Diving Under the Hood of the 20K-Plus Hudson County Stack Spike

Stack

Brian P. Stack rose in the hard knock school of Union City Mayor Bill Musto, more often than not with his nose pressed up against the glass of that people-power outfit, the same one that Musto straddled on the day he ate a sentence on corruption charges, defiantly riding his ballot box numbers to the can with a now legendary Hudson County declaration, “This is my jury.”

The people will decide.

Bodies.

Numbers.

The conflation of bodies into numbers on paper.

That will judge.

Not the machine that one can’t control, that demands subservience and servile barstool company man behaviors.

“This is my jury.”

Maybe that attitude permeated the absolutely indefatigable effort Stack made during the last election cycle, which resulted in him posting his biggest ever numbers and building a power projection platform without rival in the Hudson constellation.

State Senator Nick Sacco (D-32) of neighboring North Bergen received 9K and change.

State Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31) of neighboring Jersey City harvested 9K and change.

Stack, by contrast, got 20,349 votes (10,039 out of his home town of Union City, 5,447 out of the Jersey City portion of the district, 3,588 out of Hoboken, and 1,225 out of Weehawken).

The question now is why, and what now?

Hudson sources say to figure out Stack’s motivations one has to consider the somewhat older players who have defined Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) power for the last two decades: most significantly U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and state Senator Nick Sacco (D-32). By virtue of intellect, will, and toughness, Menendez offered the only legitimate sovereign northern counterweight to South Jersey Democratic Boss George Norcross III. for his part, Sacco’s organizational ability enabled him – over the heads of other North Jersey bosses – to cut the deal with Norcross four years ago for Vincent Prieto’s empowerment to the speakership. But Menendez faces a  corruption trial in the fall and an uncertain political future, and Sacco’s deal with the south crumbled, his position arguably  further weakened by Menendez’s tenuous status.

Part of Menendez’s and Sacco’s political mystique hinged on professional excellence earned by tenacity in education: the former as a lawyer and the latter as an educator and school administrator.  A high school graduate, Stack never had that, and possibly as a consequence never had the ambition for being anything other than a local boss, so he made bullhorn organization the cornerstone of his work.

He wouldn’t kiss the rings of that handful of bosses from the other towns, who wouldn’t see him as their equal anyway.

He’d beat them on the streets.

He was a street guy.

A mayor.

The mayor of Union City, inheritor of WWII hero Mayor Musto.

The scrappy Irish kid would do that better than any of them and prove that value as the preeminent political virtue.

In the process, he developed something of an anti-social reputation, an image hardened by his propensity on more than a few occasions, to pick up the phone and yell at the HCDO big shot of his choice. While they scratched their heads at the watering holes and remarked on his absence, he was going bloc to bloc and door to door in the most populated per square mile political district on planet earth, legal notebooks under his arm crammed with phone numbers of constituents who wanted city services.

The war came to a head in 2007, when he forced then-Senator Bernie Kenny into retirement and, running off the line against the HCDO, beat Kenny’s replacement, West New York Mayor Sal Vega.

78% of the vote.

An Irish guy serving an Hispanic constituency.

The win made him a mythical political figure locally because no one is supposed to be able to beat the line that way.

What ensued was a cold war, spy versus spy period from 2008 to 2014, whereby he and Sacco tried to prove the upper hand.

OPRA requests.

Fisfights at polling places.

Dirt digging under every manhole cover.

The rise of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and a potential statewide run by Fulop brought Stack and Sacco together in the aftermath of Fulop’s 2013 victory over the HCDO.

But rather than see peace – and it has been essentially an enduring peace – as an opportunity to acquiesce, Stack over the last two years in particular went on offense with an eye to make a statement on this past Tuesday night. “The only one working in Hudson is Stack,” a Hudson source told InsiderNJ. Stack put his fingerprints on both the Jersey City and Hoboken mayoral contests, which come to a head in November. He focused on his home city, taking the first and second wards, from 2nd Street to 14th Street, sending trained lieutenants to tend to the other eight wards in the city. They worked Saturdays. They worked after hours. On Election Day, they ran their $125,000 program from 6 to 8 p.m., a relentless door knocking exercise that finally produced double the vote totals of Sacco.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source said Stack wasn’t looking to make a statement to Sacco. It’s not so much a power player.

He’s 51. Sacco’s 70.

Stack is thinking about the future in the county and in the region, the source said. He sees South Jersey organization strong and little to counter it in the fractured and fragmented north. He sees the potential for Sacco’s successor at some point to make a play for influence, and wants to check such a play. He sees Fulop still yearning for beach heads beyond Hudson. He sees northern bosses focused on the social club optics he holds in contempt. He sees everyone else in the north as weak, or incapable of working at full strength. He sees Phil Murphy on the bubble of being the next governor and wants to let the new boss know where the real power is concentrated in Hudson.

Never one to talk much unless it’s on the subject of those numbers of past Hudson elections, he nurses a lack of ambition about new political frontiers, for whatever reason, maybe it’s education, and so, compulsively, drills and drills and drills into the palisades of his own Groucho Marx-fast stepping urban footprint.

Amid crumbled Hudson structures and benched, beached or aging rivals, mensches and medicine men, he wants to make a raw materials statement with the voice of the people, and let those political observers, whether on this or that side of the Hackensack, render judgement.

 

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