Phil Alagia of Newark had worked other campaigns before: Cardell Cooper for county exec, Armando Fontoura for sheriff and Sharpe James for mayor.
All of it prepared him for the contest that defined his political career to this point: the 2002 Essex County Executive’s race. Alagia occupied the inner sanctum of Essex county Freeholder Joe DiVincenzo, who out-dueled then-Freeholder Tom Gibin. North Ward Democratic leader Steve Adubato, Sr. backed DiVincenzo, while Senator Dick Codey backed Giblin. Now three re-elections later and DiVincenzo still in power, his chief-of-staff recalls how that election taught him more than all the others.
“That was a watershed moment in Essex politics,” Alagia told InsiderNJ. “It charted the course for the next 20 years.”
In that campaign, Alagia deepened his political alliances with Leroy Jones, who would go on to become chairman of the Essex Democratic committee, and people like future operative Henry de Koninck. Alagia would work future campaigns, Anibal Ramos for North Ward Council in 2006 among them. But the 2002 county executive race remains his jewel in the Jersey political crown.
“It was a critical moment,” Alagia said of the election. “We had had a Republican county executive for eight years, and [jailed Tom] D’Elessio had been the last Democratic county executive. What happened then was a brawl for it all, and we haven’t had anything like that since in Essex.”
DiVincenzo appears to be gearing up to run countywide again next year, with Alagia at his side.