Democrats from all Strata Circle the Wagons at Bergen Reorganization

Scutari, Zur in Bergen

Outside the Bergen County Court House in Hackensack, political leaders, their staff members, family, and friends, met in the damp and cold for the swearing-in ceremonies of the Bergen County Reorganization Meeting.  The event, led by Bergen County Executive James Tedesco, lasted approximately one hour and played host to top officials, such as New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Senator Nicholas Scutari, Congressman Josh Gottheimer, and Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano.

Scutari sat next to Murphy, where the only apparent frost between the governor and senate president was that found on the ground from the night’s ice storm.  The two sat, masked as all the others gathered did, each prepared to swear in an official serving New Jersey’s most populous county.

The Pledge of Allegiance was delivered by Ritzy Moralez-Diaz, District Director for Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr.  The National Anthem was sung by Harrington Park’s Nina Osso, an actress and performer at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

These concluded, Tedesco began the business part of the ceremony by welcoming the dignitaries and the forthcoming oaths of office for Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton, County Surrogate Michael Dressler, County Clerk John S. Hogan, Commissioner Steven Tanelli, and Commissioner Tracy S. Zur.

“I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to the entire ticket, most of whom I have had the pleasure of serving alongside for the past eight years, first as a freeholder and more recently, as the Bergen County Executive,” Tedesco said.  “This election was one of the most challenging our elected officials have faced in recent memory.  But thanks to their determination, experience, and unrelenting commitment to the residents of Bergen County, each has earned the privilege to continue serving the public in their respective positions.  Together, with their help, we will continue to do the people’s work here in Bergen County.  That includes fighting food insecurity through the county’s Food Security Task Force; serving as stewards for the environment of our nearly 10,000 acres of parkland; administering secure, free, and fair democratic elections; providing guidance and having compassion for loved ones during time of grief; ensuring the safety and security of all Bergen County residents; and leading efforts in the prolonged fight against COVID.”

Tedesco introduced Governor Murphy; Congressman Gottheimer; Senator Scutari; the Honorable Julien X. Neals; the Honorable Bonnie J. Mizdol; Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella; Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano; the Bergen County Commissioners Dr. Joan Voss, Mary Amoroso, Ramon Hache, Germaine Ortiz, and Thomas Sullivan; Assemblywoman-elect Shama Haider; Garfield Mayor Robert Rigoglioso; Lodi Mayor Scott Luna; Lodi Deputy Mayor Vincent Martin; and Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik.  “Governor we welcome you here to Bergen County, and we also congratulate you on your reelection,” Tedesco said.

Bergen County Deputy Clerk Steve Chung read the certified election results.  “As you may know, I was in charge of the election in 2021.  Preparing the election was not an easy task.  We had to send out nearly 90,000 vote by mail ballots which was an all-time high, and we implemented the first-ever early voting. However, the election is a product that the Bergen County Clerk’s Office presented the voters, and I am proud to be part of this democratic process.  I can assure them that we have delivered another successful election for Bergen County, and we will continue to do the same job in the future.”

Tedesco offered his praise for Chung.  “Let me just say what a great job Steve did in running the clerk’s office and making sure that the election process here in Bergen County ran smoothly in place of John Hogan, because John was a candidate.  Steve, on behalf of the people of Bergen County, thank you.”

Governor Murphy then administered the oath of office to Surrogate Judge-elect Michael Dressler.  Dressler secured a sixth term as Bergen County Surrogate, surrounded by his family.

“High on my list of heroes in this state is Mike Dressler,” Murphy said, “I’m incredibly honored to stand with him.  I want to thank the county executive, the other folks who have taken their oaths today, to the congressman, the judges, to the guy who’s going to be a great senate president,” he said referring to Senator Scutari.  “To all the elected officials, I just want to say it is an incredible treat to be in Bergen County today.”

Dressler has dedicated a quarter century of his life to the position of surrogate, and he attributes his public service to the kindness shown to him by others in his life, particularly so after he suffered a devastating accident which almost killed him and left him wheelchair bound.  A Fairleigh Dickinson University and Seton Hall Law graduate, his career in public service began at the age of twenty-two.  Eleven months ago, as election season was beginning to take root, Dressler spoke with Insider NJ’s chief editor Max Pizarro in a video interview found here.

Governor Murphy was unable to stay longer and departed for other appointments after Dressler was sworn in.

Dressler paid tribute to two departed friends, Union County Surrogate James LaCorte who died just before Christmas, and Dressler’s campaign treasurer, the former mayor of Closter, Edward Rogan.  “It gave me a chance to reflect and reconfirm what is important in my life.  For me, this is a day of gratitude… I have the best staff in the state of New Jersey.  During the pandemic, my people were in the office every single day.  We didn’t work remotely.  We were in the office, serving the people of Bergen County, and I will never, ever forget you for what you’ve done.  I appreciate it.”

US District Court Judge Julien X. Neals administered the oath of office to Sheriff Curaton.  Curaton thanked Judge Neals and spoke of the challenges he and his office faced since he took the oath of office in 2018.  “Every day I would go to work and remind myself that I cannot do this alone and my success can only be imagined by the extraordinary personnel who take pride in being part of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office. My command staff provided the leadership to run the agency, along with the sworn officers and civilian staff. Their adherence and perseverance describe their daily commitment to the agency and I am thankful.  The presidents of Bergen County can rest assure the public safety accountability and professionalism is job number one.”  Among the many points Curaton mentioned in his speech were improving community relations and outreach, the exchange arrangement made between the Passaic and Bergen County jails, and social justice reform, especially in the wake of the social unrest which followed the murder of George Floyd last year.  “We engaged several chiefs to participate in a social justice video, denouncing hate and bigotry and reassuring the community that police brutality will not be tolerated. We stood up for a discussion about hate crimes against Asian Americans, the Jewish community, and the Muslim community. We have established an LGBTQ unit to assist law enforcement officers and the community in having those personal discussions.”

Curaton thanked Chairman Juliano, who, “afforded me the opportunity to pursue the office of Sheriff.  It is a great working relationship with the governing body of Bergen County, the county executive Jim Tedesco, commissioners, and my fellow constitutional officers, Judge Michael Dressler, and the county clerk, John Hogan. However, my success can only be measured by the extraordinary support and belief of the voters of Bergen County, who had the confidence in my leadership to elect me to serve another term as the Bergen County Sheriff.”

Clerk-elect John S. Hogan was sworn in by the Honorable Bonnie J. Mizdol.  The Bible was held by his son, John M. Hogan, a councilman in Northvale.

“Thank you to Judge Mizdol, our Bergen County top judge. She’s not Judge Judy. She’s the real deal,” Hogan said.  “Thank you to Steve Chung, my deputy who’s going to get a hefty raise after this for filling in when I was on the campaign trail, keeping the office functioning.  And I disagree with Surrogate Dressler, which could be suicidal, but I have the best staff who kept our office going there in the pandemic.  Thank you to our Chairman Paul Juliano.  I consider him to be a good friend, a strong supporter, who gives some of the best guidance in the world and I value his leadership and friendship.”

Hogan appreciated those who came out and addressed the people of Bergen, but also addressed his fellow Democrats, who enjoy unquestionable dominion over the Bergen County government. “All of us have been given a great opportunity to serve the people of Bergen County. But with opportunity comes great responsibility with the confidence of the voters, as our party continues to serve in the top leadership position—every position—County Executive, county commissioners, sheriff, the county clerk, the surrogate, that responsibility for as all is greater than ever before.  That that’s why in all our discussions, deliberations, decisions in all our actions, and all of our reactions, we must do our absolute best to continue to carry out the wishes and earn the continued confidence of the people of Bergen County. We all know what it’s called. It’s called leadership, not to be abused, but instead to be used to continue to meet and even exceed the expectations of the people we serve, and this is the true magnitude of our responsibility as we embark on our next terms.”

Commissioner-elect Steven Tanelli was sworn in by Congressman Gottheimer.

“We’re lucky that Commissioner Zur, Sheriff Curaton, Surrogate Dressler, and Clerk Hogan have won another term because they just do such wonderful work for us,” the congressman said.  “I just want to say thank you for what you do for us.  The oaths they take are ones that go back nearly 200 plus years to 1789, our first congress.  If you look at the oath, it’s very similar.  It’s all about protecting and looking out for people.  That’s what this job is about.  If you think about Commissioner Tanelli, that’s really what he does.  He wakes up every day and thinks about ‘what are we going to do to make sure our community is stronger’ and he’s going into his fourth term.”

Tanelli delivered his speech, thanking his family, friends, and supporters in the political realm.  “Elections have drastically changed on all levels, whether it’s an all vote by mail election or a hybrid. The most important thing is that we make sure that everyone that wants to vote has their vote counted. Here in Bergen County, we can all be assured of a fair, legal, and accurate election.  COVID has challenged us all these past two years.  Bergen County has been strong and has adapted and delivered vital services throughout the entire county, helping all 70 municipalities whether they needed help with PPE, providing testing, then transitioning to vaccines, and now doing both during the current surge. I’d like to thank the county executive, his administration and all the county employees for their undying efforts.”

Senator Scutari administered the oath of office to Commissioner-elect Tracy Zur to serve her fourth term in office.

“Going through nine years of paperwork, of budget books, of capital improvement plans, countless advisory reports on park improvement, New Bridge Medical Center, and the realignment of county law enforcement, it became clear just how much we’ve accomplished in the last nine years of county government,” Zur said.  “When Steve and I first ran for freeholder in 2012, we could never have anticipated the rollercoaster ride, especially the last two years of governing—how we would be tested. how we would have to innovate, how important our perspective, our perseverance, and our passion to serve would be: the testing sites, the vaccination rollout, the small business grant program, the Food Security Task Force, the way our workforce as a whole would keep helping our residents, despite the challenges.”

Zur said that their best action had been to save and reinvigorate New Bridge Medal Center.  This allowed the county to be able to handle the COVID crisis “on every front.”  Further, Zur credited the Parks Master Plan for as once which “…proved invaluable, as outdoor recreation became so vital to the pandemic, our investments in mental health and our current fiscal stewardship, it’s all earned dividends.”

Judge Neals was the last to deliver a speech before the closing benedictions.  Neals acknowledged the cold and unpleasant weather and vowed to keep his remarks brief and succinct.  “I spent the first six months of 2021 lucky enough to serve with these re-elected officials and the people that stand behind me and the county executive.  It was overnight and abrupt that I had to depart Bergen and leave it in the very competent and capable hands of Tom Dutch and Mike Bellucci and the team here.  I never really had the opportunity to say thank you, and goodbye.  I appreciate the invitation to come back for this auspicious occasion.  But because it is cold and chilly, I just want to give my warm, sincere thanks to Bergen County for all that you’ve given me and that I bring to the federal bench now, and the best of luck to all of you.”

With the benedictions delivered by Christian and Jewish clergy, Tedesco concluded the reorganization meeting.

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