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Republicans once ruled Bergen County, a status befitting a party with a traditional suburban base.
GOP infighting combined with some poor candidates and, of course, the unpopularity in New Jersey of Donald Trump has turned most of the county “blue.”
Democrats totally control all county-elected offices, plus the congressional seats and most state Legislative districts covering the county. That leaves Republicans in control of only Legislative Districts 39 and 40 in the northern part of Bergen.
Republican Corrado Belgiovine and his freeholder runningmates think the GOP is ready to rebound.
We may be in the summer doldrums, politically speaking, but the Republican trio already is sending out releases condemning Democratic rule in Hackensack.
“Single party rule is not good on any level,” Belgiovine said when we met Wednesday morning for a chat.
Running with him are Alyssa K. Dawson and Katie Cericola. Belgiovine is 44; his partners on the GOP ticket are both in their twenties. This, he said, is the way to provide Republicans with the youthful enthusiasm they need to run a successful campaign.
The bad news is easy to document.
A few years ago, Republicans held some freeholder seats plus the offices of county executive and sheriff. One problem was that county executive Kathy Donovan.was feuding with sheriff Michael Saudino. Then things went south in various ways. Donovan lost reelection in 2014. Saudino became a Democrat and then lost his job as sheriff after making racist comments. He has most recently become a Republican again. (Just as an aside, a man who was booted from office for making unwise remarks about race is probably the last thing Republicans need).
Meanwhile, Republicans lost the freeholder seats they had and also the District 5 congressional seat held by Scott Garrett. Sure, Garrett was probably too far right for Bergen County, but this still had been a significant office in the Republican column.
Back to the present – one thing that will fuel the GOP’s freeholder campaign is taxes.
A GOP release asserts that the county’s total tax levy has increased by $48.4 million since 2015. Then, there’s the open space tax, which the Republicans said has risen in that time by about $18 million.
Belgiovine, who owns a real estate firm, said rising ratables may soften the impact on average residents, but that doesn’t change the fact taxes continue to go up.
Open space taxes are generally popular – most residents like open land to remain open. However, the Republicans’ release claims the freeholders are using the tax to pay for such things as engineering services and parking lots.This is not unprecedented, but it does seem to clash with residents’ understanding of what the open space tax is supposed to do.
For the record, the Democratic incumbents are Germaine Ortiz, Mary J. Amoroso and Thomas Sullivan.
An obvious problem for Belgiovine and his friends – and for that matter everyone who runs for freeholder – is getting people to care. County freeholders are usually the most obscure elected officials out there.
For help, the Republicans are turning to Phil Murphy.
Belgiovine, who called this fall’s election the “Murphy midterms,” (he’s not the first to do so) says many county voters are not happy with the governor’s left-wing drift. He said many independent voters are telling him they are “not this far left.” He reasons these people may vote Republican.
The other side of the coin here is that some of the Murphy aims Republicans may consider “far left” poll well. That includes raising taxes on millionaires, tuition-free community college and legalizing marijuana.
Then there’s illegal immigration. Belgiovine feels Republicans can score points stressing the administration’s order that local cops limit cooperation with ICE. Completing the local picture here, that order came from Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, a former Bergen County prosecutor.
After last year’s near-Democratic sweep of state congressional races, one can not ignore the impact of the president. Will anti-Trump feeling stymie any momentum Bergen Republicans may muster?
Belgiovine is optimistic about that, saying anti-Trump feeling is “less of a problem now than it was.”