Bergen Pols from Both Parties Picnic with a Key Voting Bloc

Bergen Freeholder Joan Voss

PARAMUS – Bob Auth once worked at Friendly’s, but not as a waiter. He made up for it Thursday, serving a lunch of sandwiches and salad to Bergen seniors.

Joining him was Joan Voss, who actually did work once as a waitress.

The Republican assemblyman and the Democratic freeholder teamed up, as did many other local politicos, at Bergen County’s annual picnic for senior citizens at Van Saun Park.

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi said she likes to think of the event as the “Hunger Games” for seniors; she meant it as a compliment

It’s definitely a must for politicians.

Assemblyman Robert "Bob" Auth (R-39)
Assemblyman Robert “Bob” Auth (R-39) at today’s picnic.

When James Tedesco, the county executive, welcomed the crowd, he was flanked by almost two dozen elected officials from both parties – constitutional offices, freeholders, state legislators and Congressman Bill Pascrell. Another member of the House representing Bergen, Josh Gottheimer, had been there earlier.

The appeal is easy to see – this is a captive audience and seniors generally vote.

“We all get to see the voters,” is how John Hogan, the county clerk, put it.

Besides the politics, tables set up offered the hundreds of seniors attending information about health care, social services, consumer information and tips from the county prosecutor and sheriff on how to avoid scams and other misfortune. Freeholder Mary J. Amoroso was especially upbeat about a new county “housing advocate,” which she said will help place seniors in needed housing.

A majority of the seven freeholders, all of whom are Democrats, were there, serving lunches or just pressing the flesh.

Well aware of the Dems’ strength in Bergen was Alyssa K. Dawson, one of this year’s three Republican freeholder candidates.

As she held forth in the picnic’s de-facto GOP corner, Dawson admitted it’s no secret  Republicans have an uphill fight in Bergen, which not too long ago was a GOP stronghold. But she said voters seem to like the main core of the Republicans’ message.

And that is, “Bergen County’s too expensive” and “one party rule just doesn’t work.”

A short distance away, Auth was moving along the maze of picnic tables talking to voters. He said many seniors asked him about local, not state, issues. That really wasn’t surprising, but the only thing Auth said he can do is pass their concerns along to local officials.

Auth and Schepisi reside in District 39, which remains a Republican redoubt in northern Bergen.

The Democratic candidates this year are Gerald Falotico and John Birkner. One Democratic source at the picnic said guns and abortion rights may help the Dems. This take suggests local Republicans may be hurt by the GOP’s refusal so far to take any action nationally on strengthening gun laws and by moves in some very conservative Republican states to essentially outlaw abortion. How much Republican candidates in New Jersey will be hurt by all that, if at all, remains to be seen.

But this was not the time for inside politics. It was a day for elected officials to be seen and more importantly, for people to know who they are.

That’s certainly relevant for a low-profile office like freeholder. Asked if the seniors he encountered really knew what a freeholder was, Freeholder Tom Sullivan said, “They’re learning.”

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