Murphy Rallies Democrats in Non-competitive Hudson

With red, white and blue balloons floating above every table, and “Vote Column A” posters hanging everywhere, the annual fall meeting of the Hudson County Democratic Organization looked and felt like a high school reunion.

For the most part, people didn’t need badges with their graduation pictures to show who they were returning to the old digs, these were among the most powerful politicians in the county on every level of government and in every town, although some notables did not attend.

The HCDO celebrated its 60th anniversary returning to its old digs in North Bergen for its annual gathering.

“It’s been a while since we held this event in North Bergen,” said County Executive Tom DeGise. “Many people didn’t know where we were talking about when we invited them to come to The Boulevard. We had to tell them it was Schuetzen Park.”

DeGise recalled a time when the event was held in Jersey City armory and drew as many as 1,000 people. For years, Schuetzen Park took over that role. One of the largest gathering places in the county, Schuetzen Park had deteriorated over time, and only recently was refurbished by new ownership.  The large dance floor, glittering chandeliers and the bright white paint added to the sense of a reunion.

If there was a prom queen, HCDO chair Amy DeGise was definitely her.

“Amy DeGise is as good a chair as anywhere,” said Gov. Phil Murphy, who made a brief appearance at what is seen as one of the most important Democratic gatherings in the state.  “She is an extraordinary leader. She has an energy and a passion for the Democratic Party in Hudson County.”

While state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco – who kept his speech short because the ice in his drink was melting – served as host of the affair, his neighbor and equally powerful North Hudson political boss, state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack was not.

“He’s out campaigning,” said Craig Guy, HDCO political wizard and sometimes guidance counselor for the always cantankerous Hudson County Democrats.

Fulop
Fulop

It isn’t completely clear who or what Stack was campaigning for, perhaps helping his good friend, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop defeat a referendum on Airbnb. If so, Stack was campaigning without Fulop, since Fulop was among the throng paying homage to the Democrats – as was Fulop’s one-time political ally, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla.

Rep. Albio Sires did not attend because he was in South America working to help poor families. U.S. Senator Robert Menendez was in Washington D.C., according to Guy.

But for the most part, dignitaries from every part of the county came, from the smallest communities to the largest. East Newark brought two mayors, outgoing Joseph Smith, and his heir Dina Grillo, currently the only woman mayor in the county.

Grillo, an upcoming young progressive who pulled an upset victory in East Newark earlier this year, had requested an opportunity to honor Smith at the HCDO event. Smith retired after 40 years, but his short slightly off-color speech made it clear why he had remained so popular in his community for so long.

Bayonne in the house: Davis, left, and Chiaravalloti.
Bayonne in the house: Davis, left, and Chiaravalloti.

Amy DeGise has been credited with the party upswing, and perhaps her diligence brought out more people this year than in the past – many of them younger voters from various communities around the county.

“This is the largest crowd I’ve seen at the annual meeting in years,” said Bayonne Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti. He is running for reelection in the 31st district on Nov. 5 as is his running mate, Angela McKnight – who also attended.

Tables spilled over with well-wishers and committee people from around the county – including Bayonne. Although Bayonne is the most remote of the municipalities, their committee people braved the traffic to get there for the event.

Amy DeGise said this as much about the committee people as it is about the dignitaries, a kind of pep rally to keep them fired up, not just for the upcoming election, but as an organization, which Murphy said is one of the most potent political machines in the state.

“Our committee people are the eyes and ears of the party,” Amy DeGise said.

Amy DeGise said the event is about “empowering politics,” designed to raise money, but also raise awareness Democrats.

“We are all Democrats, and though leaders here sometimes disagree, we still can come together as Democrats,” she said, noting that her term as chair as been an interesting chore of blending the sage wisdom of political veterans with new technology, and bringing younger progressive Democrats into the party.

“There are a lot of young Democrats here,” she said, later defining “young” as anybody younger than 36.

Murphy acknowledged the potency of the Democratic organization.

“As Hudson County goes in so many ways so goes the great state of New Jersey,” Murphy said.

“I’ll never say no to be here, especially as a proud Democrat. There is no better place than Hudson County. They say that good government is good politics and good politics is good government, we have both sides covered.”

Murphy had good words for Amy DeGise’s father, Tom as well.

“Tom DeGise, who I met when I was cold, dark and lonely is as good a county leader anywhere in this state or this country,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the Democratic Party is about “a stronger and fairer New Jersey” for everybody, and Hudson County embodies that as much as any place in the state.

“I promise to work every single day not just to grow the pie, but to make sure everybody gets a piece of the pie. He said this includes economic progress as well a social progress.

“We’re called pro-growth progressive. That’s exactly what we are,” he said.

Schaffer
Schaffer

Peg Schaffer, vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, called Hudson County an amazing place, proving the Democrats have more that unites them than divides.

“There is every strong leadership,” she said. “While people don’t always agree, we can come together as a party.”

She said New Jersey Democrats need to continue to get out the vote and said Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited the state to thank Democrats here for helping get her named as Speaker.

“Last year we have a blue wave in New Jersey, we need another blue wave to keep sending the message that New Jersey is Democratic,” Schaffer said.

Receiving a standing ovation as clearly this reunion’s prom king, Sacco said the HCDO does a phenomenal job.

“This is the greatest organization in the world,” he said. “Nobody can win a statewide election without Hudson County. When we get together nobody can beat us.”

Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis said historically Bayonne Democrats are “territorial.”

“But we have no problems going out of town to puff up our chests,” he joked.

Much of this is about getting ready for the 2020 presidential election, which will test Hudson County’s ability to get out the vote for national candidates and could make a difference in determining the president as well as control of both houses of Congress.

“Don’t forget 2016,” said Schaffer. “Elections have dire consequences. We need to make sure we get out every vote.”

 

 

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