Why did River Edge Republican Municipal Chairman James Arakelian resign? “I couldn’t stand it anymore,” he said. On Monday, July 3, Arakelian’s resignation was officially filed with the Bergen County Clerk’s office, ending his leadership role. In a letter to his fellow Republicans, Arakelian said that stepping down “was not an easy decision to make” as he had served for the last fifteen years on the county committee.
Despite this, Arakelian noted, the decision was a necessary one. “For far too long I have been lied about, ridiculed, and threatened by the current Republican county chairman; this was all on account of I didn’t agree with his style of leadership, his methods of awarding the party line, and his failure to raise money for candidates.” Arakelian took issue with what he said were “nasty emails” and “snide remarks at meetings” regarding himself and the Bergen Republican Leadership Team (BRLT).
The Bergen Republican Leadership Team was established by a group of Republicans unhappy with the current Bergen GOP leadership. Last week, a letter from Joseph Hakim, the BRLT leader, said that, “After witnessing mounting losses year after year, a few good Republican leaders decided to gather together and form a leadership team. We have been essentially leaderless for the past 7 years. We have no organization. We only have a losing record. Have these losses been intentional or just incompetence? Does it matter?” Hakim said that the BCRO was “failing miserably.”
The BRLT credited the late Senator Gerald Cardinale for reviving Republican strength in Bergen County at a time when Democrats were in power by establishing the North East Republican Organization, known as NERO. “NERO was never meant to replace the BCRO, but it served its purpose and added value to the Republican party which began to win,” Hakim’s letter said. “Every leader of the BRLT has been actively involved with the Republican Party for years. This includes both financially and physically. They have held positions of responsibility at a municipal, district and organization level.”
Bergen Republican Leadership Team, of which Arakelian is a member, said that the Bergen County Republican Organization accused them of being a splinter group, then listed their achievements and objectives in promoting the Republican Party in Bergen County. “The BCRO is not the only group allowed to promote the election of Bergen County Republican Candidates. The BRLT is made up of over 300 individuals who have reached out to us out of their frustration with the failure of the BCRO leadership. These individuals have agreed to our mission which is Republicans promoting only Republican candidates through building local grass root organizations,” Hakim continued.
“I don’t know what [Arakelian’s] issue is, I don’t know why he has chosen not to serve [as municipal chairman],” Bergen County Republican Chairman Jack Zisa told Insider NJ. “Jim can be secretive sometimes. It’s news to me.”
Arakelian’s letter suggested that the Leadership Team was the final straw in his breakdown with the Bergen County Republican Organization. “Contrary to what you may think was going on, this has caused much divisiveness directed at myself, and a number of other BRLT members from the chairman and some of his followers.” Arakelian accused Zisa and LD-38 District Chairman Frank Valenzuela of interfering in a local election in River Edge, saying that that “was all I could stand.”
In his letter, Arakelian accused Chairman Zisa of ridiculing him and calling him out at BCRO meetings. “I’ve been a loyal Republican for over forty years and a member of the county committee for almost that long,” Arakelian said. “I took on the role of municipal chair fifteen years ago, and while I’ve had disagreements with other county chairs, I’ve never faced the hostilities I’ve faced with the current chairman.”
Chairman Zisa, however, said that he hadn’t communicated with Arakelian in months. “In the last four years, I don’t know that he has attended more than a handful of county committee meetings.” For Zisa, the resignation apparently came as something of a surprise. “He hasn’t spoken to me.”
Arakelian said that while he would stay on the committee itself for at least the short-term, he did not plan to attend any meetings for a while expressly to avoid Zisa and his associates. Meanwhile, Zisa said that Arakelian did not talk much with the organization itself. “At least not with me. I don’t know if there’s anyone in the formal organization that he communicates with.”
The former municipal chairman said that he had enjoyed working on past Republican campaigns and elections, promising that he would continue to be heard in the political world in the future.