Although not a familiar face to much of the public, Harold “Buddy” Demellier Jr., who died on May 23 as the result of cardiac arrest, will be remembered as the man who kept Hudson County roads running.
At the time of his death, he was director of Hudson County’s Roads and Public Property Department.
Demellier was meeting with an old friend in New York City when he reportedly collapsed.
Known by his closest friends as “Buddy,” Demellier was called “The General” for his ability to mobilize the county’s road department in moments of crisis, from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 to super snowstorms such as the one that struck the region in January.
“I think he was best public works director that I’ve ever dealt with in 35 years of government,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea. “He was fantastic. He took his military experience and obviously carried over to way he ran the department. He always knew what was going on and did a great job. He ran the department like a general, the way General Patton. His only worry was getting the job done. He was old school.”
O’Dea, who has been on opposite sides politically with Demellier over the last three decades, said Demellier never let politics get in the way of doing his job.
“He was a true professional,” O’Dea said. “After Hurricane Sandy, I spent week and half dealing with him day to day at the County Plaza, and I saw how dedicated he was. He was a take no prisoners and a no-nonsense kind of guy. He never worried about whether people liked him or not, but most people respected him. He demanded a lot, but he also gave a lot.”
“I think he was best public works director that I’ve ever dealt with in 35 years of government,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea.
Carroll said Demellier was his own weather forecaster, often aware of upcoming situations before these things became news.
“If there was a hurricane or snowstorm, he was locked up in his office planning and analyzing the forecasts,” O’Dea said.
During his long career in Hudson County as well as elsewhere, Demellier served stints as business administrator in West New York and in Bayonne.
A master tactician
But his significance was often felt behind the scenes as a master political tactician, who started with the campaigns of Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann and later included Bayonne Mayors Leonard Kiczek and Mark Smith. He was also instrumental in the successful campaigns of Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, and County Executive Tom DeGise.
A Vietnam veteran, Demellier was extremely religious, but also had a flair for horse racing, and frequently traveled around the world to catch races with a group of other Hudson County regulars.
DeGise said Demellier was a very loyal and trusted friend, but also highly professional.
Demellier started his political career working for Jersey City Mayor McCann, where he eventually became chief of staff. But he orchestrated local campaigns for a number of statewide figures such as former Gov. Jim McGreevey.
Paul Swibinski, founder of consulting firm Vision Media, said Demellier was “extremely competent and professional” in both governmental operations and political.
“Above all else, he was a man of his word,” Swibinski said. “He was a truly legendary character in annals of Hudson county politics. He goes way back, and played a key role in many of the great political battles. He mostly succeeded.”
Former Jersey City and Bayonne Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell said Demellier went beyond politics. Although savvy politically, Demellier was extremely knowledgeable.
“He had a wide breath of knowledge on construction projects throughout the county,” he said. “This is a sad day. He was a good guy that a lot of people never got to know. He didn’t let a lot of people get close to him, but once you got passed the exterior, you found out he was a real teddy bear.”
O’Donnell, who worked with Demellier on campaigns for Mark Smith, said Demellier had two qualities, “He was loyal to a fault, and if he gave you his word, he always kept it.”
Former Freeholder Chairman and West New York Mayor Felix Roque said, “Buddy’s greatest strength was conducting operations. If a mayor in a town needed something, they could call him even at 2 a.m. and he would answer the phone, and most likely show up within minutes.”
Long history in local government
Along with Craig Guy, a close political ally, Carroll was among those closest to Demellier.
“I’m in a state of shock” Carroll said. “This is one of the toughest moments of my life. He was my guy. He meant everything to me. He was a man’s man. I first had contact with him when he was still in the Army.”
Vega said Demellier grew up in Guttenberg, went to school there, and excelled in basketball in high school. Before going into the U.S. Army, Demellier was a basketball star at Rutgers University.
After the military, he hooked up with former Guttenberg Mayor Herman Klein, and shortly after got involved in Jersey City politics and government, under then Mayor McCann.
He became a campaign manager to Bayonne Mayor Kiczek in 1992 and served as business administrator for four years. While employed by Hudson County as Demellier later became business administrator under West New York Mayor Sal Vega until 2011.
“I met Buddy in 1989 when we were both named to the Hudson County Schools of Technology Board,” Vega said.
Demellier eventually became president of the board, overseeing the three county schools. He later went on to serve as municipal administrators for towns in Sussex County, returning later to Hudson County to serve when DeGise became county executive.
“Buddy and I worked great together when I served as freeholder chairman,” Vega said. “When I became mayor West New York in 2006, the county loaned him to me to serve as acting town administrator until I could find someone.”
After this, Demellier became director of public roads and bridges for the county.
In 2011, Demellier got caught up in the Big Rig III scandal when a video surfaced showing him accepting what he later called a consultant fee from FBI informant Solomon Dwek. Demellier was never charged or named in the criminal complaints that helped bring down then Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammerano and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, among many others.
Demellier was living in Bayonne at the time of his death.
“I don’t know how they can replace him politically or in government,” Carroll said. “He knew every facet of the road department from Bayonne to North Bergen. He was tough but fair.”
Shawn Thomas Sullivan (Sully), a key political leader in Jersey City Heights, said Demellier was an inspiration.
“Personally, I found him to be a gentleman. I often looked to him for advice, and he would always take the time to talk, and guide me,” Sullivan said. “Politically he was masterful. I’m lucky enough to say I stood next to the best and learned a thing or two. Prayers of strength to his family and friends.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.