‘We did it!’

Landslide victory in Assembly primary signals united county Dem machine

Certain members of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) took credit for the overwhelming victory of Angela McKnight and Nicholas Chiaravalloti in the Democratic primaries for 31st District Assemblyman on June 2. But most observers said the real victory belonged to the candidate’s campaign workers, not the county Democratic machine.
Now that the two won the Democratic nominations for the two open seats, they head to a general election in November against Republican opponents Matthew Kopko and Herminio Mendoza.
The 31st District encompasses Bayonne and part of Jersey City. Each state legislative district includes two Assembly seats and a state Senate seat.
Chiaravalloti had 5,097 votes, and McKnight, 5,502. In the primary they defeated former Jersey City Committee Chairman Joseph Conte (with 1,660), and other candidates Ramon Regalado (with 1,351), Bruce Alton (with 959), Washington Flores (with 800) and Dejon Morris (with 153).
This primary had a low turnout.
But HCDO members who backed the winners partied afterward at the Chandelier in Bayonne and said this was the first step towards a unified Hudson County in a 2017 race for governor that is expected to feature Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop against a Republican nominee.
“We did it!” McKnight said, then acknowledged nearly every campaign worker and brought grins to the faces of the seasoned professionals who filled the room. This was McKnight’s first campaign victory, and she gushed with excitement.

“This is a fantastic night and a fantastic night for the Hudson County Democratic Organization.” – Nicholas Chiaravalloti
She included Tom Bertoli, a political consultant to Mayor Fulop, in this group. But the man who did the most for her election was her father-in-law, Eugene McKnight.
“Eugene made this happen,” Bertoli said in a later interview. “He’s been doing our street work for years and hasn’t lost an election yet. If anyone deserves credit for her winning, it is Eugene.”
McKnight said, “Eugene is one of a kind.”
She said her election will allow her to do more for the community.
Laughing as he came to the microphone, Chiaravalloti simply said “ditto” to all the acknowledgements his running mate had made.
“This is a fantastic night and a fantastic night for the Hudson County Democratic Organization,” he said. “I can’t wait until we win in November and get sworn in in January so we can go down to Trenton and work beside our senator, Senator [Sandra] Cunningham.”

HCDO is strong again

“The HCDO hasn’t been as strong as this in 20 years,” said HCDO Chairman and state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. He was joined by County Executive Tom DeGise, Bayonne Mayor James Davis, Mayor Fulop, and many others.
DeGise won his renomination unopposed and will run for reelection against Republican Ivan H. Sutherland in November.
Prieto praised the campaign workers for getting out the vote on a cold and rainy night.
“When you win 4 to 1, there is no doubt that you kicked some a–,” Prieto said. “This is what makes the HCDO a powerhouse that we deliver.”
The 31st Legislative District encompasses all of Bayonne and parts of Jersey City. The mayors of each city traditionally pick one Assembly candidate each. McKnight is from Jersey City, and was hand-picked by Fulop. Chiaravalloti, chosen by Bayonne Mayor James Davis, is a former state supervisor for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez. Chiaravalloti helped Davis in his upset victory over former Mayor Mark Smith in 2014
The two incumbent Assembly members, Jason O’Donnell and Charles Mainor, chose not to run.
In celebrating the victory, Mayor Davis recounted his own victory as mayor from a year earlier.
“Last year we surprised the hell out of Bayonne,” he said. “And here we are a year later telling everyone we are a united Bayonne, a united Jersey City, and show everybody in Hudson County that if we all work together, Hudson County will be one of the most powerful counties in the state. But we could not do that without everybody in this room being on the same page.”
Prieto said that the reinventing and reuniting of the HDCO started two years ago with the election of Fulop, and credited the mayor’s huge influence over the HCDO.
Fulop credited ward leaders in Jersey City for getting out the vote.
“This was the hardest election over the last couple of years with the weather like it was, it was cold and it was wet, and you guys were out there on every single corner, working,” Fulop said, stressing the unity of the HCDO. “Over the last decade, you had fighting between Union City and North Bergen, constantly. In the prior decade, we had a Republican mayor (in Jersey City). This is the first time in decades that you had Bayonne to North Bergen all rowing in the same direction.”
Prieto said DeGise’s unopposed candidacy in the Democratic primary was one of the accomplishments of the HCDO.
“To get 12 mayors to endorse him is a testament to the job he has done,” Prieto said. “We call him the Mayor’s Mayor. He is a 13th mayor.”
DeGise said Chiaravalloti and McKnight will make great additions to the legislative group Hudson County already has in Trenton. He credited Davis and Fulop for the work they put into the election. He also praised Prieto for putting the HCDO on its feet.
“He calls himself the quarterback, but he’s really more like a head coach,” DeGise said. “We haven’t been this strong in decades. Wait until you see what we do in 2017.”

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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