Eighty-five years ago today, the Zeppelin Hindenburg exploded while attempting to land in New Jersey. On May 6, 2022, a political fireball erupted, scorching Bergen County Republican politics with intra-party political fire. For possibly the first time ever, Republican candidates running off the line in the run-up to the June primary have been specifically barred from attending the Rochelle Park Republican Party’s dinner/campaign kick-off–at the order of Municipal Chairman Frank Valenzuela. The event, taking place this evening at The Fiesta in Wood-Ridge, will feature the State Republican Chairman, Bob Hugin, and is set to honor Committeewoman Susan Iacobucci, Committeeman Vincent Bessetti, and Deputy Mayor Candidate Gail Artola.
At the BCRO March convention, Todd Caliguire, a former Bergen County freeholder, was chosen for the County Executive Candidate, beating out Linda Barba, to run against incumbent Democrat James Tedesco. The county commission candidates awarded the line are Doug Holden, Ronald Lin, and Diedre Paul. Caliguire bested Barba, who came in second, followed by Timothy Walsh and Paul Duggan. Nick DeGregorio was given the line to face Congressman Josh Gottheimer, should he beat Frank Pallota in the primary.
Caliguire’s campaign invited controversy in 2007 when he ran against Senator Kevin O’Toole and was accused of sending out an anti-Asian flyer. O’Toole later went on to handily defeat Democrat John Zunic in the general election.
For her part, Barba helped raised some serious money for Jack Ciattarelli’s campaign, with one source saying it was some of the biggest fundraising ever seen among Bergen County Republicans.
When Barba and other off-the-line candidates RSVP’d to attend Chairman Valenzuela’s party at The Fiesta, where Hugin is set to speak, they received a response from the chairman saying they would not be permitted to attend.
“The event is closed to any candidates that are running vs. the official endorsed Bergen County Republican Organization line with whom our local candidates share Column 2,” the chairman said in an email. “We will be publicly endorsing Todd, Doug, Ron and Diedre, the winners who participated in the BCRO convention process in the presence of the State Chairman and our local supporters.”
Opponents called foul immediately. The voters make the decision in the primary, after all, and the flyer states that reservations are $125 per person, $75 for county committee, Republican club members, or Republican elected officials. There are no asterisks or exclusionary language–but these candidates are more than “not invited” to the party, but banned.
One source questioned if the event had been deliberately structured to make it seem as though Hugin was making an endorsement and potentially seen as disenfranchising the nearly one-million Republican voters in Bergen County from having their voice meaningfully represented on June 7. “This is unprecedented in NJ GOP history as far as I know,” the source said. The flyer mentioned honoring the committeemembers Iacobucci and Bessetti, and Gail Artola, but that was all.
The source did not assign any blame or criticism to Chairman Hugin, the guest of honor for the evening, but said that animosity held against Barba seems to be the reason Valenzuela shut the door on fellow Republicans, violating the spirit, if not the actual word, of President Ronald Reagan’s “Eleventh Commandment.”