Menendez-Voir Dogs: An InsiderNJ Guide to (Some!) of the Main Players in the Stack V. DeGise HCDO Chair’s War

Team Stack.

TEAM STACK

Union City Mayor/State Senator Brian P. Stack

The maestro of the 33rd Legislative District wants to grab the vacant chairmanship of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO). Schooled by the late Mayor Bill “This is my Jury” Musto, who fought in North Africa with Patton, Stack used that as the template to make a North African beachhead out of Union City, where he controls 72 out of 72 county committee votes. He ousted Bernie Kenny in 2007 to beat the HCDO machine. Close to Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), he has also nurtured an early good relationship with Governor Phil Murphy. His path to the chairmanship depends on Jersey City delivering big. One source summed it up thus: Union City, North Bergen, West New York and Hoboken cancel one another out. That leaves Jersey City against Harrison, Kearny, East Newark, Secaucus, Weehawken, Bayonne and Gutenberg. Depending on the number produced for Stack rival Amy DeGise in that coalition, Stack needs a net in Jersey City.

Strengths: He’s his own boss. Nobody pushes him around.

Weaknesses: He’s so devoted to politics (another word for constituent services, in his lexicon), he often forgets to eat.

X Factors: He’s spent years perfecting the Stack GOTV model to drive huge Election Day totals. In 2017, he doubled the general election output of fellow Hudson senators Nick Sacco and Sandy Cunningham. The question here is whether it will serve him in a county committee fight, where one assumes the bulk of members would rather nurse a beer and watch a Mets game sooner than take a Starship Troopers Klendathu bus drop to Gloucester County.

Fulop
Fulop

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop

The Boy Wonder (to Stack’s Batman) of Jersey City decided not to run for Governor last year but easily stomped on his citywide opposition to coast to reelection. In the aftermath, with Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-33) plainly on the chopping block after getting tossed from his Assembly throne, Fulop declared his commitment to Stack to replace Prieto as the new chairman of the HCDO.

Strengths: His coldly transactional style often catches so-called old school Hudson pols absolutely flat footed.

Weaknesses: His coldly transactional style on occasion produces a result that leaves everyone else saying WTF, and only those mostly charitable politics watchers concluding that his political moves evoke Ludwig Wittgenstein: inexplicable but thought-provoking. Then there’s of course the hubris of youth. This could arguably just as well be applied to Stack, but win or lose, the question will hound the Mayor of Jersey City: With Stack already backed by Sacco and DeGise for the chairmanship, why did he and Union City First! feel that they had to hit the eject button on the kindly, white-haired DeGise a year and a half ahead of the 2019 Democratic Primary? Stack could have walked in with Fulop at his side. Instead they started a war.

X Factors: His allies say he’s good for at least 200 of the 362 county committee votes in Jersey City. But is he? Remember, Tom DeGise is Jersey City born and bred, and where the Johnny Come Lately to Jersey City Fulop may think he has allies, he may actually only have the emotion-prone inter-generationally-connected firehouse pals of the avuncular DeGise. Jersey City has the Statue of Liberty to remind the world out there about its huddled masses, while it keeps the HCDO around to conversely cultivate a clubby and parochial old boys network that mostly consigns the social media-friendly Fulop to the role of irritating interloper.

State Senator Sandy Cunningham

Cunningham
Senator Sandy Cunningham

It’s no secret. She doesn’t like DeGise. Never did. Her late husband beat DeGise to become mayor of Jersey City in 2001. But while unreconstructed rebel Stack ran off the line to get to the senate dance in 2007, Cunningham cut the deal with the HCDO to run on the organization line, where her Ward A and F strength powered her into the upper house of the New Jersey Legislature. But again, she never really liked those guys. Like Stack, the widow of the U.S. Marshal turned Mayor was often more comfortable with former U.S. Attorney Christie than the crumb bums of the countywide party.

Romano
At a rally earlier this year: Hudson Freeholder Anthony Romano, left, and Fulop Chief Mark Albiez.

Mark Albiez, Fulop’s Chief of Staff

On that stormy day earlier this year, he was one of the four men who occupied that Coach House Diner booth that was supposed to be the political funeral pyre of Tom DeGise. The Ivan Drago look-alike with a penchant for quoting Kierkegaard personally gave the “We’re going in another direction” news to DeGise that day. Several sources insist that Albiez is an obvious central figure in the drama. He was the chief of staff to Stack for years before transitioning to Jersey City to work for Fulop, and now he stands astride both towns and advises both mayors.

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla

Bhalla

He won the mayoralty last year and now faces a critical political test. It’s probably the last test the ambitious Bhalla would want. Rather than leading the next congressman conversation, he finds himself dogged by the question: How many of Hoboken’s 63 votes can he deliver to BPS? 40? 45? 50? Sources say 50 is likely the high end. But it’s jagged. The mile-square city is not unified the way, say, Union City is, or like North Bergen. And that’s an understatement. Bird dogging, corralling and squirrelling committee votes for the boss – who ran off the line for an Assembly seat against Team Stack in the past – will fall on the shoulders of the country’s intellectually capable first Sikh American Mayor.

Stack, left, with West New York Mayor Felix Roque

West New York Mayor Felix Roque

Victorious over the HCDO-championed Sal Vega in 2011, Roque has had one of the rockiest two terms in local office of any New Jersey elected official. Sworn in by Governor Chris Christie, he thumbed his nose at Menendez in 2012 by endorsing Republican challenger Joe Kyrillos. The feds promptly stormed City Hall. Roque walked back the endorsement, conceding his preference for “The Great Menendez.” Then he ate an indictment. Chains. Handcuffs. He beat the rap. Then the second indictment. He beat that, too. West New York falls with Nick Sacco’s 32nd District, but Roque opted to back Stack. Whther Stack wins or loses on June 12th, Roque will almost certainly face Sacco’s wrath next year. HCDO standard bearer Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo looks like Sacco’s guy to sit on the local throne. But Roque has three things going for him. The first is that Sacco faces his own thorny reelection prospects next year, and the second is that Roque – a retired Army Colonel who left the concept of fear in his native Cuba – is a survivor. The third is Stack, who sources say is hitting West New York aggressively, turning it into a battleground and – on the strength of his own history in the town – scoring votes, as many as 22 at last count.

Harrison Councilman Anselmo Millam

No one outside of Harrison knows him. But he’s a councilman running for mayor in Red Bulls country, and he heads a ticket of four committee people. This is really getting into the weeds now but if the election is really that close, Millam can emerge as the unlikely Colonel Chamberlain of Little Round Top for Team Stack.

Pablo Fonseca

Democratic Operative Pablo Fonseca

Bounced from one election to the next, the former Chief of Staff to former Newark Mayor (and now U.S. Senator) Cory Booker is the operations guy for Team Roque in West New York and will have the unenviable task of trying to pick up some loose change bodies off the line against a Line A topped by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and favorite WNY son U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8).

JUST TRYING TO FOCUS ON HIS 2018 Bid

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

He’s lucky he’s from the place, otherwise he’d probably want it deep-sixed on back door orders from the

Menendez

Pentagon. Here’s the ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrat and he’s got people grabbing for his sleeves on both ends begging for his support in the ultimate Hudson County body slam. Rivals Menendez and DeGise both stood by him while others ran and hid during Menendez’s St. John of the Cross corruption trial. So he has a bit of a soft spot for both. Menendez remembers Stack when the kid had his nose pressed against the window of the local party organization. And he goes way back with DeGise, too. Would Stack drive monster numbers on his behalf in a possibly close election year? Stack argues he would. The Union City Mayor’s rivals in this fight counter that Menendez will always get big numbers out of Hudson no matter who’s driving the ceremonial HCDO chariot. Just trying to keep his head down, an “outraged” Menendez did back Tom DeGise’s reelection in the face of Stack and Fulop pulling the plug on the county executive, and also backs longtime Menendez loyalist U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8).

TEAM DEGISE 

Jersey City School Board Member Amy DeGise

Amy DeGise

Derided in Stack World as simply “the daughter of DeGise,” the Jersey City Heights-reared offspring of the threatened county executive wants the chairmanship of the HCDO. She starts with North Bergen on lockdown on account of Mayor Nick Sacco, West Hudson, presumably a chunk of West New York, and the bulk of Bayonne.  The question is how many Jersey City votes can she sap from Fulop and Stack? She’s from JC, so she figures she can bag some. Part of her effort is built on an emotional connection – but it’s also part issues-based. In the face of Stack’s superior organizing skills, she has tried to make the case for why teachers and other public sector should be outraged by the Christie-endorsing Stack as an option to lead the HCDO. She’s also intent on driving the message that while Stack has been great bringing home the bacon to his district, the rest of Hudson can’t afford a countywide leader who has a natural inclination to protect Union City First.

Strengths: Raised in politics, she shows a willingness to mix it up. Notwithstanding the opposition’s jeers, also brings a compelling storyline in the #Me2 era: namely that of a daughter rushing in to protect her embattled dad. There’s also the fact that the HCDO never had a woman chair.

Weaknesses: She got a late start. Stack has been out there pounding on doors for a while. If Fulop’s minders prove correct, too, she may have too much ground to cover in essential Jersey City.

X Factor:  His critics insist Fulop and company built a county committee designed for statewide warfare against an invading army, not a diehard Jersey City native and his teacher-by-trade daughter. How deep is the loyalty? As deep as the job that earned it? Maybe. But DeGise continues to hammer the same anti-Sweeney, anti-South Jersey, anti-Christie argument that former HCDO Chairman Prieto – at the time a Fulop ally – fought and lost his job for. Cam she sustain the dimensions of that larger statewide rivalry and turn them to her advantage?

Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise

Told he wouldn’t have his job anymore after next year, DeGise shocked his rivals who thought he would just dry up and

DeGise

blow away. He didn’t. He got his Irish up, and so did his daughter, and now the family name of a longtime Hudson Player is literally on the line. Assemblyman Ralph Caputo once said that invariably when a veteran pol gets ready to retire, someone has to go and kick sand in his face, which renews that playground-stamped bloodlust for a fight. His allies say DeGise might have been ready to ride into the sunset, but the “You’re fired” move, in the words of Sal Vega, brought out the beast. But does he truly have enough left? Someone noted recently that the county executive, after a spell of poor health, was feeling well again – well enough to go out and hit a golf ball. Stack will drive a tank over that, if it’s true.

Senator Nick Sacco

Sacco

The 32nd District senator controls the 78 county committee votes in his hometown of North Bergen, in the same ironfisted way that Stack rules neighboring Union City. The phlegmatic North Hudson lion – now in his seventies – still has significant political clout. He’s a good relationship builder. Menendez likes and respects him, and he’s tight with DeGise. On the downside, a North Bergen Housing Authority story continues to threaten to blow open and embarrass the political establishment. During the Prieto years, numerous people complained about Sacco ward Joey Muniz handling the speaker’s finesse points, irritated by having to gyrate to Muniz’s overcooked young Sacco imitation. It was like going to see Star Wars with hopes of seeing Harrison Ford and instead getting Alden Ehrenreich in the Han Solo role. Deprived of Prieto, stuck with Muniz, pols just finally craved face time with the boss himself.

U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8)

Tom DeGise-backer Sires.

DeGise’s allies hope Sires’ presence on the ballot in West New York holds the line against an influx of Stack troops behind Roque trying to pick up votes. A former West New York Mayor (and former Republican) Sires used to be tight with Stack, when West New York occupied the 33rd District. But 2011 redistricting naturally put distance on the men, and DeGise always had a natural connection to DeGise and Sacco, anyway.

DeGise, right, with Hudson County Democratic Organization ED Craig Guy.

DeGise COS Craig Guy

Old school Guy didn’t like the way Stack, Fulop and Albiez delivered the news to his boss. Long the county worker organizer for events and special projects, the veteran Democratic Party operative’s motivated to get the vote out on June 12th for DeGise.

Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis

Amy DeGise would have had a longer runway had the local establishment in Bayonne not told the HCDO to wait on fielding a candidate for the chairmanship until after the May 8th nonpartisan election. They wanted Davis to win – and avoid a runoff – before they got behind an alternative to Stack. Bayonne has 102 county committee votes, and they will be crucial for DeGise in a close fight. As he undertakes his second term in office, it’s a test for Davis – and Business Administrator/Campaign Manager Joe Demarco – to round up committee members for Team DeGise.

Harrison Mayor James Fife

Up for reelection on June 5th, Fife, a Scot-American fond of quoting from Shakespeare’s MacBeth, wants to stare down that challenge by City Councilman Millam (see above) and deliver Harrison’s 22 county committee votes to Amy DeGise. “His father was a mayor in Spain, so now he thinks he needs to be mayor here to carry on the family legacy,” Fife shrugged, when asked about Millam’s challenge.

The Swibinskis

One or both father and son Paul and Phil have been the loyal Stack-DeGise-Sires-HCDO message

The Swibinskis

sentinels for the better part of the new millennium. Stack doesn’t forget that brutal “Stack Scandal” campaign Paul Swibinski spearheaded against him to no effect in 2007. Clearly, if the Union City mayor/33rd District State Senator  wins, he won’t be retaining the services of the Swibinskis. But maybe it won’t matter. Barring some sudden, unforeseen peace treaty, the duo will continue to work off the line for those allies of theirs who presumably will run for their respective offices next year against the Stack-led HCDO.

 

 

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2 responses to “Menendez-Voir Dogs: An InsiderNJ Guide to (Some!) of the Main Players in the Stack V. DeGise HCDO Chair’s War”

  1. Max, more than once you have used the word “parochial” to describe this war. I agree. Jersey City will vote for Jersey City. Stack going door-to-door in JC – that’s not going to work. Calling Tom DeGise a good time Charley – let’s face it – most committee members are good time Charleys. A good time Charley is somebody who attends political events during election season but is otherwise disengaged from public affairs. Getting the vote of a committee member is very different from getting the vote of a general election voter. Finally, since you started with the superhero comparisons, what superhero is Amy DeGise?

  2. I have served as a member of the Hudson County Democratic Committee since at least 1970 in the Greenville A Ward of Jersey City. I am most possibly the longest serving committeeperson in the City. I am placing all my efforts with my fellow committeemen and women to elect AMY DEGISE as the first young, woman Hudson County Democratic Chairperson. Amy is young, progressive full of energy and vigor. Combine these attributes with her academic and professional background and in my opinion, Hudson County will have stand our far above other counties in the state.
    I will be proud on June 12, 2018 to go into that voting machine and vote for AMY DEGISE.
    Respectfully, Bob Knapp, Ward A, District #29

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