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Paul Juliano, Democratic chair for Bergen County, perhaps reflected the mood of the Mayor’s Ball when he said he was glad he could join the intimate gathering of Nicholas Sacco’s friends – which by conservative estimates numbered as many as 2,000 – each of them paying the $150 ticket price to be there.
The Oct. 3 event is one of two political gatherings state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Sacco holds annually, and it may be the largest of its kind in the state.
Although held yearly for more than 30 years, many attendees treated this year’s ball as a victory party, a celebration of a particularly sweet municipal election outcome from last spring, during which Sacco beat back a challenge by Larry Wainstein.
“Some people predicted Nick would win with 70 percent of the vote, but I was skeptical,” said Sacco political guru Paul Swibinski. “This was particularly true because of the numbers we had in the previous election. We had significantly higher numbers than we had four years ago. Nick’s opponent spent a fortune and ran a vigorous campaign. It was nice to see us get an overwhelming result especially at this point in Nick’s political tenure. It was an amazing victory for Nick in May.”
Although billed as a mostly local event – North Bergen and Hudson County — the bash drew a number of regional dignitaries, and best wishes from Federal level officials such as Rep. Albio Sires stuck in Washington DC to deal with national issues.
State Democratic Chairman John Currie was unable to attend because of a family commitment. Gov. Phil Murphy, who sent his respects, took a break from arm–wrestling with South Jersey legislators with a trip to Germany. He sent his chief of staff.
But there was no shortage power people to tout. In fact, thanking all the people who attended the event took longer than any of the speeches – something Sacco noted in his own remarks when he told people to get back to the food and good company because their ice was melting.
State Senor Paul Sarlo made his way up to the Venetian in Garfield from his digs in Woodbridge, while State Senator Dick Codey made his way from West Essex.
Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli managed to navigate the nightmare traffic jam along Route 3 to attend, as did Hoboken Freeholder Anthony Romano, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, and his daughter, Amy DeGise – chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO).
About nine of Hudson County’s 12 mayors also made the trip, including Guttenberg Mayor Wayne Zitt, whose fundraiser Sacco attended in September.
Kearny Mayor Al Santo – currently struggling to get trash dumps closed in his town in western Hudson – was among the honored guests, as was the powerful but often overlooked Richard Turner, mayor of Weehawken. The equally tiny town of Harrison was well-represented, sending its entire mayor and council. Freeholder Al Cifelli also came.
Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop also made an appearance, testifying to a peace treaty Democrats forged with Sacco over the last year.
In early 2018, Bhalla and Fulop were part of an attempt to unseat Tom DeGise and to seize control of the HCDO, only to be thwarted by a hard-fought political fight led by Sacco in defense of the DeGises. This allowed Tom DeGise to retain the Democratic nomination for reelection to County Executive, and Amy DeGise to become the first woman chair in HCDO history.
But Sacco was also praised for helping bring together county Democrats after the bloodletting was over, seeking to heal the wounds Hudson County Democrats are notorious for self-inflicting. While not all of those involved in the 2018 mini-civil war survived politically, Fulop, Bhalla, and state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack have been welcomed back into the political family.
Angelica Jimenez and Pedro Mejia, who serve in the state Assembly in Sacco’s district, also attended, as did Assemblyman Nick Chiaravallotti from Bayonne. Pat Kelleher, head of the Building Trades Union in Hudson County was among a number of union officials.
Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari was among the standing room only crowd, joined by a number of North Bergen officials such as Freeholder Chairman Anthony Vainieri.
“Nick asked every member of the Democratic committee to stand up and be recognized,” Swibinski said. “That was a very special moment.”
Although Sacco before the May election was rumored to be winding down his political career, the annual ball this year suggested that he may be seeking to remain around for a while, despite a number of heirs waiting in the wings to replace him.
For more than a year, the Hudson County rumor mill had stirred up possible heirs to the Sacco throne, tossing in names such as Vainieri’s or even Hugo Cabrera’s as Sacco’s replacement. But the ball may indicate Sacco is in no hurry to leave the political stage, and as that ancient mariner Odysseus, no younger suitors will be able to move him until he is.
Sacco has looked more relaxed and refreshed at a number of recent political events in Hudson County, suggesting that he is still comfortable as one of the most powerful people in the county as well as the state, and sees his role as helping Amy DeGise in restoring Hudson County as a preeminent Democratic stronghold.
This was not a night of presidential predictions. Individuals may have talked amongst themselves over which Democratic candidate they would support in next year’s primaries, but the speeches were local, and there was a distinct absence in the crowd of any presidential hopeful or even their surrogates.
Like all balls, this was a night to dress up, drink and eat well, and hobnob, and those who attended did just that.
- Al Cifelli
- Al Santos
- Albio Sires
- Amy DeGise
- Angelica Jimenez
- Anthony Romano
- Anthony Vainieri
- Bergen County Democrats
- Dick Codey
- Frank Schillari
- Hudson County Democrats
- John Currie
- Larry Wainstein
- Michael Gonnelli
- Nick Chiaravallotti
- Nick Sacco
- North Bergen Democrats
- Pat Kelleher
- Paul Juliano
- Paul Sarlo
- Paul Swibinski
- Pedro Mejia
- Phil Murphy
- Ravi Bhalla
- Richard Turner
- Steven Fulop
- Tom DeGise
- Wayne Zitt
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