in which Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Angela McKnight overwhelmed four opponents to collect the Democratic nomination for two 31st District Assembly seats.
The Chandelier is typically the gathering place for local Democrats after elections. But on June 2 political people from around the county came to celebrate the decisive primary win in the 31st Assembly District and the unopposed victory of County Executive Tom DeGise.
Although Chiaravalloti and McKnight had the backing of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), most of the credit for their victory goes to their own political bases. Chiaravalloti’s support appears to have come from the once-disenfranchised political machine of former Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria. McKnight had a lot of help from Jersey City Ward F Councilwoman Diane Coleman, Jersey City Democratic Chairman Shawn (Sully) Thomas-Sullivan, political guru Tom Bertoli, and her own vast network of community people in Jersey City.
The selection of the Chandelier was deliberate, designed in part to send a message to former Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith and outgoing Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, both of whom have aspirations to run for mayor in 2018. Last year, Smith stood in this same room and it was not nearly as cheery. That’s where Smith learned of his loss in the mayoral election to newcomer James Davis.
“This is Jimmy’s second victory,” one political observer said, referring to the Assembly primary. “You have to believe that Smith and O’Donnell were keeping a close eye on this election hoping that it would be very close.”
A lot of the future hopes of Smith and O’Donnell rested on a narrow victory by Nick and McKnight.
This would have shown Davis, who is largely the motivator behind Chiaravalloti’s Bayonne campaign, as weak, and vulnerable for a mayoral challenge in 2018.
But the margin of victory was not close. Chiaravalloti and McKnight beat their opponents by more than a four-to-one margin and filled the catering hall with supporters from far and wide. While some of Mayor Steven Fulop’s people helped McKnight in Jersey City, most of the Bayonne effort was due to Davis.
Bigger than just a primary
Rooms like this swell up with the hopes and ambitions of those who come into them. But like the yellow and blue balloons that decorated the ceiling, the mood can quickly deflate when people see their hopes slipping away.
On this night, the primary victory only pumped up the room, filling it with even greater expectations.
While for Chiaravalloti, McKnight and their followers, the celebration was about the primary, for others in the HCDO the celebration was about greater expectations and HCDO’s potential to become an effective political machine in the 2017 gubernatorial election.
Bolstered by the political prowess of people like Craig Guy and Thomas-Sullivan, the HCDO was trying to prove that it could get its act together and become the foundation of a campaign that might eventually see Fulop elected governor in 2017.
HCDO Chairman and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto described it as having “everybody rowing the same way.”
By this, Prieto meant he needed to get all of the county’s power brokers working toward a common goal. This has not always been the case. The Democratic civil war in 2007 led by Union City Mayor Brian Stack, combined with the devastating effects of the 2009 federal bid rigging scandal, left the HCDO in total disarray.
Smith, who served as a chairman for several years, only managed to make matters worse, managing somehow to alienate U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, and others.
The election of Prieto as HCDO chairman two years ago came with a mandate to pull the party together with the goal of having a united and well-functioning HCDO in time for Fulop’s bid for governor.
For the HCDO, this primary was a test run. But more importantly, Prieto was able to line up all 12 Hudson County mayors behind DeGise’s reelection bid, suggesting that Fulop could count on a united HCDO when he makes his move for governor.
Getting in on the ground floor
Fulop arrived at the Chandelier just after Prieto announced the primary results. While many of those in the room were there to celebrate 31st District’s victory, many others were there to get in on a good thing.
Nearly everyone in the room had become a stakeholder in a larger vision, people who later can say they were on the ground floor in Fulop’s rise to power.
Donald Scarinci, one of the most influential political power brokers in the state, once talked about the people who made up then-Gov. Jim McGreevey’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” a small group of people who used to meet in McGreevey’s kitchen to plot out his path to becoming governor.
Many of the people in the Chandelier on primary night thought of themselves as part of Fulop’s kitchen cabinet. Some may even be thinking beyond the State House and the potential for Fulop as governor to ascend to the pinnacle of American political power.
If anybody is actually talking about a Fulop bid for the White House in 2020, none are speaking openly about it. But you have to wonder just the same.
Resignation stymies Secaucus Board of Education
Gary Riebesell announced in April that he will resign from the Secaucus Board of Education. He apparently is planning to move out of state.
This public announcement appears to have generated some animosity behind the scenes in Secaucus, since Mayor Michael Gonnelli likes things to run smoothly.
Although four people were considered to replace Riebesell, the board members, who must vote on his replacement, were deadlocked, four members voting for one candidate, four others for another.
Much to his chagrin, former Schools Trustee Tom Troyer was not among the two contenders or among the four considered.
Unable to break the deadlock, the board has apparently sought guidance from the Hudson County Superintendent of Schools, who apparently won’t oversee a clearly local matter and bumped it back to the school board to decide.
Riebesell’s three-year term expires this year, so his replacement, if one is actually picked, would serve only until after the November election. This is also bad news for Troyer, who is running again for the board in November, since only three seats will be up for grabs.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.