‘He’s His Own Man. Paul Won’t be Controlled by Paul.”: The Bergen Aftermath of Stellato

No one can be expected to fall on a grenade forever.

So Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Lou Stellato is apparently calling it a career in the county where once Democrats’ biggest challenge included Republicans in the era of an ascendant Gov. Chris Christie. Christie refashioned Dems into his own subservient (or at least symbiotic) party, structured around those surviving pieces of infrastructure he left in place after blowing up the rest.

When he issued forth in 2011 on the heels of his own ravaged party, Stellato appeared as a shaman-like old, Obi-Wan Kenobi-school Democrat schooled by Hubert Humphrey and his own local tour of duty as mayor of Lyndhurst. By the time he was done (pending appointment to the Sports and Expo Authority), he had defined the most contemporary sort of Democrat: a guy who stands on his own two feet amid the tentacles of a party apparatus essentially conceived and left behind by Christie.

The talk today as the phones buzzed in Bergen was that Paul Juliano of Fairview would be the most likely successor to the throne once Stellato formally retires. If “Paulie” (get used to the nick name, apparently) gets an award, there are 1,000 people there., one source pointed out. Apparently that’s what happened recently, which short-circuited talk of a Juliano alternative.

But what Juliano will mean could have seismic political consequences.

Stellato did it all in his tenure, including making Phil Murphy – instead of South Jersey option Senate President Steve Sweeney – governor, tossing Republican Kathe Donovan out of power without the assistance of that overriding party establishment that happily played ball with Christie, and paving over Republican hopes of political daylight with a Democratic-dominant freeholder board.

Try as they might, they couldn’t drive a Salem’s Lot stake in his heart because he was a funeral director, not someone chained to a public payroll, which meant he did it on his terms. That status made him unusual in these times, increasingly defined, according to state Senator Ronald L. Rice) by more control by fewer under the guise of e pluribus unum.

For months as many anticipated Stellato’s walk off, the pushing and shoving match in the Democratic Party featured Juliano – a public works dude – versus Mahwah brand name Todd Sherer; with Juliano seeming early to have at the very least more animated allies talking “Paulie” inevitability.

Murphy, who had Bergen backing when he secured the governorship in the 2017 Democratic Primary, will of course want to make sure Bergen doesn’t turn into a South Jersey power incursion, and at the moment, the people pounding their chests about how Paulie won’t be able to withstand the pressure that Lou did to stay Bergen-independent, have resistance. “Paul is his own man,” one source insisted. “Paul won’t be controlled by Paul.” If it sounded like a daft contradiction, it actually wasn’t. The source was referring to Paul Juliano and Paul Sarlo, the senator and sometimes cozy pal of South Jersey.

The biggest piece of evidence for the point of view that Juliano won’t be controlled is that he’s actually controlled – by state Senator Nick Sacco (D-32).

Currently running a beat-down reelection campaign against Larry Wainstein, Sacco ran afoul of South Jersey with former Speaker Vinny Prieto, bouncing out of Prieto’s political death spiral by joining Stellato (and Passaic County Democratic Committee Chairman John Currie) with a 2017 Murphy endorsement, partly as a kick in the nuts to South Jersey.

“Nick is Paulie’s godfather,” a source told InsiderNJ. “So he’s not going to disrespect Nick by turning over the keys of the Bergen kingdom that Lou built.”

Another source cautioned against the actual “godfather” narrative, but conceded their close.

“I think ‘political godfather’ is accurate,” the source suggested.

If a fork wasn’t actually in the Sherer candidacy, or in the very nascent (as of two weeks ago) possibility of Bergen Freeholder Tom Sullivan, Juliano looked dominant.

“People were talking to Paulie in Woodcliff Lake with the governor in the room as if he was already the chairman and Lou, I think, had to have picked up on that,” a source said.

Stellato, it is said, is expected to last as long as it takes to get approved for Sports and Expo, with Sweeney’s shadow arguably in the form of Senator Kristin Corrado (R-40) a possible complication if anyone, including Paulie, appears too extant establishment-unfriendly.

 

 

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