Hudson County Freeholders Reorganize – Vainieri Retains Chairmanship


With a Christmas tree still on display in the lobby of its Pavonia Avenue building in Jersey City, Hudson County Freeholders retained more than a little of their holiday cheer at their Jan. 7 reorganization meeting.

Fundamentally, little changed from the previous year as the freeholders voted to give Anthony Vainieri the chairmanship for the fourth year – the longest stint of any freeholders since Sal Vega’s term in the late 1990s into the early 2000s.

Vainieri was clearly feeling good enough to give his name as Hoboken Freeholder Anthony Romano when being sworn in by County Executive Tom DeGise, taking it back as the dignitaries filling the chamber laughed.

Romano, who will repeat at Pro Tempe or third in rank behind chairman Vainieri and vice chair, Bill O’Dea, insisted on having DeGise swear him in as well – even though County Clerk Junior Maldonado offered to conduct the ceremony.

“You can hold the Bible,” Romano told him, and Maldonado did.

Prior to the meeting, Romano hunkered down with Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner.

“We’re annexing Weehawken,” Romano joked.

When asked who would be mayor of this new combined municipality Turner cringed, Romano only smiled.

“We’re talking about shared services, since our towns (Hoboken and Weehawken) are right next to each other,” Romano said.

Turner agreed that he would be open to shared service agreements.

Since the nine freeholder seats are up for election in 2020, Romano may be looking over his shoulder. Rumor has it that Hoboken Councilman Michael Russo might be interested in mounting a primary challenge against Romano.

The big question would revolve around State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack and which candidate he would support. Stack’s senate district overlaps Romano’s freeholder district, and so Stack would have a huge influence on deciding the winner.

Newly elected-Hudson County surrogate judge, Tilo Rivas was on hand for the freeholder reorganization, a point that Vainieri made note of in his acceptance speech.

“We have former Freeholder Tilo Rivas here, who is the county surrogate. We have Junior Maldonado, a former freeholder, is county clerk. You have to wonder what the future holds for me,” he laughed, then looked out at DeGise and said, “Don’t worry, Tom, most likely I’ll become mayor of North Bergen.

Stack recently arranged to fill Rivas’ freeholder seat with Fanny Cedeno, after having convinced Democratic committee people to support her. But Stack did raise some eyebrows when he excluded media from the swearing-in ceremony that took place after the committee vote early in the New Year.

While an endorsement by Stack usually equates to an act of god, not everybody is on board with Cedeno’s retaining the seat. Marco Navarro has also said he would challenge her in the primary.

The always helpful O’Dea offered to show Cedeno the freeholder ropes, although as one-time aide to both Rivas and Stack, Cedeno may well know “the ropes” as well as O’Dea does.

DeGise, who was also sworn-in earlier in the year in a quiet ceremony, talked a little before the meeting about the single largest issue in the county in the upcoming year – the construction of a new court complex and the reconfiguration of streets.

“We’ve already started the project,” he said. “We’re widening the street to continue Central Avenue to Newark Avenue. The first structure will likely be a parking deck.”

The last part of the project will likely be the demolition of the existing courthouse – loaded with asbestos – and the construction of the park.

To show that there few hard feelings over Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s attempt to unseat him as county executive, DeGise agreed to sell the existing courthouse site to Jersey City for $1.

Of course, Jersey City will have to pick up the $15 million cost of demolition.

The construction of the new complex will take about four years, DeGise said, alluding to his possible retirement from office when it is done. DeGise was just elected to another four-year term.

“It better be done in four years,” he said, more than hinting that he is looking for more relaxing days on the golf course, and more frequent use of his small summer home he purchased in Brick.

Hudson County Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso, Jr. told InsiderNJ late last year that he will step down long before the new courthouse is complete.

“But I’m not leaving here until they put the shovels in the ground,” he said.

Bariso has been pushing for a new courthouse for decades.

Vainieri said the count house is one of the freeholders most significant accomplishments over the last year, as was making improvements to the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny.

Under his watch, Hudson County is on the verge of opening a sorely needed police academy.

“We’re pretty close,” he said.

Jersey City – which is in the middle of a hiring frenzy for cops – still stings over the closing of its own academy, a budget cutting measure that riled a number of local officials. But under state law, cities can no longer operate their own academies, only counties can. Hudson County hopes to covert its former youth house into an academy.

Vainieri said one of his objectives for the upcoming year is to establish a county medical examiner, rather than rely on the regional medical examiner in Newark.

“Because my family is in the business that we’re in, I know the response time for getting remains is too long,” said Vainieri, owner of a prominent funeral home in North Bergen.

To help with the current situation, Vainieri said the freeholders may seeking help elsewhere as well.

“We’re in discussions with Bergen County currently to try to get other options so that we get a faster response,” he said.

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